Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dialogues

I volunteered last night with a number of other folks for a very unique assignment. Those of us volunteering were gay and straight -- probably half of the group were straight people and half gay. We were men and women and there was a transgender person present. There were retirees and young students, and all ages in between. We had gathered at the offices of Minnesotans United for All Families. And our assignment was to call perfect strangers on the phone, and just talk to them about gay people, and about marriage.

Before the phone calls started, there was some discussion of what we would be doing. We were told that our assignment was mostly to listen and to learn. We were to ask questions. We were encouraged to share parts of our own story, mostly if it would help people to open up and talk. But the goal of the evening was just that -- talk. Dialogue.

We began by describing the constitutional amendment that would be on the ballot this November. We asked people about their views on same-sex marriage. We asked them about their feelings about marriage in general. We asked them about their experience with gay people and gay relationships. And we shared our experiences.

At the beginning of the evening, I confess I was nervous. The thought of having such intimate conversations with perfect strangers seemed very intimidating. By the end of the evening, after having had some incredible conversations, I was very encouraged. And eager to do it again!

My longest conversation of the evening was with a woman who stated at the outset that she opposed same-sex marriage. She also made it very clear that she felt some sort of legal recognition for same-sex relationships ought to be guaranteed. She just didn't think marriage. She talked somewhat about her religious convictions as a Catholic. She asked me if I was religious, and I told her I was. A Mormon. And I talked about my church's beliefs about marriage. But I also spoke about the devout Mormon members of my family, and of their support for me and my relationship. She told me about her marriage of many years to a wonderful husband. I and talked to her about my relationship of 18 years with my husband. There were some wonderful, beautiful moments in this conversation, where I felt a real connection with her, and she seemed to connect with me. At the end of our conversation, she reaffirmed her opposition to same-sex marriage, though she also reaffirmed her support for some kind of legal recognition. (It just wasn't clear what!) But I felt I had made a new friend. (Though we will probably never talk to each other again... In this life time at least.)

I also talked to a man who was retired and who had served many years as a scout master and leader in the Boy Scout movement. He was emphatic in his support for full equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. He was unequivocal. This was a right that everybody should have regardless of sexual orientation. It was just a matter of plain fairness. I asked a few questions to learn more about the nature of his support, and was amazed by his compassion and the depth of his commitment. I shared some of my situation, and thanked him from the bottom of my heart. He said he and his wife were both supportive of my situation, and would do what they could to encourage others to support us in the polls. I believed he would be an active and strong advocate, and I was deeply grateful.

Yes, there were a number of folks who were unwilling to talk about this subject. They let me know, and we ended the conversation politely. Even those (very short!) conversations were reassuring to me. It's OK. We can approach one another and seek to open up a dialogue, and it's not the end of the world if we don't dialogue. Nothing is lost. But so much is gained when are willing to be a bit vulnerable and approach people, and when people respond by being willing to open up and talk with us.

One of the things that was so powerful about this for me was the sense that I was participating as an active member in a polity, as a citizen. I was doing what a citizen should do, when faced with an important political decision. I was talking to other citizens. Dialoguing, deliberating, discussing. This is what citizens in a democracy are supposed to do. This is a powerful thing.

It was a powerful thing to learn that we can talk. And that we can -- even across differences -- listen to each other and even bond with each other.

If you live in Minnesota, I strongly encourage you to volunteer, to get involved. You can go right to the Minnesotans United web site and volunteer through there. Or contact me by email, on my blog, or through Facebook, and I'll tell you more. Come join me -- we can go together.

Whether or not you do what I did last night, I encourage you to have conversations of your own in coming months. We need thousands of such conversations in coming months, if people are to fully understand what's at stake in this vote.

4 comments:

Reuben Collins said...

Sounds like a wonderful experience.

J G-W said...

It was. Like I said, initially, when it was explained to me exactly what we would be doing, I was nervous, not sure how this would work or if I was up to it. Once I was actually on the phone talking to people, something clicked for me. I guess I just kind of decided that I would approach each person as if they were an old friend... Just talk to them at that level. People did open up, and it ended up being an amazing experience. And in those situations where people didn't really want to talk, it was relatively painless... We weren't there to force ourselves on anybody, just talk to whomever was willing to talk.

It was a lot like being a Mormon missionary!

GeckoMan said...

John,
My wife and I did the same thing, here in Oregon. It is a little scary to call strangers up to talk about marriage equality, but when they open up and talk, and you have a chance to share stories, it's a good time. Basic Rights Oregon decided to wait until 2014 to go for a constitutional amendment, so we'll have lots more opportunities for dialogue in the next couple years.

J G-W said...

Interesting... I'd be interested in chatting off line at some point about some of the experiences you've had!