Years ago, the paper where I worked required all employees to go through “diversity training.”
I objected – not to the training, but to the name. Calling it “diversity training” just gave bigots an easy way to dismiss both the concept and the content.
I said it really should have been called “decency training,” because all the training taught us was how to treat everyone with respect, consideration and courtesy.
What used to just be called good manners.
But I digress.
A guy in my training group offered up a familiar rant. He was a white guy, middle-aged and married to his high school girlfriend. He had a couple of grown children. He didn’t much care for the way the world was changing.
He spoke in tones of victimhood. He said straight white guys like him lacked advocates. We’re the only ones, he said, who don’t have our own lobbying organization in Washington, D.C.
The other people in the training group – an older black man and several women – looked down at the table as he talked.
I was younger than the angry man, but I also was the only other straight white guy in the room.
I looked across the table at him and smiled.
The reason guys like us don’t have a lobbying organization in Washington, I told him, is that we elect our lobbyists. They’re called Congress, I said.
He winced, then blushed. The black man let loose with a short but explosive laugh. The women chuckled.
The angry straight white man in the group wasn’t a bad guy.
He just was so tired of hearing other people ask for access to the rooms where decisions are made that he didn’t stop to think. He didn’t realize that no one ever would question whether someone who looked and acted like him belonged in those rooms.
He couldn’t grasp how frustrating, maddening even, it would be to have to knock on the doors to those rooms and ask, again and again, to be allowed in, only to be told to wait or to be outright rejected. He hadn’t considered how it might feel to have to prove, constantly, that he belonged in the place that was his home.
What followed the “white-men-have-no-lobby” eruption was a good discussion about what it meant and how it felt to be excluded. I don’t think we solved global problems by talking, but we all did walk away with a little better understanding of each other’s circumstances, thinking and feelings.
That may be a small victory, but in this imperfect, human world, such small victories should be treasured.
I thought about that long-ago conversation as I watched the kerfuffle unfold over whether Indiana Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis – who also is the Republican candidate for mayor of Indianapolis – would march in the Indy Pride Parade and read the stories about the Straight Pride parade being organized in Boston.
The Straight Pride parade is a direct successor to the angry white guy’s complaint about not having a lobby in the nation’s capital. Straight people in this country aren’t disenfranchised. They haven’t had to fight to wed the people they love, to be at the hospital bedside of their life partners as they suffer or die, to provide health insurance to their families or to pass on their assets to their loved ones while minimizing tax consequences. Straight people haven’t been forced, again and again, to prove they belong.
The idea of designating one day of the year as a Straight Pride parade day is absurd because, in so many ways, every day is a Straight Pride parade.
Not that the organizers ever will understand it.
The Jim Merritt-Indy Pride incident is a little bit more hopeful.
Merritt planned to march. The parade’s organizers told him he wasn’t welcome because of his history of anti-LGBTQ votes in the Indiana General Assembly, then said anyone who paid the $5 registration fee could do the walk. Controversy ensued and Merritt decided not to join the parade.
But Merritt and LGBTQ leaders now seem to be – sort of – talking with each other.
More important, they seem to be listening to each other.
It’s a small victory, to be sure.
But, in this imperfect, human world, such small victories are to be treasured.