Op-ed: Bridging Our Differences Peacefully

By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com December 13 2011 1:38 PM ET

 “I fully realize that a person who stands for what I
stand for, an activist, a gay activist, becomes the target or the potential
target for a person who is insecure, terrified, afraid, or very disturbed with
themselves ... ”
 

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public
office in California, recorded this statement in the event of his
assassination. As our LGBT history tells us, he was murdered by Dan White, a
former colleague who disagreed ideologically with a stringent gay rights
ordinance Milk had helped to pass during his nearly 11 months in office as a San
Francisco city supervisor.

In many respects, Milk’s prophetic words and White’s
murderous action capture the essence of the violent confrontation that all too
often takes place when beliefs, ideologies, and worldviews collide. Take, for example,
Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry’s recent remarks regarding the
Obama administration’s decision to integrate the human and civil rights of LGBT
people into U.S. foreign policy. He was not content to disagree with the foreign
policy position defined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her speech to
the U.N. Human Rights Council. Instead, in a steady stream
of violence-laden invective, the Texas governor articulated a sentiment few dare
to vocalize in a more enlightened America: his belief that LGBT people are
expendable, literally, meaning America need not intervene when countries such
as Uganda threaten to execute men and women because of their actual or
perceived sexual orientation.

Combating violent human interaction is not a novel concept.
Doing so was the central focus of peace-oriented advocates such as Mahatma
Gandhi, whose philosophy of nonviolence aimed to
melt the differences between individuals, countries, and continents. Gandhi
advocated nonviolent communication as a means of engaging in civil discourse,
especially when we disagree, cognizant of all those things that unite us, chief
among them our common humanity. While he died at the hands of
a political extremist, in his life Gandhi put into practice the theory of
nonviolent communication adapted and reframed by various faith traditions, whose
interpretation boils down to the importance of knowing another person’s perspective as a
means of creating an atmosphere for nondefensive exchanges of ideas.

Thankfully,
at a critical moment in the LGBT community – one in which we are assailed by
politicians and find ourselves in mourning over so many lost to
bullying-related violence — our community counts on a new generation of
advocates. One such advocate is Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay
Episcopal bishop, who has weathered storms of bigotry, ignorance, and
intolerance, the origins of which lie in values contrary to those of peaceful
coexistence. And so, as he prepares to retire in 2012, he has declared a part
of his post-retirement mission the promotion of nonviolent communication among
and between what he terms “the churched, the un-churched, and the de-churched.”

This
particular aspect of his mission will be advanced out of St. Thomas’ Parish, a
small Episcopal church in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., which
was itself the victim of violence over race and war issues that roiled the
nation’s capital during the late 1960s and early 1970s. For decades, St.
Thomas’ Parish has been at the forefront of engaging its own congregants and
the community in challenging conversations. Whether the topic was racial
integration, war, HIV/AIDS, or same‐sex marriage equality, this congregation
has been a prophetic leader in seeking justice for all persons. Together, we
embrace deeply held welcoming, progressive, and inclusive ideals — “radical
hospitality,” as my fellow parishioners and I like to refer to the way in which
all are made welcome.

In a world
torn by division, and as some among us seek political and other advantages by
dehumanizing “the other,” it is an opportune time for Bishop Robinson to work
through St. Thomas’ Parish and, with the citizens of Washington and
those of our entire country, to engender dialogue with one another in ways that
are centered in love, compassion, and forgiveness. With God’s help, perhaps
this work will have a “ripple effect” and will create ongoing and ever more
influential ideas that will affect our country’s social and political landscape
for years to come.

 

JOE ZUNIGA is president of the International
Association of Physicians in AIDS Care and the 1992 U.S. Army Soldier of the
Year who came out as a gay man at the 1993 March on Washington. He resides in
Washington, D.C., and was married at St. Thomas’ Parish in 2010, where he also
serves as a member of the vestry. Visit
 www.stthomasdc.org for
more information about St. Thomas’ Parish, its capital campaign, and its
efforts to promote nonviolent communication.