Closing the Windows Won’t Stop Progress

March 27, 2010

This afternoon I spent a hour or so on a lovely “main street” volunteering with a wonderful group of smart, dedicated people who work for LGBT equality. We were asking passersby if they support openly gay people serving in the military and, if so, whether they would sign a petition calling for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

About half of the people I encountered on this brisk but sunny day were willing to sign the petition and expressed sentiments such as:

  • I’m sure they can fight as good as anybody else.
  • Oh, yes, I’m in favor of that.
  • Oh, certainly. That law is so silly.
  • I don’t like the military, but if they want to serve . . .

You get the idea.

The other half, who didn’t sign the petition, fell into several subcategories:

  1. The people who didn’t even see or hear me because they  were looking at the sidewalk and/or listening to an Ipod.
  2. the people, both male and female, whose faces turned cold and stiff the minute I said the word “gay.”
  3. The people who reacted with more than a disapproving look.

The third subset was the most fascinating to observe. One man sneered—yes, he actually sneered—and said, “I’m not interested in that,” as if being interested in civil rights would make him a homosexual. One woman said,”No, no, no,” and then kept shaking her head back and forth, even when she was well past me, trying to shake off the entire subject, I think.

And then there was the man who closed his car windows. His car was stopped at the light on the corner near where I was standing with my trusty clipboard and pen. A teenage girl in the passenger seat called out to me, “What does your petition say?” and I started to answer her: “it’s about letting openly gay people serve . . .” when I realized that the man, whom I assume was her father, was using his remote button to close all the car windows. The girl, and the kids in the back seat, were still looking at me as the car pulled away when the light changed.

So, this is to the man who closed the windows: It’s not going to work, mister. You can’t be everywhere at all times to close every window on your kids’ questions. “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, ” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and justice eventually seeps through closed windows. Remember,

First they ignore you,
then they laugh at you,
then they fight you,
then you win.
Mahatma Gandhi

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