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Sailors, Closets And Mormons

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I had a straight-identified friend recently tell me she was deeply offended listening to macho gay bashing while in the company of some middle-aged men participating in a sailing regatta on the San Francisco Bay. Though it gives new meaning to the adage "talking like sailors," in reality they were simply talking like bigots. Yet, despite her disgust, she didn't say anything. She's a liberal and an outspoken proponent of injustice, but she was silenced by the suspicion that she was the only person present who perceived the comment to be insulting and derogatory. After all, she was on a boat in a treacherous bay. Visions of walking the plank as she defended her LGBT friends may have swirled in her head for a minute, but for whatever reason, at that moment, she instead elected to remain silent.

As my friend recounted the episode over dinner, I commented that she should have said something. Yet at the same token, I also acknowledge the reality that all too often, even gay people at one time or another find themselves in the very same intimidating predicament, and we remain silent ourselves.

When we feel outnumbered and without support, why rock the boat, right? Wrong! The truth is, our silence is costly, and in some cases, even deadly.

In this day and age, it's more important than ever to come out. We increasingly need to put a human face to our civil rights struggle. We are neighbors, co-workers, friends, everyday people who work and interact in all walks of life. Imagine how many straight people have no idea who we are because we remain silent. If we shared this part of our lives more often, think how many more straight people would see we are not so different.

We are part of the American fabric, and all straight people need to see our rainbow thread and, in doing so, realize that we, too, are an equal part of the tapestry that is America. In fact, we not only help hold it together, but arguably, we make it look and feel a heck of a lot better! If you don't believe me, go visit Palm Springs, where I produce The Dinah Shore Weekend. I understand that the gay population is near a majority, and trust me, the neighborhoods have never looked more fabulous.

The more people there are who know an LGBT American, the harder it will be for them to vote against us, even behind a black curtain. We need to shift the moral conscience of a good many straight people who have no contact with us, other than what they hear from a fire-and-brimstone pulpit or read in filtered press. We need to put a face to our movement every opportunity we get to eradicate the fear and ignorance that plagues those who would deny us our rights. And that's no small task.

Granted, more often than not, it is easier said than done, especially in certain highly conservative parts of the country. And for the record, I am no fan of vitriol on either side. When I was living in Palm Springs, I received visits from door-to-door evangelists. Mostly they were Jehovah's Witnesses, but now and then Mormons would come knocking. I relished those days. I listened to their pitch patiently, and with great pride I would inform those soliciting Mormons that I was a lesbian. I would share how appalled I was at the hatred that their church perpetrated against our community, and that God had let me know personally that he approved of my lifestyle. But I said my piece kindly.

Now, I admit that this was a fun pastime, one that I actually grew quite fond of and looked forward to. I was always disappointed when they turned out to be Jehovah's Witnesses, as I had no beef with them. And whenever the opportunity presented itself, my lecture to the Mormons was probably not doing much good. But I also knew that in a day in the life of a door-to-door evangelist, he or she is often treated rudely. I felt that my kindness, and not my politics, would perhaps have a greater effect.

One day, after being solicited by two unsuspecting and youthful Mormon evangelists, I gleefully shared my position. They listened to my point of view, rebutted politely but ineffectively, and finally, when they realized that they had successfully paved my road to hell, they asked if there was anything else they could do for me. Not one to turn down generous offers, I responded, with a big grin, that my front porch light was broken and that if they were so eager to give a helping hand, perhaps they could fix that. And guess what? A few days later, the light was repaired. They may not have agreed with my lifestyle, but I saw their gesture, figuratively speaking, as testimony to their own personal way of expressing a small act of kindness toward a gay person. It's a start.

But we can't hide forever, and hopefully one day we won't have to. I believe it's the youth, both LGBT and straight, and their increasingly inclusive politics that will ultimately influence the positive outcome of our civil rights struggle. Older, more conservative voters will fall off the roster and younger, more liberal voters will jump on. Or perhaps a federal mandate will prevail, but even that will be influenced by public opinion. We'll achieve our rights. It's simply a matter of time. We all know this. But until then, let's live out loud. Come out to one person this week, and not just as LGBT, but for our straight friends, come out as an ally of the LGBT community. Put the anthemic "I'm Coming Out" by Diana Ross as number 1 on your iPod playlist this week, and celebrate our lives with panache! At the very least, for all you know, you might start a flash mob dance.

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