Tearing Down Walls, Building Bridges, Pride, and Bon Jovi?

Walls
“Walls”
by Pat Green

It’s getting harder to be on social media during Pride month. There is the usual anti LGBTQIA+ rhetoric that happens every year, but now there is a more prominent divide. That divide is within and among. We have walls. This divide is not new, but the chasm feels wider and the wall in the way of unity feels a little taller. In some cases the divide is within the LGBTQIA+ community. Other cases it is the relationship between the community and allies. And finally, there are the divides hindering intersectional activism.

I do not want to place blame here because there is a lot of it to go around. Further, I have seen the harm when I was the midwest director of  Progressive Christian Alliance that can happen when we build bridges and promote unity at the cost of principle. This is a delicate balance and we are already walking a tight rope above the hatred.

I live in Illinois. In 2017 we saw 4 laws passed that protect and further  the rights of LGBTQIA+ children and adults.  These laws came to be from multiple organizations working together, families meeting with and writing their local representatives, donations from other groups embracing intersectional behavior and more. A lot of bridges had to be built to tear down walls. We built so many bridges in Illinois that 2 divided houses and a Republican governor brought these bills into law.

Every letter mattered. Each donation helped forward the cause. As a community we were indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Together we made lives safer and we fought the vigilant lies of hate groups like The Family Research Council and the American College of Pediatricians. The result? Walls fell.

We have a lot more walls that need to come down and there are some bridges that need repair. We also have bridges that need to be built.

It is not for me to tell the LGBTQIA+ community, Black Lives Matter, groups for persons with disabilities, and feminist organizations how to behave and conduct themselves. I can only speak directly to other parents and allies.

As an ally we are choosing to share this road with a community. We are guests that were invited to help, not to lead. We also need to understand that sometimes we are wrong and know at times we will have done nothing wrong and face backlash. That is sometimes due to distrust that is warranted due to experiences they have had and other times we may inadvertently cause a trigger.

I once had a transgender friend tell me a story about his youth. When he was in high school he was a life guard at a local pool. When he was taught on how to rescue a drowning person, they never once said anything about denying aid because the scream for help was impolite. He did tell me, however, that in fear and panic a drowning person may lash out when you try to help them. As a lifeguard he was trained to protect themselves from that harm. Why this analogy?

A lifeguard is a strong swimmer and has had training. We as allies cannot just say, “I love gay people!” and run in trying to help. Having no clue what we are doing, we may cause offense, hurt and even real harm. Educate yourself, join groups, connect with organizations that have been advocating and take advantage of any resources and training they may offer. Your LGBTQIA+ pal, black friend, friend with a bi-polar disorder, or rape victim you know is not a resource. They may help with some questions we have on their terms, but there are spaces we can go to and learn how to be more effective allies. This will make us a better friend and a better ally.

Now to the parents. Our kids matter to us more than almost anything else in the world. As a “trans-parent” I sometimes cringe when I see a parent who has a child with autism or a black parent speak about their issue and a fellow trans-parent says, “You think YOU have it bad. Let me tell you about MY kid.” Stop and think. You are a parent with a child who faces challenges. You do not know their challenges and they do not know your challenges, but you both know what it is to love your child and the pain you feel when you see them face walls in an unfair and unequal world.

Showing kindness, solidarity and support will build a bridge. Together, we as parents will organically embrace intersectionality and help build a better world for our kids. We will also teach them how to navigate this messy world of chasms, bridges and walls.

I recently heard a story, and I do not know all the facts so I am not linking to it. A gay person with a disability had trouble navigating his wheelchair into a popular gay bar. He had asked a bouncer/doorman for help who refused and allegedly said something like, “If you are handicapped, maybe you shouldn’t be at a bar during pride.” If this did happen, I know most LGBTQIA+ people would be angry and horrified. Pride should have proper access to all who wish to take part.

There are important issues that need to be discussed and one cannot sacrifice principle for the sake of a bridge. When I dig my heels in with groups like the United Methodist Church I am doing so because there are allies who need to do better for the sake of my child and his LGBTQIA+ peers. Once, I did this with the United Churches of Christ and it had the desired result. Understanding and a promise from one of their leaders to address issues of concern that could lead to harm. The goal of standing on principle is not to destroy a group, it is to say, “I want to join hands with you, but you gotta clean the blood and or dirt off your hands first. Put down your weapon and grab a tool. I have to look my son in the eye and explain why I am friends with you.”

Why Bon Jovi is in the Title

My son is in Spain right now. He is there for ten days on a once in a lifetime academic trip. Yesterday he wore his Bon Jovi concert shirt I bought him because it was day five of his journey. He was…um…half way there (sorrynotsorry). So, since a love of Bon Jovi is something we share and I miss my kid, I am going to close out with a relevant song by them that inspired today’s column. May Pride 2018 be the year we tear down walls and build bridges!

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