Thursday, March 21, 2013

On Empathy

More than 10 years ago when I was living in Nebraska, a place not known for its tolerance of gays, a friend of mine noted of our critics that it might surprise them to know that we were a lot like everyone else: we take out our trash, we clean our kitchens, we make grocery lists and, yes, we are gay.  At the time, she was invoking a basic yet powerful notion, one that has repeatedly stood the test of time.   If folks who oppose equality for gays could just know someone who is gay, their sympathies for our common human experiences might overwhelm their bigotry.

I thought of that notion last week when Senator Bob Portman spoke at CPAC and told his fellow Republicans that he now favors same-sex marriage.  Portman explained that his mind was changed because his son, a child whom he loves, is gay.   As news of Portman's change of heart swirled through the political media,  I felt unity with critics who made fun of Portman's conversion to the cause of gay rights.   At some point, I saw a Tweet by @TheNewDeal which read "Rob Portman Supports Gay Marriage Now b/c His Son is Gay. We Must Make All GOP's Kids Uninsured So They'll Support Single-Payer" and it honestly made me laugh.  And then I set to thinking.  

I'd be the first to wish that Portman's Republican party could develop a greater sympathetic understanding of a lot of things.  In my estimation, greater empathy for people whose loved ones are killed by gun violence would certainly help move our nation toward a real conversation about gun control.  Sympathy for folks under stress because they lack basic resources like food and healthcare would serve the national interest far more than the current political climate has been able to do.  

In some respects, it's annoying that conservatives like Portman and Vice President Dick Cheney only come to see the justice in gay equality when their own children are adversely affected by the bias and injustice of anti-gay prejudice.  But Portman's conversion is just one of many conversions in thinking born out by real world interactions with gays living out and proud in America.  Just today, the Pew Research Center reports data that shows it is real-life experience with gays that is changing minds about same-sex marriage, especially among young people.  In living our lives, we change people's minds because to know gay Americans is to understand that we are just like everyone else.

In the meantime, I'll step back and offer Rob Portman the generous sympathy I wish him to extend to all of society.  And I will live out and proud, confident that minds are changed everyday because the arc of justice is on our side.


Jason Brozek said...

"we take out our trash, we clean our kitchens, we make grocery lists"

Is this that agenda I keep hearing about? Sinister.

Nichole said...

Jason totally stole my comment: your gay agenda is horrifying. Haha

Seriously, I bet your presence in Small Town, USA was greatly appreciated by those folks who had never laid eyes on an openly gay person, especially those in a partnership AND a baby. We could put fear and preconceived notions aside. Young adults from all over rural Nebraska had their first encounter with an openly gay person at little old WSC. (Rick Santorum is right: college is promoting the liberal agenda) Lucky for me, I was from the big city (dripping sarcasm) and knew gay people in high school.

I look back now at your situation and think to myself, "Holy shit! That took some courage." Knowing you then, it didn't seem like a big deal. I was too young to have experienced what huge assholes people can be.