Monday Mar 23, 2009

I Walked the Walk



Although in work-related situations, I have (ahem) a rather big personality, in my personal time, I'm somewhat introverted. Hate big parties. Don't like crowds. Don't like meeting strangers. Don't like asking personal questions. That kind of thing really stresses me out.

And yet, there I was on Saturday morning at All Saints Church in Pasadena, going through training on how to canvass a neighborhood and find out why people voted as they did on last November's Proposition 8. I was nervous and jittery. Not only was I doing something completely outside my comfort zone, but I was doing it with strangers. Nice strangers, mind you. Extremely appreciative and supportive strangers, in fact. But strangers.

During the training, we were taught both key messages and methodologies. We learned how to make sure there wasn't a vicious dog behind the fence, waiting to lunch on our leg. We were reminded that we had three objectives: to identify why people object to gay marriage and try to soften their view, and to entice those who support gay marriage to volunteer. The best weapon, we were told, is our personal story – why we are doing what we're doing.

Mine was easy: I'm a mom with two children, one has the right to marry because she's straight, and the other doesn't, because he's gay. As a mom, I can't live with that.

I was assigned a canvassing partner – we would work the same block on opposite sides of the street (damn... I would have been so much more comfortable if we could have worked the houses together, but we were told that was intimidating). But at least my partner had done this before...

Rob was great – in fact, spending two hours with him was the best part of the experience (you can get to know Rob at his blog, wakingupnow.com). On the ride to our district, Rob told me how hurt he was after the election, and that for awhile, he hated all straight people. That he was so angry at conservative Christians. And that he was canvassing because it was at least something he could do to make a difference. I was inspired - but still scared pea green.

We arrived at our target community (which was in the foothills, so there was lots of huffing and puffing accompanying our efforts), and I rang my first doorbell. A man came out. He became very, very angry when I told him I was there to learn about voters' views on gay marriage. He became intimidatingly angry, in fact. I was polite but got the heck out of there. They told us what to do about mad dogs, but not what to do with frothingly angry voters.

The day got better after that (how could it have gotten worse??). My high point was talking with a 75-year old grandmother who just didn't understand why people cared about gay marriage – why do they want to tell other people how to live? Don't we all deserve love and happiness? I wanted to hug her. My most puzzling conversation was with a mom like me – she also has one straight and one gay child. She raved on and on about her lesbian daughter, how responsible she was, how lovely. But no, she could not support gay marriage. Civil unions? You bet. But marriage brings in a religious piece that she feels is sacred. And, she assured me, her daughter felt the same way. Hmmm, I don't believe that for a minute, but I understood her perspective. She voted for Prop 8 last time, and would do it again.

I was shaking my head when I walked away from the door. But part of me thinks she has a point. As soon as religion enters the picture, toxins join it, and emotions get very high.

So let's do this a different way, and make ALL marriages civil unions. Mine, yours. Make sure we all have the same rights under the law. Then, if you want to be married in God's eyes, do it separately in the church of your choosing. If your church doesn't perform same sex marriages, leave it and go find a church that loves and respects you for who you are.

Live and let live. Love and let love. Equal protection under the law. I don't care much about equal protection under the church – that's not my right nor my problem as a U.S. citizen, where separation of church and state is the law of the land.

Will I canvass again? I don't know. It was a highly emotional experience, and one of the more difficult things I've done in my life. I can't promise I'll be up for it again. But on March 21, 2009, I stood up for my son, my niece, my family, my friends, my colleagues, my fellow human beings. And for that, at least, I can be proud.

Monday Oct 20, 2008

A Tale of Two Photos, Two Children and Two Sides



I'm holding two photographs in my hand. One is my son Andrew's senior picture from high school some seven years ago. He's trying to smile for the camera but looks hesitant and uncomfortable. The other is of Andrew at his senior prom, joy beaming from his face. Dressed in a tux, grinning ear-to-ear, he poses with his date, Dustin. How strong do you have to be to take a same sex date to your senior prom in high school? Very. It took courage and conviction. It wasn't a prank. It was a date.

I work for a company that deeply values diversity. And I'm betting you do, too. In good times, in bad times, having the best talent and having different perspectives make a difference in the marketplace. So we treat people fairly, regardless of skin color, religion, age, ethnic background, sexual orientation. Because it's good business and the right thing to do. It makes me proud to work for Sun.

How ironic, then, that we are headquartered in California, where a proposition is posed to pass that changes the State constitution and eliminates the rights of people who make up between 7 to 10 percent of the population. I'm speaking of Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage. The last time we had something so ugly on the books was with the miscegenation laws banning marriage and intimate relations between people of different color. Those didn't go away until the 1960's, to our shame. (Oh, and we weren't alone – Nazi Germany and South Africa had those laws, too, for a period of time.)

What's equally disturbing to me are the people I see out campaigning for this – college kids, church ladies, their earnestness shining on their faces. I look at them and wonder, “What did a gay person ever do to you?”

Last weekend, I returned home from the grocery store, shaking in anger. Some of those nice Proposition 8 supporters had been marching outside my store, waving their signs of support for a proposition that would steal my son's future. As I slammed grocery bags on the counter, I vented my feelings about Proposition 8. My husband listened quietly and said, “You know, Terry? This has nothing to do with hate. You need to understand that this is a huge cultural change – accepting something that hasn't been accepted for generations." A good, rational point, but it didn't really calm me down – that took an hour of running on the treadmill.

Look, my son has brown eyes. My daughter has blue eyes. My son is gay. My daughter is straight. They no more chose their sexual orientation than they chose their eye color – it's just how they were born. As my niece was born. As Dick Cheney's daughter was born. As some of my neighbors – and yours – were born. As some of my colleagues – and yours – were born. As some of my friends – and yours – were born. As 7 to 10 percent of us were born.

We have huge problems in this country that we need to fight together. The dreadful economy. Global warming. Job creation. Education. At a time when being united and having the full population working to solve problems, do we really need to be tearing ourselves apart? Can't we all put our energies behind something constructive that will help push forward, not push us back?

I'm voting a resounding NO on Proposition 8. Before you vote, please think about your friends, your colleagues, your neighbors, your family – the hidden 7 to 10 percent of us who were born with a different sexual orientation. Please don't vote to take away their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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terrymckenzie

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