Conversation. It’s something we all do. Whether we engage in a conversation about what we want to eat at a fast food joint or about the latest gossip over coffee, it’s all a part of our great human experience. Yet despite being a nation of blabbermouths and yakkity yokels over everything from politics to religion to the gossip mill, there are some conversations that rarely happen — if ever. But they need to.

I’ve written hundreds of articles that are posted here on Skipping to the Piccolo, many of them with a push for LGBT equality and gay rights in general. I’ve posted about how my faith has impacted my life, and a few memoirs that I felt worth sharing. Yet through it all — every post — it’s all me. There’s no conversation. Oh, sure there are a few comments posted here and there, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

We’ll never have true equality for LGBT people without mutual understanding — the kind of understanding that can’t ever come from debates or fighting. Only genuine, mutual respect for each other. So… let’s talk. REALLY talk.

Conversation — real conversation — isn’t a debate. It’s not trying to prove someone else wrong about an issue (certainly not about so complex an issue as a person’s sexual orientation). It’s not about trying to force a point, or shame someone. It’s about listening. Understanding. Comprehending. And then offering your point of view.

Sometimes we treat a conversation as if it’s multi-player ping pong game… where everyone tries to get a point in as quickly and as forcefully as possible. Or a volleyball game where the ultimate move is to spike the ball with no hope of retaliation. Of course, this is natural. We’re competitive by nature. We have to be right. We have to win. We have to know that we’re the best.

It’s time for us to learn — as a society — that we must learn to have a greater value for respect than in being right.

In the end, that’s what drives a good conversation. Respect. What we must understand — as activists and passive observants alike — is that our push for equality must be built on respect, or it will never be built at all. It requires a respect for the law, for our fellow man, and for the fact that no one can be argued into a position that they can’t be argued out of.

Oh, I’m well aware that there are plenty of people who are more interested in seeing gays shipped off to some desert island or thrown into prison — or worse. I have no interest in attempting a conversation with anyone who clearly doesn’t have even a basic respect for me as a person. Nor should I. After all, they’re not the ones I’m attempting to sway. They are the hate groups, the fringe, and the blind.

Lies are their weapons and distortion is their whore. They have prostituted themselves with bitterness and have become nothing more than vapid, hollow shells of humanity. Not sure who I’m talking about? Check out the hate groups category of this blog to find out.

Let’s be clear: they’re NOT invited.

It’s the rest of us that need to do the talking. We must leave the shrills and screeds of those who sow hate and bitterness behind — and find those who are truly interested in conversation. There are those who just don’t get it — but want to. There are plenty of people who don’t understand why it’s important to be out, but are willing to listen.

These are conversations that should be held outside of churches, and outside of political gatherings. Questions should be asked. They should be answered. We should have panels that provide these conversations and guide them toward that mutual, honoring respect.

And we need to talk. We need to talk to our friends. Our families. Our co-workers. Talk about our lives. The wonderful experience you might have had at the zoo together. That dinner you had the night before. About life. About reality. About what makes you… you.

I challenge all of my readers to find a way to engage in these conversations. For the sake of marketing and unity, call it a “Talk over Coffee.” Nothing pretentious. Just a gathering for mutual and conversation.

If you’re in the Clarksville, TN area (or even within a few hours of here), I ask you to help me put together such an event — or series of events that are designed to promote these conversations in a group setting. No debates, no fights, and no grandstanding. It’s about learning from each other, and ultimately, about finding that common ground that helps to build a foundation for greater respect, greater equality, and yes, better lives.

It’s a simple concept: Have a group of people sit down over coffee, a meal, or other neutral location. Invite fair-minded pastors, community leaders, LGBT people and anyone willing to listen and converse. Ask a couple of people to share their story of how they came to terms with their sexual orientation — or how they came to embrace their loved ones. Talk about barriers. Talk about what unites us all.

But most importantly — to listen. To each other. To learn. And respect. Either way, let’s make it happen.

So which is more important to you? Being right? Or being real?

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