My daughter called me today from a rest stop an hour south of Philadelphia. Just two days ago she finished her first year as a school teacher, and now she and her girlfriend are moving to Atlanta where she has another teaching job lined up for the fall.
Sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that just a few short years ago I was driving her to school and staying in town late for Nutcracker practice. Now she’s off and running, in a serious relationship and with a career of her own.
Of course I’m excited for her, and proud too. She finished high school a year early and left for college. At age 21 she took a job teaching twenty-eight fifth graders in an underfunded school district. In terms of maturity, she is light years ahead of where I was when I was her age.
Because she was on the road when we spoke this morning, we didn’t have time for a long conversation, but after we chatted about her dog and their move south and her upcoming visit home, I asked her an important question. She’s always been open and upfront with Dean and I about her relationship with her girlfriend, but I’d never asked if I could write about it.
When I asked her directly if she minded if I write about her being in a same-sex relationship, she laughed a little.
“I don’t mind at all. I’m not trying to hide anything,” she said. “Are you going to write about the city council?”
I was surprised by her question because I didn’t know she still follows the news from home.
“Yes,” I said. “I don’t know what to write, but I feel compelled to write something.”
“You might mention that what happened doesn’t exactly make me want to move back to Homer anytime soon,” she said.
I suspect that the decision made by three of our council members the other night was not meant to be personal, and I’d like to grant them some grace. But hearing my daughter say those words hurt.
I think it’s important for Shelly Erickson, Tom Stroozas, and Heath Smith to know that on the other side of the country, one of Homer’s own was paying attention, and their flat out refusal to take part in something as simple as a Pride month recognition sent her a message that was not especially welcoming.
I don’t understand what could have motivated them. My best guess is that they are afraid. What, besides fear, could have left the three of them feeling like their best option was to not show up for the job they’ve been elected to do?
Are they afraid of the LGBTQ community? If that’s the case, they might do well to get to know some of their constituents, or possibly my daughter. They’ve probably seen her before, dancing in the Homer Nutcracker or singing in the school musical. It’s likely they’ve seen her name in the local newspaper for making the honor roll or for her participation in the Homer High School speech and debate team. If they spent even just a little time with her now they’d learn that she’s got a great sense of humor and is kind and compassionate. She’s the kind of young woman that most anyone would want to see come back and make Homer her home.
Are they afraid of the folks who voted them into office? Did the group of people who falsely conflated Pride with pro-abortion and anti-family sentiments intimidate them? Surely they were not shamed into sabotaging the city council meeting by a bunch of emails from a group of people who misunderstand what Pride is all about.
Maybe they’re afraid of their own discomfort around issues of homosexuality, trans-sexuality or queerness. If so, there are plenty of people who’d be happy to talk to them, or offer them resources so they can expand their knowledge base. I’ve discovered that learning about others’ lives and experiences is a good way to build empathy and extinguish fear.
If I could talk to Heath or Tom or Shelly personally, I’d reassure them that they don’t need to fear people like my daughter who, whether by choice or by design, love people differently than they do. I’d remind them that nobody is trying to dictate how they configure their own families and I’d point out to them that secrecy and shame are more harmful to families than love and acceptance.
I’d also encourage them to remember that their role as city council members is to help enhance the quality of life of those who live here. Being part of a declaration (or proclamation or recognition) of acceptance of the LGBTQ community members would have caused no harm, and it would have meant a great deal to many.
I understand that to those who are buying into an old story about what’s right and what’s wrong, it seems like the world is changing fast. But it’s time for the three members of our city council, and those who rallied to make an issue of the Pride recognition, to come to terms with the fact that LGBTQ folks have been a presence in our society throughout history. The level of openness is what’s new, and families and individuals and communities are better when people don’t feel they have to hide in shame.
Maybe it’s good that this happened, even though it’s been frustrating. Maybe someday we’ll live in a society that doesn’t need Pride marches or rainbow flags, but we’re not there yet. The council members who refused to attend Monday’s council meeting made a lot of us realize the importance of Pride month.
If it weren’t for all the outspoken folks and their supporters throughout the years, if it weren’t for their brave declarations of love and acceptance, my daughter might not feel as open and as trusting with us as she has been. She has nothing to hide, and so she hasn’t kept an important part of her life from us. And if not for those outspoken LGBTQ folks and their supporters throughout the years, I myself might not be so accepting. It’s a hard thing for me to admit, but it’s true. I was not raised to believe that homosexuality is okay. It wasn’t until I met some openly gay and lesbian and bisexual individuals that I questioned the belief system that had been dictating my opinions. I am more empathetic and compassionate because of people who refused to live in the shadows.
Our actions, our statements, our gestures—they make a difference. Especially when we’re in the public eye. If the three city council members feel that their values are compromised by something as simple as a show of support for the local LGBTQ community, I would suggest that city government is not the best place for them. If they meant no harm, if they regret their decision to sabotage the city council meeting that was supposed to take place on Monday night, it’s not too late for an apology.
I’m not interested in shaming the council members or harboring anger toward them, even though I disagree with them. All I really want is for my daughter to feel that there is a place for her in this community should she ever decide to move back.
I’m thinking that a good showing at next week’s Pride march will be an effective way to send her, and plenty of others, that message. The march starts at WKFL park at 11:00am. I hope to see you there.