I live in a town that was once mostly white and mostly Christian, with almost no Jewish families. Word is, when the great waves of immigration began 150 years ago the townsfolk just about died of apprehension. I do know that when David and I first got here in the late ’70’s, an otherwise kindly elder told us that it was all a whole lot nicer before these nouveau Italians moved in. (I guess she hadn’t caught our last name.)
Today, though, things are different. Today, African American, Asian and Latino families have added richness and depth to our community; there are some 50 households headed by same-sex couples; and folks attend worship services of every kind, including those held at a synagogue with a 300-member congregation.
These changes are part of why the town’s Multicultural Network decided to host a special day-long event, to which people from every segment of town life came. They came to celebrate our new diversity, build bridges and plan together to make this an ever-more-welcoming place to live, work or play. As a Network Board Member, I facilitated four table discussions where I met among many others (a) a single parent who described how it feels to live in a place where most people are coupled up, (b) a Catholic priest so warm you would want to have him at all your holidays dinners, and (c) a woman who told what it’s like be part of the new group, whom people appear to fear and misunderstand. “We need to stand as allies to one another,” one person said. “We need to make the invisible visible,” said someone else. There IS hunger in this town; there’s even homelessness. We need to SEE more!”
Here is something we all saw, right at the day’s start when people were invited to rise and share their own stories:
The college freshman you see here is named Angie. She was the first to stand and speak. She told about moving here after her junior year in high school. As a gay person, she had been targeted daily by her classmates in her former community. Now here she was at a school with an actual Gay Straight Alliance. She said it seemed like Heaven to her.
But, she also said, it was very hard to see the suffering of her new best friend, who all her life has wanted nothing more than to transition from male to female, as now, with the help of the medical community and her family, she has begun to do.
Near day’s end, after we all had talked and listened and made lists of action plans, one attendee turned to this college freshman who had spoken so openly. “How is your friend doing now?” she asked kindly.
Angie smiled and leaned back. “Why don’t you ask her yourself? “ she said, indicating Gen sitting beside her.
Gen did not know Angie would speak of her that day but she was delighted with what had happened. I know because she said so when I drove them home. They seemed to feel both happy and peaceful.
I guess that’s how you do feel when you gather with others and speak truly about your own journey, and realize, perhaps for the first time, that you are not alone on it.
As I say, that’s Angie at the top, who rose and spoke of her friend. Underneath here are two of the children who danced for us and three members of the morning panel,those photos courtesy of Caroline Hirschfeld. And under THEM? A picture of Angle and the loving dad who gave her all that courage.