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Aaron Hurst Headshot

Is Bigotry Worth Fighting?

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A colleague recently shared his story of being one of many kids in this country born gay into an evangelical Christian family that rejected him, forcing him onto the streets. He was one of the few who succeeded in turning his life around, got a degree, and is on track to becoming a leader in the community.

Despite his incredible courage and talent, he was struggling to find an issue to dedicate himself to in the community. Inspired by his story, and having recently read about countries in Africa that have been successfully lobbied by American Christians groups to execute their gay citizens, I asked why he hasn't taken up LBGT civil rights as his cause.

His response was somewhat shocking: he said that it was basically a waste of time. Not because there is no hope, but rather because he saw it as a generational issue. Hard-core homophobia will largely go the way of the dinosaurs when the boomer generation leaves the scene, according to the latest studies. Just last month, a national Gallup poll found the majority in favor of gay marriage for the first time ever. Among respondents, 70 percent of people ages 18 to 34 expressed their support, compared to only 39 percent of those 55 and older. In other words, we just need to ride out the last homophobic generation, and then hopefully it won't be as big an issue since newer generations are reportedly more enlightened.

The assumption here is that the march of social progress is inevitable. It might be slowed at times, but it can no less be stopped than the rotation of the earth. History generally supports this notion despite regular setbacks.

This insight gave me serious pause. Progress itself has been my lifelong cause: to advance our social, economic, and environmental standing. I work tirelessly to this end and to inspire others similarly.

But if progress is inevitable, am I wasting my time? Am I like a sports fan, cheering from the sidelines, who thinks his zealous support will actually impact the score of the game? Could you go so far as to call it arrogant to think one can impact progress?

This is the argument of some Americans who don't worry about global warming. They simply assume that the advances of science will find ways for us to adapt or that we will create a new technology to fix the ozone layer. It is a wonderfully reassuring point of view, especially since it is so rooted in optimism.

This, however, is a highly flawed and dangerous way to look at the world. It is the same thinking that justified Mao Zedong and his Great Leap Forward plan, which put future gains ahead of the lives of real people today. The result was tremendous human suffering and little progress.

It may be that homophobia will become a relic of the past with the passing of the boomer generation. It may be that science wins the battle with global warming. Meanwhile, however, children are being tossed onto the streets by bigoted parents, and countless species of animals and plants are being lost as their habitats are destroyed.

We dedicate our lives to progressive work in an effort to help those in need today. We also hope that our small acts will play some humble part in accelerating the march of progress. And perhaps most importantly, we take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. We don't pass the buck to the next generation with an optimistic wink.

We believe that individuals who have the courage to take a visible stand for issues they care about should be acknowledged and honored. For instance, June 19 has been dubbed Matt O'Grady Day at the Taproot Foundation. We give our team the day off to celebrate the wedding anniversary of our former vice president of national expansion, Matt O'Grady, who tied the knot with his partner in San Francisco three years ago. And more importantly, we are celebrating a major milestone in the civil rights movement in this country -- the legalization of gay marriage in the largest state in the land. Join us next year by providing your organization with a day off to recognize the progress of civil rights and the hard work still ahead.

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