The goal of the Health for Every Veteran Study is to better understand the experiences of Veterans from all backgrounds and promote their health and well-being, including those with LGBT or related identities. We are especially interested in hearing the diverse voices within our communities.
The study is being conducted by researchers at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System. It consists of completing a confidential, web-based questionnaire every 9 months for approximately 2 years (for a total of 4 questionnaires). All research activities are completed online, with no in-person visits required.  For more information, please go to https://healthforeveryvet.questionpro.com

 

I recently published a blog suggesting that people stop viewing I Am Cait. A day later, I saw a message from Jennifer Boylan, encouraging people to watch the new season. She promised that there was some hard-hitting dialogue ahead. She also admonished us to be more civil. I am, if nothing else, a great admirer of Ms. Boylan, so I watched the show.

I agree with Jennifer Boylan: We do need to engage one another in civil dialogue.  We do need to love those who hold different views. But I’m not so sure that we need to watch this show.
Let me start with the good: These are all wonderful women – Cait included. They are likable. The dialogue is honest. The show does not shy away from uncomfortable issues and feelings. But, by the end of the show, I was left with many concerns:

The show presents us as glamor gals.
I felt as though I was watching a blue-blooded cocktail party on wheels.  The visual focus was on the outfits, the suitcases, and makeup kits.  At any moment, I expected to hear Cait blurt out, “Let them eat cake!” Imagine our indignation if we watched a group of rich, white men discuss the plight of migrant workers while fly-fishing on the Wind River. TV is a visual medium. The visuals of this show are at odds with what Ms. Boylan wants us to hear.

The dialogue leads nowhere.
I am all for encouraging a healthy exchange of ideas. But mostly what I heard on this show was a repeated exchange of stereotypes. Cait: Republicans are good people; Democrats will destroy the economy.  Everyone else on the show: Republicans and religious conservatives are out to get us!
I admire the effort of the other women to confront Cait. But in the end, what I saw was a wealthy, conservative woman coddled by her friends. Whenever she came across an inconvenient truth, Caitlyn dug in her heels: “No! We’re not going there!”  “It just happened to be a Republican who said that.” Caitlyn gets her way. Her baseless assertion that the economy is going down the tubes flies in the face of the evidence. And yet it is challenged by nothing more than a collective gasp. Where is the education?

The emphasis on sexuality feels misplaced.
I don’t disagree with any of the discussion about sexuality. For anyone interested in whom we love and how we struggle to integrate our past and future lives, it is an interesting conversation. But I think that we risk far more important issues by giving this topic so much prominence. I want the world to accept me as I go about my job, shop in a mall, or go the bathroom. Understanding my sexuality is a very low priority. Leave that for a graduate seminar. A woman shouldn’t have to reveal her knickers in order to get the world’s attention.

We hear the wrong voices.
I wanted to hear so much more from Kate (Bornstein) and Chandi. What fascinating women!  Jennifer added some very intelligent observations. But this show sends the wrong message: If you are rich and famous, you trump everyone else in the room (pun intended).  Next to Cait, these incredible women allow themselves to come across as secondary. They are Cait’s retinue. In fact, Cait should be begging to be on their show. Women have fought hard to have their intelligence taken seriously. This show does not give due respect to some very brainy women.

At the end of last night’s episode, there is a preview of next week’s show. The preview says it all. We hear Cait’s voice in the background: “I want to see the girls broaden their horizons and have some fun with this.” As she says this, we see a video clip of Chandi getting on a horse. What a lucky woman.  Cait might as well say, “Let them eat cake!”
I hope I haven’t pissed these women off.  They are incredible people. I would count myself lucky to spend an hour with any of them – including Cait. My concern is with the show’s premise and format. Try as they might, I don’t think that Cait’s friends stand a chance. Their insights deserve so much more emphasis.
And the show’s structure puts Caitlyn on the defensive. Given the setting – several friends ganging up on her in front of the nation – it is hard to expect her to listen to learn. Based on her recent comments to the press, it doesn’t appear that her thinking evolved while filming season two. I admire her willingness to share herself so openly. I only wish I saw more evidence that she is learning from the rest of us.

POSTSCRIPT: In the interest of balanced reporting: my wife, Mary, begs to differ with me. While she shares my concerns, she feels that I am throwing out the baby with the bath water. Of Cait she says: “She is the loudest voice you have.” Maybe that’s why I find myself shouting. — But if both Jennifer and Mary say I should watch the show, I will continue to tune in. They are both wise women. But I will be watching with a wary eye.

Pamela Valentine publishes a wonderful blog, Affirmed Mom, in which she tries to share the perspectives and experiences of transgender families.  I especially love one of her most recent posts: To Mourn A Child.  What a beautiful story. What a wonderful mother.

I just returned from a weekend with my own 83-year-old mother and father. My mother fully embraces my transition (as does my father). And yet she mispronouns me at least half of the time. I find it wonderful every time she does...

It is wonderful because of the love that shines through all of our interactions. Mom is more distressed than I am whenever she gets my name or pronoun wrong. When we talk on the phone, she makes it a point to sit in front of a recent picture of me. “So I remember who I am talking to.”

I know that her mistakes are the product of decades of conditioning and of her loving memories of our past. I know that, for me, my children will always be stuck in my head as the devilishly cute three-year-olds they once were.

I would offer this to all of you mothers who mourn the “loss” of a transgender child. Embrace your mourning. But remember that, in a world where so many relationships are based on wrote formulas, there is something uniquely wonderful when two people are forced to reach into unfamiliar territory. Because of our efforts to connect across the divide in my life, my mother and I have shared an intimacy that was heretofore unimaginable to either one of us.  Yes, she has had to let go of some ritual labels and anticipated moments. But she has come to know me in a way that few parents ever get to know their children.

My mom would be the first to say that I am a far more happy, complete, and giving person today. And, today, I love her with the love of two lives. I hope that I am as lucky with my children.

McCrory and I agree on one thing: the women and children of North Carolina – and those in the rest of the country – desperately need protection. We disagree, though, on how prioritizing this discriminatory bill solves anything.

Let’s back up. On an average day in America, almost 2,000 adult women are raped. Child Protective Services substantiates, or finds evidence for, a claim of child sexual abuse every eight minutes.

If you are a woman, you love a woman, or you’re the parent of a young child, surely these statistics make your blood boil. Sadly, 98 of 100 sexual perpetrators never see the inside of a prison.

Every law enforcement officer will tell you that men wearing dresses in bathrooms account for 0 of the 2,000 rapes per day. The same is true for transgender women in women’s bathrooms.

The problem – as Donald Trump, Dennis Hastert and Brock Turner have so vividly portrayed – is men misbehaving as men!

So what does McCrory do? He diverts our attention with a law that takes away rights and is essentially unenforceable when it comes to the “protections” he claims it ensures. After all, nobody is standing in front of a bathroom door. More than 300 organizations that work to prevent sexual assault and violence against women have spoken out against HB2-style laws because they do nothing to protect women.

Meanwhile, McCrory has wasted precious resources and time instead of focusing on law enforcement, education and jobs. And he’s put at risk transgender people — a group of people who are arguably one of the tiniest, least violent, most at-risk groups in our country. It is despicable. It is pure cowardice.

It is worse. It does nothing to solve the true sources of risk and violence to North Carolina women. In fact, by diverting scarce resources and raising false anxieties, it may make the women and children of North Carolina less safe.

But then again, this isn’t anything new for the North Carolina Legislature. NC Women United scored the General Assembly as “Very Bad” on 22 of 35 goals to remedy challenges faced by women in the state — three of those goals focused on reducing violence against women. On its 2015 national report card, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research gave North Carolina a D+ for women’s health and wellbeing. A look at other states that have proposed similar bathroom bills reveals a disturbing pattern: they, too, scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to protecting women’s health and wellbeing.

I have a unique vantage point on this issue. I am a transgender woman. But I am a woman. It is the only way I know to experience the world. Like all of the women I live and work with, I live every day with the reality that I may be raped or assaulted. I am also the mother of five and the grandmother of five. I worry daily about my children and grandchildren. It is an ugly, violent world out there. I understand other women’s fear. It is my own.

Here is the truth that Governor McCrory doesn’t want any of us focusing on: it is men misbehaving as men who put us at risk – at home and in our neighborhood, in cars and parking lots, at parties and on college campuses. And, now, in Raleigh.

We women deserve something better. Something a lot better.

Tina White is a member of the Human Rights Campaign Board of Directors. She is also the Director of Operations for Blue Ridge Pride and an author, speaker, and activist. She spent thirty years transforming Fortune 500 organizations before embarking on her most ambitious transformation project yet: herself. Her book, Between Shadow and Sun, describes her 50-year struggle to find her place in the world as a man, then her struggle to accept herself as a woman. She lives in Asheville with Mary, her wife of eighteen years.

I have just returned from a wonderfully exhausting day at the Mall in Washington DC. There, I marched with two other local Asheville activists and many friends from the Human Rights Campaign.

How amazing to be surrounded by 500,000 of my closest friends! All day long, our chants chorused across the Mall – from the Capitol, to the Washington Monument, to the White House. There were more pink-knit caps in the crowd than there are sheep in New Zealand. Really. It was HUGE!

I found several reasons to be especially hopeful for America after today:

First, there were all the young women who showed up on behalf of their generation. They were there in the tens of thousands. I marveled at their self-assurance. They clearly felt entitled to their power. They spoke, expecting to be heard. There was no request; no apology. It wasn’t something they felt they had to earn or ask for. To be honest, I felt a little jealous.
They were artful, too. One of their posters asked Donald, “If I incorporate my uterus, will you deregulate it?”

The young men were equally inspiring. One of the women in my group teared up when, all about us, thousands of young men and women joined voices in an impromptu duet of the sexes:
MEN: Your body! Your choice! Your body! Your choice!
WOMEN: Our body! Our choice! Our body! Our choice!
Over and over their voices rang out in call-and-response. To hear both sexes of our younger generation join voices with such spontaneity was beyond words. It was a love song for the ages.
Several of the men’s posters proclaimed their new masculinity: “Real men ask consent.”

Finally, there was an element that happened so naturally, it almost escaped my notice. The majority in the crowd were white. And yet “black lives matter” was everywhere. That I noticed. What nearly escaped me was the fact that it didn’t feel like an add-on issue. It didn’t come across to me as a black issue. Everyone there owned it. It was as though they considered it as natural and as necessary as breathing oxygen. Why would you treat any human being differently?
Black and white, everyone cheered one another on. For a day, I almost forgot about race as a dividing point. We were brothers and sisters. We had each other’s backs. We talked about race as an issue we owned collectively.
One middle-aged man bore my favorite poster in this category: “It’s not alt-right. It’s white supremacy.”

I had the same experience with LGBTQ equality. For once, I didn’t feel like a minority, trying to pacify a mass of discomforted strangers. I was among family, a VERY, big and inclusive family. (Dare I say, “HUGE?”)
They weren’t protecting me out of a vague sense of liberal obligation. They were protecting one of their own. They were fighting for humans. I was just part of the diverse world they had come to value.
I suspect that, in recent years, many of those assembled had come to realize that many of those dearest to them at home are different, too; and no less worthy of their love because of it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see the poster I wanted to see in this category: “WE are the people of family values.”
We don’t toss aside members of our family for being different. We love our family for who they are and help them to become all that they can be. WE don’t treat our own like garbage. WE hold family sacred

It was a truly spectacular day. Maybe we aren’t without hope after all.

To my generation, I say: these children and young adults are worth every ounce of fight we have left in us. From what I saw today, they are precious beyond words. I continue to draw hope and inspiration from them in ways that I never imagined. If you aren’t getting to know them, you are missing out.

To my town of Asheville, I say: this isn’t a fight between faceless metropolises and rural homesteads. This is our fight.
Throughout the day, I carried a sign, “North Carolina: Last in Democracy”. The sign brought fellow Tar Heels flocking to our trio to snap a picture. Many of them hailed from small-town North Carolina – from the Outer Banks, Murphy, Goldsboro – and Buncombe County. “We are so embarrassed”, one elderly gentleman blushed, “but your sign speaks the truth. We have to fix this.”
Our future lies as much with the Shires of America as with its cities and farms. Our townspeople are not daunted by Smaug’s golden breastplate. They know that Mordor can be felled by the least of us.
Let’s show them how it’s done, Asheville! I look forward to slaying dragons and toppling warlords with all of you.

Much love to you all,
Tina


I was puttering around in my gardening this morning when the call came through.  It was Cynde at Youth OUTright.  “Tina, we had a last-minute cancellation.  Could you speak at our rally today?”

“What about?”

“The Pulse Nightclub shooting.”

“Ummm …. OK.”

This, I am learning, is how activism works.  You open yourself to the pain and possibility in the world around you.  When  it calls, you just say “yes”.

 Here is the speech I patched together and shared an hour later …


 

Hello!  I am Tina White, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Pride.  I got a call from YouthOutright this morning.  “We need you at the park!”

So here I am.

A few weeks ago, I went to Washington to join in the March For Our Lives.  I marched with members of the Human Rights Campaign. Our group was led by survivors and family members of the Pulse Nightclub massacre.

Before we marched, several of them spoke to us. One of them was, Brandon Wolf. Although Brandon had survived the massacre, one of his dearest friends, Drew Leinonen, had perished with 48 others. “In one minute,” Brandon recalled, “a legally purchased assault weapon fired 30 rounds. 13 of them murdered my friends.”

 

There is a little park in our neighborhood here in Asheville.  It is less than a quarter block in size. A sign warns all who would enter …

No skateboarding. No motorized vehicles. … No littering. No loud or unusual noises. … No drugs. No smoking. No alcohol. … Animals must be on leash.

Until recently, the sign had a piece of aluminum tape covering another prohibition: No firearms.  I noticed recently that the sign has been replaced. The new one seeks to make this erasure permanent.

The message is pretty clear:  Children, do not bring your skateboards and loud noises into this park.  It isn’t here for you. The gun lobby owns it now.  Your pets must remained leashed; The NRA’s guns are free to roam.

We have erased childhood from our parks. Must we do the same with our schools?  Please … don’t let the gun lobby erase you.

 

We don’t allow people to drive any type of car anywhere they like.  Nor do we prohibit the ownership and use of cars. We enact common sense laws that balance the interests of car owners, neighborhoods — and children.

Freedom of speech does not protect speech that recklessly endangers.  Freedom of religion does not sanction beliefs that burden or deprive others their rights.  Do we cherish guns above speech and religion? Our current laws and lawmakers say that we do.

 

Brandon Wolf pointed out in a recent tweet that, between 2010 and 2014, firearms were used or threatened to be used in 43,000 hate crimes.  “Commonsense gun safety laws matter”, he said. “I never want anyone to experience the kind of pain we’ve experienced.”

Brandon closed his pre-march speech to us with this: “The last thing Drew said to me before he died: ‘We never tell each other enough that we love each other.’”

I love all of you – and all that you stand for here today.  You are amazing!  You inspire me and fill me with hope.  I hope that you will always love one another.  I hope that you will always fight to protect what you cherish. I hope that what you cherish most is people, not guns.

 

Thank you!

Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign likes to remind people that we who fight for human rights are on the right side of history. While I agree, I think that Mr. Griffin is guilty of burying the headline — at least here in the South. According to Jesus Christ, we who fight for human rights aren’t just on the right side of history, we are on the right side of eternity, too.

Christ could not have been clearer about how he would make America great again. In Matthew he tells us that one day, he will gather the nations of the earth before him.

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

He consigns the goats to everlasting punishment.

Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. … Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

Religious believers would do well to consider carefully the leaders they follow into eternity. The stakes – their eternal soul – couldn’t be higher.  God may be perfect.  But history is polluted with churches and church leaders who shepherded their followers to the goat pen.

Minorities and progressives are not the enemy of true religious believers. Christ makes it clear that progressives are their allies; persecuted minorities are their gateway to heaven.

Don’t listen to the goat herders, my friends. America’s guns, riches, and birth certificate controls mean nothing to Christ. For him, our segregated society foreordains our destruction. What makes us great in his eyes is our ability to live and love as one people and to raise up the least among us.

In Washington DC, Donald Trump and Mike Pence seem hell-bent on legislating our identity. Yesterday, I awoke to a headline in the New York Times, “Trump Administration Eyes Defining Transgender Out of Existence”.
Meanwhile, in Raleigh, Tim Moore and Phil Berger seem equally determined to use identity cards to legislate away the rights of many to vote.  They are trying to pass an amendment that will effectively give their party the right to define voting identity requirements.  They don’t bother to tell voters what these requirements will be.  They want us to vote to allow them to decide how we can vote.

I am reminded of a passage in Revelations. The Apostle John describes the actions of the False Prophet working on behalf of the Anti-Christ:
And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

In Washington and Raleigh, we are being led by goat herders — men intent on dividing rather than uniting us; men intent on stripping us of our humanity and placing us into boxes that give them comfort and control over us.
Up the hill from me, students at the University of North Carolina, Asheville recently revealed in a survey that over a third of them identify as something other than the binary gender box assigned to them at birth.  The goat herders in Washington and Raleigh would have you believe that this is a moral outrage. But is it?

Queer Christianity

The Reverend Elizabeth Edman, author of Queer Virtue, thinks otherwise. She argues that Christianity is not merely compatible with queer, but rather that “authentic Christianity is and must be queer”. She points to Paul’s insistence that Christ is neither male nor female.   She reminds us that Christ queered the boundaries between Jew and gentile, man and God, life and death. We find our humanity and our relationship with God when we let go of our labels and the things that divide us.  We are all one in Christ.

Maybe our kids are crazy. But maybe – just maybe – they see something that we are missing: the model of gender that our generation has offered them is woefully broken.
Two thousand women are sexually assaulted each day in America. The goat herders’ solution? Blame the women: they are liars; they asked for it; it is God’s punishment for giving Adam the apple. Blame men of color; blame transgender people; blame the immigrants. For God’s sake, blame anyone but white men in power. They should be free to grab pussy where they please. They should lead the government, the legislature, and our courts.  They should run our corporations and control our media.

In my state of North Carolina, the average Tarheel woman is denied $330,000 in lifetime income owing to the gender wage gap here. Threats to repeal pre-existing coverage protections under ACA could leave over 2 million women in North Carolina without coverage. Women here are over-represented in jobs that offer no sick leave, that demand unusual shift schedules. Many lack access to affordable child care.
Mark Harris, running in Mecklenburg County, has a solution for this. He advises women to stay at home, to bear children, and to obey their husbands. Candidate Harris seems to be ignorant of the fact that, in North Carolina, mothers are the sole, primary, or co-bread-winners in 63% of families. In Buncombe County, a third of households with children have but a single parent – generally the mother.   I wonder if candidate Harris considers this their fault.

This is the gender model our queer generation is rejecting. Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Mark Harris want to double-down on it. They want women to submit to men and for all of us to accept the identity that Mike Pence metes out to us.
Me? I side with the kids on this one. Don’t let our leaders rob our children of their tomorrow.

It was a lazy, sunny day.
American author, Robert Persig, was hiking a dusty footpath in the back country of a Cheyenne reservation in South Dakota, John Wooden Leg, the tribe’s chief, guided the way for Persig and a woman companion; she, too, a visitor.
A ragged dog sauntered past them, and as quickly disappeared. Persig’s companion turned to the Chief, “What kind of dog is that?”
Chief John deliberated.  Eventually, he replied, “It’s a good dog.” He turned to continue their walk.
Persig says that his mind fairly exploded.  We Westerners, he thought, lay claim to the world by dividing it into categories. This a bird; that is a mammal. This is a dachshund; that is a poodle. He is a Muslim; she is a Jew.

Mastering the World Through Labels

We associate knowledge and sophistication with a command of categories. If you want to understand something more deeply, refine your categories. Add more labels.
The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, famously described this approach in his essay, “Categories”. The Catholic Church and crowns of Europe exploited categories to control everyone and everything. You could be flogged for wearing the colors or fabric of a nobleman. You could be horsewhipped for entering by the wrong door.
But Chief Wooden Leg was not raised in a culture governed by Aristotelian logic. He did not reduce the dog to a species, a size, or a color. He described what he considered to be its most essential quality: its goodness.

Our media and our political conversations are awash in labels. They are emoticons disguised as words.
My generation derides millennials for their use of emoticons and texting abbreviations. We accuse them of dumbing down the language with terms like LOL, POS, and BFF.
But aren’t we worse?  We use emoticons, too. We merely disguise them as words. We label someone a Mexican or a Black as though it describes something essential about them.
Such labels are far worse than emoticons. Sending someone a smiley face may not capture my feelings with eloquence and precision. But it does describe my feelings. Labeling someone Latino uses a shorthand that robs them of their humanity.  Does knowing that someone is gay tell me anything about their honesty? Their intelligence? Their work ethic? Their love of family? Does it tell me whether they are loving, funny, or loyal?

The Ultimate Selfie

Social labels do not define the person being labeled. They define the person and the society that label them.
When I describe someone as Black, I am either revealing my own racism or acknowledging the racist society I live in — or both. The only reason that it is important to label Martin Luther King black is because of the prejudice and injustice that our culture has heaped onto people of color. The only reason that I need to understand his “blackness” is because our society made it an issue.  He didn’t.
Every day, our actions are guided by questions of labeled identity. Are you male or female? Black or white? Christian or Muslim? Liberal or conservative? Are you tall? Beautiful? Old? Gay? How we label one another plays a major role in how we regard and treat one another.
To some extent, labeling is unavoidable. Our brains are wired to categorize.  But is it helpful? Is it what we should aspire to?
Our media and our leaders thrive on labels that appeal to our basest fears. “Let’s wall off the Mexicans . . .” “Let’s ban all Muslims …” “Let’s criminalize the gays …”. Tall men are often assumed to be better leaders and more intelligent – especially if they are white. Pretty, dainty-looking women and assumed to have pretty, dainty thoughts.
Are all Muslims bad or angry? Not by a long shot. Are all Christians good family people? Hardly. And yet this is how our sound-byte driven leaders and our media try to manipulate us. And we allow it.

The Book of Genesis captures our love of labels. “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and He brought them to the man to see what he would name each one. And whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19).
When reading this recently, I noticed something that had hitherto escaped my attention. It says, each one. Not each type. When you love something, you give it a name. When you prepare it for slaughter, harvest, or study, you give it a breed. We assume that Adam named a fox a fox. But who is to say that he didn’t call it, Charlie?

Living Without

So, what are we to do? We could try to eliminate labels. I have attempted such an experiment.
I considered my son, an impressive young man pursuing his future in journalism, film and Asian studies. What, I wondered, would happen if I removed the words “my” and “son” from this wonderful man whom I had helped to bring into the world?
At first, the mere thought of such an experiment terrified me. Was I exploring something that ought to remain unthinkable? Was I removing an intimacy between us? Was I dishonoring him by even considering such a thought?

It proved quite the opposite. When forced to regard this young man without these labels, my mind opened more fully to all the possibilities within him. What an extraordinary person! What a complicated soul. I realized, too, that there were a million things that I did not know about him, largely because they have nothing to do with him being my son.
“My” and “son”, I suddenly realized, referred to me. They literally define this person in terms of me.  I love my son all the more dearly for having considered him without these labels. And I find myself eager to get to know him more fully. I still describe him as my son. But I realize now that I am describing my pride, not his person-hood.

I have repeated this experiment with my other children, with my wife, even my ex-wife. It left me eager to know each of them for who they are.
I conduct this experiment regularly now — with people at work, with my neighbors, with people I meet at parties. I find the same thing: I know almost nothing about other people except for their labels. I know their profession, their education, their nationality. I know their accent, religion, political party, gender, and color. But I know little of their hopes, desires, passions, and fears. I know little of their hidden talents. Most of what I “know” about them is extrapolated from the labels I use. And the meaning I give to each label describes me, not them.

Learning from Labels

I don’t think it possible to do away with labels. Much as I enjoy my little thought experiment, it is too demanding and time-consuming to conduct routinely. Labels are a necessary mental short-hand.
But there is something we can do. We can use our labels to learn about ourselves.
I continue to label people. But, rather than assume that my labels describe the other person, I assume that they describe me. They describe what I love, hate, and fear. They describe what I focus on and what I overlook.  They describe how I have been taught to filter the world. The labels I use tell me a lot about myself. They tell me next to nothing about other people.

If am walking through an iffy neighborhood and see a tall, black man in a hoody, I confess: I feel a momentary fright. And that’s OK. It tells me something about me. But it tells me little about that man. For all I know, he is a classical violinist from London who is trying to blend in for his own safety. And even here, why did I just choose “violinist” and “London” to describe someone who is safe? Once again, I am revealing my own prejudices and experiences. A paragraph later, and we still know nothing of this man.
The labels we use define our blindness to the humanity within one another.

Labels Do Matter

Do you want to be a more moral person? Then focus on the labels you use – especially the labels you use to dehumanize or demonize someone.
Chances are, your basic morality is fine. The problem is the way your mind trades on labels. You treat people differently based on the way you label them. If your labels are false, then your application of your morality is corrupt.  Your morality is no better than the accuracy of your labels.

While religious conservatives were protesting Hendersonville NC’s PRIDE day proclamation, I was spending a weekend, deep in the Michigan Bible belt, celebrating their faith.  The occasion was my grandson’s wedding.

I confess that the weekend was a struggle for me.  My daughter and son-in-law attend a church that preaches that people like me are going to hell. It promises the same fate to my grandson’s twin brother, a wonderful young man who lives in Raleigh with his husband. The week before the wedding, I dreamed repeatedly that I was returned to Asheville in a body bag.

No one, left or right, would be surprised to learn that our family has struggled through some difficult conversations.

To their credit, my daughter, my son-in-law, and their family greeted my wife and me with genuine warmth.  Aside from a few shop-worn bromides about liberals, academics, and guns, the wedding guests were the model of civility.

I, too, held my personal convictions in check.  I don’t just disagree with a literal interpretation of the Bible. In my belief system, biblical literalism is a form of idolatry.  It isn’t just misguided; it is sinful.  Similarly, I could never subscribe to the vows that my grandson and his bride exchanged on Saturday: “wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands”.

But this wasn’t my wedding.  I was elated for my grandson and his bride as they committed themselves, one to the other, each according to their faith.  How brave and wonderful were their vows.  How grateful I was that so many people had gathered to celebrate their betrothal. How privileged I felt to share this moment.

My joy was not an endorsement of my grandson’s faith.  It was an endorsement of his right to pursue his faith.  It was joy in seeing this sturdy young man express his heart and live his convictions.  I will always defend his right to follow these, so long as they allow room for others to do the same.

I would hope that religious conservatives could approach Pride day with a similar heart.  You needn’t endorse us. You are welcome to pray for us.  But, unless you are without sin, please don’t judge us.  We are just as hopeful, intent, and imperfect as you.

If you listen with every fiber of your loving heart, you may come to understand the heart-wrenching truth about Pride.  Pride isn’t born of mirth and celebration.  It is the child of fear and the mother of hope.  It is fed by despair, nurtured by prejudice, and sustained by isolation.

Search your heart, believers. Instruct your teachers. Pride is the fruit of your labors. Christ offers us a simple way to end it.  But that is the topic of another love letter.