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Clifton Spires is the father of a gay son who walked out of the family home in 1996 after a family row and they've never seen or spoken to each other since. A journalist living in Ohio with his wife and other son he now campaigns vigorously for gay rights and each week on OutUK he reflects on how this affects his life and family. Though it's written in America, we believe the issues he deals with affect the worldwide gay community. Previous columns are archived in OutBack.

Exclusion ... what it's like to be snubbed

It may be that not everyone knows what it's like to be the last picked in gym class, but I'll bet that most folks know what it's like to be snubbed.

Remember the first time you learned that someone you considered a friend was having a birthday party and you weren't on the guest list? That first snub was a big painful one and you learned the awful truth --- everybody didn't like you.

My wife and I watched with pain as our maturing sons learned the hard way, like everyone learns, that people make judgments about each other, despite biblical admonitions to us all not to do that, lest we be judged ourselves.

But still we go on and do it. You'd think we'd be past it by the time we get out of high school, but of course, exclusion still goes on as we get older. A lot of it is based on fear of change, of difference. Some of it is based on plain old hateful bigotry. Bu6t for those of us who assume, like Anne Frank, that people are basically good, humanity constantly surprises and disappoint us --- the same old games go on and on. Only the players get older.

An acquaintance recently told was, to me, an amazing story, although I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that it happened. Her daughter was involved in a wedding and the planning of a shower for the bride. As it happened, a same-sex couple was invited to the all-female bash. Whether the hostess --- whom I'll call "Bertha Betterthanyou," after a character in Ray Stevens' song, "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" --- was unaware of why the women lived together or had expected only one of them to come, I'm not sure. But in any case, when Bertha realized that there were to be lesbians at HER party and in HER house, she flew into a panic.

Bertha called my friend's daughter and said something to the effect of "I CANNOT HAVE DYKES IN MY HOUSE!" Whether the woman was acting out of religious beliefs or some pathological concern about how the lesbians' presence would affect her social standing or her wallpaper, no one is really sure. All anyone knew is that either the couple would have to be uninvited or a last minute change of venue would have to be organized.

My friend's daughter tracked down everyone on the guest list and made arrangements to have the shower moved to her house. Everyone who was expected to come did so, including the lesbians, who presumably were blessed with being ignorant reasons behind the change of location, and Bertha, who behaved herself in a subdued way.

I heard this story in a gathering of friends of mixed sexual orientations, including at least two lesbian couple, whose faces I alternately substituted for those of the two women in the story. As I listened, my anger boiled up --- my four friends are wonderful, funny and caring people whose occasional public displays of affection is both amusing and comforting --- the effect that lovers always have on the rest of us romantics who have been there, done that. I'm afraid I couldn't have been as tactful with Bertha as was my friend's daughter. If I had assumed the duties of host from Bertha, her invitation to attend would have been taken away, as well.

I am of the opinion that if anyone should be ostracized in this world, it is people who actively inflict their biases on the rest of us. There is a movement within our nation's schools to start looking at bullying as a contributing factor to school conflict and violence. People like Bertha, stunted in their emotional maturity, don't just emerge full-grown from the brow of the Rev. Fred Phelps and hit the ground running with their stupid prejudices. They have lots of time to learn and nurture their dislikes, with adult family members, Sunday School teachers and the illogic of elite playground gangs as fertilizer.

These bigots need to be confronted and stopped in their tracks. I think my friend's daughter handled the social crisis with sensitivity and grace. Hopefully, she or someone else followed it up by telling Bertha her action was unconscionable and that she should change her ways in the future unless she was willing to accept the same kind of social ostracism directed her way.

It is not any easy thing to do, telling someone that their behavior is bigoted or prejudiced. But it needs to be done. We can try to be as gentle about it as possible, but in doing so, we risk placing ourselves in an uncomfortable situation of conflict and ugly recriminations. I couldn't blame anyone for not wanting to tell off a bigot. But no matter what their choice, I would still have to ask them, "Can you sleep better by doing nothing or by knowing you did the right thing?"

Published June 7th 2001


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