Growing up as a child, I was raised among a variety of different cultures that included European, Middle Eastern, American and Mexican societies. Before I was a young adult man, I had personally practiced Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism. I was acquainted with Buddhists and Muslims. Over that time, my ongoing, regular exposure pushed me from places of tolerance to compassion, which I considered to be two different things.
I remember tolerating gays and Muslims. They were in circles of of acquaintances I had. However, there were always lines drawn, particularly in my teens. Gays could get civil unions, but not marriages. Muslims could be citizens, but should have to endure additional rigors in order to retain citizenship.
It’s the qualifiers we put on people that make them outsiders. This happens in cultures around the world, and people in positions of privilege benefit from it. Their own status as the cultural standard earns respect and admiration, while people in minority positions, be that sexual, religious, ethnic, and so on, are forced to struggle for acceptance in the larger cultural landscape.
I'm not perfect in this, either. I continue to be a product of countless millennia of evolution, thousands of years of tribalism, and decades of socialization. I am better, but not perfect, in my acceptance of others. I still find the impulse, at times, to blame Islam — and have to check myself and remind myself, as Chitown Kev did in his diary, that gay individuals are victimized by members of religions and societies around the world, and not just any single one.
Greater acceptance, though, must be ongoing. We need to continue growing as a race so that loving each other is instinctual, even when there are vast cultural, religious, or sexual differences. As it stands, humanity is currently churning through generations of people who have to come together and unify simply for the right to exist. Imagine if that were not the case. Imagine if generations of people did not have to worry about fighting for acceptance. Imagine if they could focus their energies elsewhere, without having to worry if they would find equal standing before the law. Imagine if those energies could be put toward art and the sciences.
Which is not to argue that the work of activists of all backgrounds isn’t valuable. It is, in fact, necessary, and among the greatest works needed by mankind today. It is necessary, though, because we as a society continue to carry a fear of anyone different from ourselves. I want to imagine a time when this is no longer the case. I want to have dinner with friends without a person’s religion or sexuality causing antagonism or anxiety for some of the members present. I want the idealized vision of the United States, not the ugly truthful one, in which all people stand as equal citizens of equal value, with no one having to avert their eyes or bow their faces for fear of the majority’s anger.
I want to see the gay atheist stand beside the straight preacher and know both will have equal standing before society and the law. I want to see the Shia and Sunni Muslim enjoy equal rights and prosperity as they live side by side. I want to see the Nigerian, Venezuelan, French, and Chinese gathered at a single table in a society of human equals. I want every person to look at one other and not say “sir” or “ma’am” in deference, but to call one another “citizen,” with the pride and knowledge that the labor worker contributes as much to his society as the businessman, that the teacher gives as much as the soldier, and that the politician gives as much as the restaurant worker. Society is the sum product of all of us, not the few of us.
I want to see the equal society of humanity that can divert its energies to the maximization of its potential and the dream of taking its place among the stars. That will always be impossible, though, as long as we struggle simply to recognize our neighbor as human. So, I will dream of a better tomorrow, where acceptance is given, not fought for, in which we all stand shoulder to shoulder.