Ed Team

The Real Lesson From Falwell's Statement

Filed By Ed Team | August 26, 2005 4:32 PM | comments

Filed in: Living

I join others in astonishment with Falwell's position supporting the rights of gays and lesbians to employment and housing as basic. To be honest, I am also angry... and my anger is directed at our very own community here in Indiana.

Falwell's conversion is a testament to the hard work done by Soul Force and Mel White, who have treated Falwell with respect for years and years, patiently educating, showing up quietly and pressing the justice of our cause. (In 2000, we copied Falwell's positon deploring violence against gays to every Republican legislator in the Indiana Senate, and I am convinced his statement was important in provided cover for conservative Republicans in the Senate to support, as they did overwhelmingly, the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Hate Crime Bill.)

From the time I came out of the closet publicly in 1996, it has been my position that if we engage Hoosiers with confidence, dignity and respect, our fellow citizens will come to understand, appreciate, and support our fundamental citizenship.

But I have seen too little of that. Instead, what I have too much seen is members of our community hide in closets professionally, politically, socially, and in their families, and emerge only to throw insults and epithets at our fellow Hoosiers, as though somehow gaining the respect and sympathy of our neighbors is impossible and immaterial. Who are the people that are making an impact? Mostly, people who are quietly and diligently talking and engaging, confident in the ultimate goodness of most Americans and most Hoosiers.

It is appropriate to decry Eric Miller as a bigot, for that he is. But to call all Hoosiers bigots, or all conservative Christians bigots, or all Republicans bigots, or all southern Democrats bigots, or all legislators bigots, and then refuse to engage them as decent human beings, is not only wrong, but mind-numbingly stupid and enormously self-defeating.

To bring the majority of our fellow citizens to our cause takes a figurative arm around their shoulder and an explanation of who we are, why we are no threat, and why decency and the value of freedom of religion and equal protection combine into their personal duty to help protect us as a minority. It also takes a demonstration of courage and willingness to stand up for ourselves, with credibility and dignity, risking our careers and our personal relationships if necessary, before asking others to risk their careers by standing up on our behalf.

(If I get lectured one more time about this or that politician's inadequacies by a gay "activist" who has not explicitly affirmed to family or colleagues that he or she is gay, I'm gonna puke! But I digress.)

The tactics of Soul Force have turned Jerry Falwell from foe on the topic of our civil rights. We can't rely on Soul Force to accomplish the same with our neighbors.... Only we can do that... It is easy to show up for a protest, hurl words, and leave, but it doesn't mean a thing. Steady engagement, which requires time and energy, produces results. What we need ever more of is the time, energy, tact, and courage of our own community members. With those resources, spent delivering to us the hearts of our neighbors in Indiana, earning their support, we will prevail. Falwell proves success is possible, but not easy or quick.

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DATE: 8/26/2005 05:42:58 PM

I second Chris wholeheartedly! It seems to me that we want to feel some emotional release of the justifable anger and disgust we have with the fringe elements.. but we turn it on people who could be our allies in the middle. This activism stuff is not easy nor fast. And it takes all of us being out and willing to have those conversations.Bravo to Chris and so many of the leaders I know for doing that very hard work daily.... and often behind the scenes and without credit. I admire and respect them for all they do.


DATE: 8/27/2005 08:51:11 PM

I had to go out of town yesterday, so I set off just after having read the amazing news, and checked it--no offense, Bil, I would have checked it out twice if I had told it to myself. All day long I was bursting, having no one to tell. But as I drove south, I did say softly and mostly to myself: "Thank you Mel." About a mile later, I said louder in the empty truck cab: "Thank you Mel."