To the Truth in Progress Community: Friends, I write and write letters to the editors of newspapers that most times are not published. Marilyn and I have been sharing with you through our web page, words and pictures shaped by our "Truth in Progress" visit to Selma and Birmingham, Alabama. I have written about my visit to Selma for our web site. Here is a revision of a letter that I wrote to a Birmingham newspaper that was not published. Newspaper editors, who have the responsibility of choosing and rejecting letters for publication, cannot and will not publish every letter they receive. We cannot blame them for that. Therefore I have revised my Birmingham letter, made it an "Open Letter," and now share it with you.
June 14, 2010
To the Editor,
It was a joy and privilege for my colleague Marilyn and I who are involved in a project to explore the differences and similarities of the human rights struggles of blacks and gays, to be involved in Birmingham's Gay Pride Parade as well as our visits to the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and Ingram Park, which captures so much of the Civil Rights history of Birmingham. Our project is called Truth in Progress. My visit to Birmingham, in ways that are difficult to describe, made the words "Truth" and "Progress" especially meaningful to me.
I am an African American retired, United Methodist clergyman, born in North Carolina who "grew up" in Texas and who left the south in 1954 because a southern, Methodist-related Seminary refused me admission because of my race. I attended Boston University School of Theology, my active ministry was in the northeast and I retired in Denver. I have longed for opportunities to return to the south of my birth. My visit to Selma, Friday, where 45 years ago I participated in "Turnaround Tuesday", and my participation in the Gay Pride event in Birmingham, empowered my southern pride!
I am a member of the national Board of Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and it was a joy to meet and have lunch with members of Birmingham's PFLAG chapter. My Truth in Progress colleague Marilyn and I were very impressed as we interviewed persons for our web site and our film documentary that is in process. Birmingham, we discovered, has many gifted persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), and the allies/advocates of gay rights we have met, all are impressive.
The number of persons of African descent who participated in the Gay Pride Parade or who watched it impressed me; and, the racial diversity of persons present at the Sunday picnic was noted by me with great interest. The presence of LGBT persons white and black, and the allies like myself who participated, suggest that our Truth in Progress project that seeks to open conversation, reflection and action on matters related to the justice journeys of blacks and LGBT persons is right-on-time.
I offer these words of encouragement and possibly empowerment to Birmingham and to all who read these words. The South can become the "cornerstone" of the "new" America that we are building. I use Biblical imagery to suggest that the south, "...that has been rejected (for external and internal reasons) can become a cornerstone..." It can help the nation break through the liberal-conservative divide that is thwarting our national progress. The ending of slavery and legal racial segregation in the south cannot be defined as a manifestation of liberalism. The legal ending of our racial divide represented the best of conservative commitments to the rights of the individual, as well as the justice commitments we ascribe to liberals. Today conservatives and liberals and those in between, look back on our history of slavery and legal racial segregation and denial of rights to women and realize how foolish and contradictory to American ideals they were. And, I believe there will come a day when we look back on our legal and cultural resistance to LGBT persons and view that resistance as being foolish and contradictory as well. Conservatives as well as Liberals will do this. I contend most of us are at different times on different issues are liberal conservatives, or conservative liberals.
The issues of peace, the economy, education, jobs, the environment, etc., are so crucial to us, our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, that we can no longer waste our time and resources denying any persons or groups their human rights. Birmingham and the South realized that vis-à-vis race, years ago. My hope is that we are beginning to learn the denial of equality to persons because of their sexual orientation is as anti-American as was legal racial segregation.
The south has been burdened with its racial truths in ways unknown to most of the nation. My generation of African Americans frequently said of southern whites; "We prefer to be in relationship to and with southern whites who admit and are in the process of transcending their negative racial attitudes, than we are with non-southerners who have not acknowledged the reality of their racism, but then reveal its reality in some of the subtle and less than positive ways they treat blacks.” Southern racial truth has been met with southern racial progress. Truth in Progress seeks to address racism and heterosexism and explore ways we might make progress in conquering both of these isms. Marilyn and I are excited by your interest, the ways that some of you have supported this effort, and we look forward to more of you joining us in our journey that hopefully will become your journey.
Gilbert H. Caldwell