Rising above ground

Wednesday morning, October 13, 2010 Dear EB,

The sun shining through the window streaming from a clear blue sky seems extra bright this morning in Helena. I'm feeling relief over at least three events: the order by U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips to immediately stop enforcement of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; the passage of the Health Enhancement Curriculum by the Helena School Board of Trustees; and the rescue of the miners in Chile. The third holds the most emotion at this moment. I'm trying to imagine the feelings of joy and amazement and tremendous relief as each miner rises to the surface from two months underground. I can't imagine how the family members and the miners have made it through this ordeal, even as the crowd and the world waits on pins and needles until all are rescued. I'm fascinated at how they have survived physically and emotionally, the life they created below to keep sane and functioning, the immense energy above ground focused on keeping the men alive and the complexities of freeing them. What a tremendous effort to pull together the brain power and technical innovations to rescue 33 men who many might have written off. How much is one or 33 human lives worth? To their families and country, everything.

No less the retrieval of human dignity and constitutional fairness of LGBT soldiers has required years of strategy, survival, underground-living, hope, and fear. The tunnel out of discrimination has been a long arduous process with its own physical, emotional and spiritual threats though with many casualties along the way. Still we are not out of danger, the ruling can be challenged and the passage could become blocked once again. Can we related the miners' lives with those of LGBT military personnel?

The approval of the Helena Health Enhancement Curriculum, one that brings the reality of LGBT persons, their partnerships and families above ground, represents a coming out of the darkness. It's a symbol that the safety of all students is paramount so that all have a chance of an education without the hindrances of bullying and isolation. The curriculum isn't a cure all, but it's a start. It also educates all our students for a larger world, one that doesn't necessarily see LGBT persons as immoral diseased misfits (summation of the themes of the opponents testimonies). Expand that picture to all the children who will be educated about healthy living from nutrition to physical/emotional development to mental illness to self awareness and acceptance of one's body to protection from sexual abuse and/or the means to report such abuse. All of this information could have been lost to a minority of citizens that felt threatened by homosexuality.

I'm reminded of something Bishop John Shelby Spong said when we interviewed him here in Helena a few weeks ago. He sees that discrimination against blacks, women, LGBT people, now Muslims, as perpetrated by the same people. The roots are in needing a victim, someone else to blame. He also shared his analysis of the church's victimization mentality starting with the emphasis on Jesus' crucifixion rather than the transformative act of love Jesus made, to give up his life for others. The church perpetuates a tragic image as Jesus' followers being sinners and bad, making God out to be a tyrannical parent lording over discipline rather one of love and care and nurturance. If one feels so badly about oneself, the victimization of others is a short distance away.

What I learned so much in our trip to Alabama was the participants in the Civil Rights Movement knew that they were taking a physical risk. As King wrote in Letters from the Birmingham jail, "You have to be prepared to die before you can begin to live." I got a sense of that choice for you and the three who joined us at Brown Chapel and were also part of voting rights marches. One can also see that boldness in the actions of San Francisco gay activist Harvey Milk and the first drag queen to throw a defiant stiletto at the police officers who were yet again raiding the Stonewall Bar in New York City. There is a point when we must rise out of our victimization and say, "No more."

We say, "No more," not only for ourselves but for all who cannot or have not yet stood up for themselves. We mourn the suicides of LGBT youth who have been overcome by despair. We fight against rights denied to same-gender partners in the most intense moments of life and death decisions in hospitals around the country. We push forward even with the firings for being gay, the refusal to employ because of one's gender identity, and housing refused to a lesbian couple with children. What is the value of these lives?

Even with hope in sight, the remaining miners have no guarantee of successful rescue. So many factors still threaten them. Yet they must approach that dark passageway with boldness, hope, and the love that awaits them at the end of the tunnel. I want to be among the crowd that can cheer, holler, embrace, and weep.

Thank you for sharing your life experience and wise learnings with the Helena School Superintendent before last night's vote. Your letter was powerful, and I hope helped to embolden the trustees in publicly voting in support.

Far to go, but with renewed hope, Truly yours, YS

Wednesday evening, October 13, 2010

Marilyn, my "Younger Sister",

Your eloquent article shaped by the results of the meeting that approved the Health Education Curriculum is classic! Your prose/poetry captures both the joy you (and I) have because of the decision, as well as your linking it to the other issues that face us today.

I particularly enjoyed your words about the miners in Chile. One of the gifts that those of us who have been pushed around, excluded, segregated and separated; you because of your sexual orientation, and I because of my racial identity, is that we have an appreciation for triumph over almost overwhelming odds. Such was the case in Chile. The liberation of the miners evoked a solidarity among people around the world. Triumph over tribulation connects with something deep within the human spirit.

My hope is that with all of the negativity, fear mongering, distortion of truth, demeaning of persons that some express in relation to those who are Lesbians and Gay men, even some of those persons will become liberated enough to rejoice in the equalilty gains Gay persons are beginning to achieve. May they be bold enough to reject prejudice in favor of justice and equality.

Those persons who claim their religious faith dictates their resistnce to full equality for lgbt persons and same sex couples, must begin to recognize that theirs is a fragile and superficial faith if it is built upon the exclusion and demonization of persons because of their sexual orientation. They, probably with you and me, rejoiced as the miners in Chile were being freed from their long imprisonment.

Do they understand the imprisonment that homophobic attitudes, words and actions cause to those who are victimized by their bigotry? Do they understand that none of us are truly free until all of us are free?

May the celebration of the world in response to the freeing of miners in Chile, prompt all who celebrate to remember those who are not yet free.

Gil Caldwell, "EB"