Earning a letter in the LGBT…acronym

Between Frank Bruni’s NYT column yesterday, Two Consonants Walk Into a Bar …, link and the advance word on ABC’s mini-series, When We Rise, link the topic of acceptance is getting a good hearing.  The coming-out story of the LGBTQ movement is the story of learning what acceptance truly means. Gay folks have had to learn this lesson first, before progress could be made in the greater community. Equality cannot be fully understood until the least among us have asked for it and achieved it. The LGBTQ community has historically held the status of “least”.

There is a song that is mostly a series of questions from the musical, Side Show with book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger. The title is: Who Will Love Me As I Am? See, it’s a question. Some other questions from the song occur in the refrain:

Who will ever call to say I love you?

Send me flowers or a telegram?

Who could proudly stand beside me?

Who will love me as I am?

This is a catchy refrain, its message applies to anyone who needs human contact. The reason it holds value for the often despised LGBTQ folks is the overtly mean vilification coming from those pinnacles of morality: Religions. (I won’t say anything about child-rape by priests or adulterous ministers.) They cast us as the ultimate outsiders.

Like an odd exotic creature

On display inside a zoo

Hearing children asking questions

Makes me ask some questions too

Could we bend the laws of nature?

Could a lion love a lamb?

Who could see beyond this surface?

Who will love me as I am?

The history of our rights movement is the gradual self-awareness gained while we re-learned one lesson over and over again: we must treat others in the manner we are asking to be treated by others. Does that sound like The Golden Rule? You betcha. We are as guilty of the ills of society toward one another as society can be toward us.

Early gay rights groups struggled with the following issue: How can average, every-day gays ask for equality without including leather people and drag queens too. Those types don’t project the kind of PR image that Americans want to see. America won’t like us with that image, so we should hide them and shame them into invisibility.

Well, isn’t that exactly what society does to us all? Once that realization sinks in there is no real choice left. Wow, we can’t divorce ourselves from others who are in the same situation. That’s a tough realization to make. All sexual minorities shared a common plight and must join together in the fight. Every time we crossed that exact same bridge we fought amongst ourselves. Each group had to earn its consonant in the ever expanding acronym. We eventually learned how to be accepting in the way we wished to be accepted ourselves.

Once we were capable of accepting ourselves AND each other through reciprocity, we could do an effective job of demanding it from society. The way we did that was to teach society about The Golden Rule through our example. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is the way I learned it; each religion has its own variation while the non-theists and humanists say it is just plain common sense.
CHART.001The continuum of ‘acceptance’ starts with hatred on one end and tolerance in the middle; the extreme positive end is love. Acceptance is somewhere on the love side of tolerance. You see, tolerance is half way, it contains as much love as hate. It’s balanced, but a small bird landing on either side would be enough to shift the balance one way or another. Tolerance does not provide confidence. It’s hedging bets. It’s wishy-washy.

For a while we were content with half way. Tolerance was better than nothing. My doctor asked why we had to use the word marriage when I told him I was getting married to my partner of 27 years. Before I could give a response he answered his own question, “I guess anything else wouldn’t be equal, would it?” When he was sitting right there with me, and not in his church, he could make the necessary connection on his own. He just needed to be presented with the situation. Mere tolerance, for a while, provided enough “situations” to give people the chance to draw their own conclusions. The more the logic of acceptance creeped into their mindset, the more they pressed us not to settle for tolerance. That was the moment we won the battle.

Who could proudly stand beside me?

Who will love me as I am?

We all ask the same questions whether in high school popularity struggles or politics or daily social existence. First we ask who will love me as I am, then who will accept me as I am, then tolerate, then oppose, then hate. At what level do we belong? We deserve to be loved once we learn to give the things we want first, but sometimes we have to settle for tolerance before learning can happen. Then, we start building arguments for acceptance. As we do that, we discover similarities between every consonant in the LGBTQ family. We all share, in common, the same enemy; it’s those who don’t understand the Law of Reciprocity – The Golden Rule.