By: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Faith Columnist–
Sometimes I wake in the morning with a song in my head. There’s usually a reason for it. On one December morning last month, I concluded the song was sent to ease my mind. It had something to do with the advances made by the LGBTQ community while offering hope for the New Year.
The December song that banged around in my skull, “Getting to Know You,” is from “The King and I” by Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers. “Getting to know you, Getting to know all about you, Getting to like you, Getting to hope you like me …” If you’re only familiar with works like “Rent,” “Wicked,” “Evita,” “Hamilton,” or “Kinky Boots,” you’ve missed out on one of the all-time great Broadway musicals. And, it probably means I’m getting old.
The Broadway song in my head was probably because of the stories appearing about straight persons or families with gay acquaintances in the workplace or living in the neighborhood. Contact can change hearts and minds.
“Contact theory” is the basis of a recent sociological study documenting the more straight folks interacts with someone who is LGBTQ, the less likely they oppose expanding civil and human rights. In some cases, they’ll be advocates for it.
Gwen Aviles, writing for NBC News, highlighted the study, “In 2006, about 45 percent of people with a gay or lesbian acquaintance supported same-sex marriage.” Only four years later the percentage exceeded 60 percent. “Of the respondents who did not have a gay or lesbian acquaintance, only 22 percent approved of same-sex marriage in 2008 and 2010.”
The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), yep the Rev. Pat Robertson source for all things anti-LGBTQ, posted an interview with Christian singer, Lauren Daigle. She said, on the Ellen Show and reposted by CBN, “I have too many people that I love that they are homosexual. I don’t know, I actually had a conversation with someone last night about it. I can’t say one way or the other. I’m not God.”
Although the article did go on to cite scripture taken out of context, the fact CBN gave coverage to her non-judgmental views is a big deal. It’s an important first step.
Sometimes Christian organizations harboring unjust and prejudicial views are forced to terminate talented staff for being LGBTQ. It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face. In other cases, church members are struggling with children who are trying to accept themselves in a hostile religious environment. These groups are, to borrow a Southern phrase, “having their come to Jesus moment.”
Not long ago a neighborhood in suburban Chicago came together to support a lesbian family. A stolen LGBTQ flag from the porch became a moment of cohesion for the straight and LGBTQ communities. After it occurred, several families in the straight community put up rainbow flags on their properties. It made a statement. “We love, respect, and will protect our LGBTQ neighbors.” It’s an example of the “contact theory” in action.
Despite the anxiety I experienced in the last year, due in part to the current White House occupant, the song “Getting to know you” pricked my conscience. The LGBTQ community has so much to be thankful for. Keep anxiety in check and think long-term.
In 2019, remember that court victories or passage of LGBTQ friendly laws are important but limited. You and your family, and the examples you set remain the best way to safeguard and advance civil and human rights. No matter your job title, employment status, paycheck size, or place in the LGBTQ or larger community, you possess the ability to change hearts and minds. That’s the greatest weapon against injustice.
*Paul is a personal chaplain, seminary trained priest, and lawyer in greater Albany, NY. He’s also the author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis.”