The following post was written by Kevin Harris, Director of Community Relations at The Marin Foundation.
Out of the many ways that we understand the world and others around us, there are few if any forms of communication that have the capacity to mold us like the power of personal stories from others. It’s easy to debate and get stuck on ideas and theoretical constructs, but the humanizing power and vulnerability entailed in a personal story has the capacity to disarm us and challenge our presumed ways of thinking. Whether they are filled with actions that were influenced by beliefs that we agree or disagree with, a story simply is.
Regretfully, many stories from individuals that are a part of marginalized groups are often silenced and not adequately or accurately represented through different presentations of history and current forms of public discourse and media. Though often more subtle today; patriarchy, racism, classism, and prejudice towards sexual minorities and gender non-conforming individuals still influence the information we hear and how it is presented. In the broader LGBT community, this still seems to particularly be the case for individuals that identify as bisexual, pansexual, transgender, genderqueer, intersex, and others that fall outside of the gay and lesbian mainstream all too often. Within the community, it seems that racial minorities and those from with a lower socio-economic status have even more difficulty making their stories heard across broader audiences.
Another common cause of silence is shame and fear related to how others will respond if they find out. Whether the individual is coming from a more conservative or progressive understanding of faith and sexuality or a place of more or less power/privilege, fear and shame do not discriminate as they can inhibit and silence individuals across the board. The same may be the case for parents of those that identify as LGBT or are struggling to figure out their sexuality and/or gender identity as they may fear that it will in some way lead to condescending perceptions about their parenting and their child, however unwarranted they may be.
Everyone benefits when people are empowered to share their stories and places are fostered that can encourage authenticity and vulnerability to be displayed as narratives have the power to illuminate our areas of ignorance. But as that is much easier said than done, what practical steps can you take in your personal relationships, church community, etc. to cultivate spaces where voices that have been silenced because of power dynamics or fear and shame can be heard and valued?