Thursday, October 31, 2013

Is Plain Jane All Talk?

Act #304:  No matter what, don't remain silent.

This week I found myself confronted with the quintessential Plain Jane test.  In order to protect the identity of those involved, I am altering the facts a bit.  There I was at a lovely, lovely fundraiser speaking with two lovely, lovely individuals: one, a stunning woman who was a huge funder of anti-violence work and my organization specifically.  The other a gay, male (this is relevant, I promise) community member.  I was just reflecting on the beauty of my community in coming together to support such worthy causes.  And just like that, it was over.  I'm not sure how this came up, but about 5 minutes into our conversation, the woman shared how unhappy she was with a local grantmaking organization that pulled funding for an organization that would not hire gay individuals.  I couldn't bring myself to look over to the male to my right, but I could tell he was nodding slowly and politely. 

On one hand, I had a big supporter of a cause that is near and dear to my heart.  If I said anything to offend her, I would clearly put my agency at risk.  But if I said nothing, and allowed her stinging comments to linger quietly in the awkward silence that followed, I would put my soul, my integrity, any hope for a better world at risk.  And so I took a big gulp of my wine and say, You know, I bet that was a really hard decision.  Both are such great organizations for this community.  And she says, How could anyone just pull funding like that?  And I gently follow with, I imagine a community funder like that wants to make sure everyone in the community feels included.  And she continues, But it's the manner in which it was done - so abrupt.  Jobs are going to be lost and programs are going to be shut down.  And I say, You know, I'm a firm believer that human beings can work just about anything out if they sat down and talked.  I bet you, what I know about the leaders of both of these organizations, they have probably done that extensively and are probably continuing to do so.  They both care so much about our community.  And her final words, You know, I'm not against gay rights.  I have friends who are gay.  I just don't agree with the way this was handled. At this point, I glance over to our male companion and he is offering an occasional nod, but I can't read him beyond that.  We then both say something along the lines of, Well I'm glad you were able to find ways to continue supporting great causes in the community.  And the three of us eventually went our separate ways.

Did I change this woman's mind?  Of course not.  But I also didn't set her off in a defensive rage that would guarantee no future opportunities for us to have a conversation.  Did I betray the gay male standing right next to me?  In some ways I feel like I may have.  If I was in the same situation and someone began talking about women of color in the same manner, I probably would have felt betrayed if the conversation continued politely....and nicely.....and all hunky dory.  My ultimate goal was to break down walls and barriers for communication.  Could I meet this woman where she was, and perhaps persuade her to at least consider the other perspective?  Who knows.  I left feeling unsettled.  Uneasy.  Disappointed in myself.  Disappointed in humanity.  This business of changing the world is not easy.

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