How to Diffuse Bigotry in (about) 10 Minutes

I was recently in front of the Thirty-Sixth District Court building in downtown Detroit collecting signatures for a fabulous law colleague and buddy who’s seeking to be placed on the ballot for an open seat as judge.

If you’ve been in this area of the city, you know that the court’s promenade is a popular spot for signature seekers to stand – clipboard in hand.

So before I, a civil attorney, went in the court to save one of God’s down trodden, I decided to collect signatures.

I turned toward the doors of the courthouse as if to enter and one of the clip-board holders yelled, “Hey, you don’t want to go in there with your petitions. I don’t want you to be treated like that gay guy [officer] treated me. He was so gay!”

This person captured my rapt attention.

“Thanks for saving me,” I replied. “So, he was gay? How do you know?”

“He was short and gay. I stepped in the doors yesterday and he snatched my clipboard. He then began to mock me in front of his co-workers. He was so gay!”

Mock?

This individual sounded more erudite than the typical signature seeker. It was a curious mix of educated speak and raw bigotry.

“I don’t think any of that makes him gay,” I pressed a little more, “How could you tell?”

“He’s probably somewhere doing something right now that shouldn’t be done to men. He didn’t have to ridicule me.”

Ridicule? I’m growing more curious by the second.

“Okay that does sound like he went overboard but why are you saying he’s gay? Do you know him … or something?”

At this point my new friend was doing a little step as we had this exchange – twirling, jitting and breaking. “No, I’m sure he was gay,” friend said matter-of-factly. “And he didn’t have to goad me like that.”

Goad? Another extraordinary word that pulled me to believe that with this kind of informed speech, friend would at least be reasonable. The last time I heard mock, ridicule, and goad in one conversation, I was at a spelling bee.

So I countered, “He sounds like he’s mean but I don’t believe that makes him gay.” By this time, I noticed the other clipboard holders circling friend and me, to get in better hearing range. They left him room enough to keep dancing.

What was I getting myself into? Would others shout derogatory words or egg friend on? I glanced around for any officers waiting for their next appearance in court. Of course, I did, kind of, create this divergence. Nonetheless, I’m short – and little too, so I might need some assistance here.

I was somewhat relieved when clipboard holders began to hand me their petitions to sign. I started reading petitions and friend went on talking, “Yes, he’s gay. He laughed at me and wouldn’t give me my petitions back.”

Taking a deep breathe, I decided to see if friend might temper his stand on this, “It sounds like this guy had a Napoleon complex but I don’t think you can tell that he’s gay. I know lots of gay men who are kind. Straight guys too.”

Someone – in what’s now a crowd surrounding us – piped-up, “Yeah, that Napoleon sure was short.”

Someone else chimed in, “You gotta watch those short folks. They can be mean.”

Friend stammered and looked at his feet – that were doing a nervous little jit with a Michael twist. Then he relented, “Okay. Yeah that doesn’t mean he was gay. He just didn’t have to treat me that way.”

I exhaled. I knew this person was reasonable.

“I agree with you,” I said, realizing the hurt and frustration friend must have been harboring, “He was wrong to treat you like that. We should find his captain. Especially, with you out here performing a civic duty. How else can we get a good judge in that open seat?”

“Will you sign my petition?”

“Yeah, if you sign mine.”

 

Credit image: Colindunn

Alicia

About Alicia

Navigating life as an 'out' Black Lesbian has its highlights and dim-lights and Alicia Skillman counts it all as joy. Her practice of law along with her current study of ecumenical theology equips her with a potent set of skills to pursue her passion for social justice. She is a pioneer in exploring the cross-section of spirituality, LGBT equality and African American culture to help us transcend those little boxes that we put ourselves in. Alicia is a Detroiter committed to the resurgence of her city and people - with a special interest in organizing and developing the communities of youth, LGBT and spirituality.

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