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Living Room Conversations

Friends:

Even as many of us are still celebrating the decision affirming marriage equality by the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS), let us be mindful of how we will treat the emerging new minority: social or religious conservatives. 

Don’t get me wrong - I could not be for marriage equality more. I am a gay woman, UU, and have been passionately involved in the marriage equality movement for 11 years as a volunteer and then professional working on several state marriage campaigns from New York City and my home in North Carolina. This year, I’m traveling to several countries to collect the personal stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender  and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies and our struggles to get equal access to marriage. Last week, I wrapped a month of interviews in Ireland after their historic yes vote in the marriage referendum. So why am I thinking about how we treat social and religious conservatives?  

Even as the issue gets settled legally, it will not be settled socially. In some states including my own, a majority of citizens will still not be in favor of same-gender couples marrying. Even in the states where there is a strong majority supporting it, many will still disagree. If we are able to have respectful conversation despite these differences, both “sides” will be able to understand each other better and come to terms with the “other.” Indeed, this is why we are seeing the avalanche of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act bills across the country, which do little more than attempt to provide cover for those who still want to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

So how do we reach out across this socio-political divide? In the midst of a culture war, I’ve found that it’s simple but not easy. On the other hand, it is easy to treat social and religious conservatives as two-dimensional stereotypes, to assume nefarious motivations, to call them names like “hater” or “bigot,” to dismiss them as crazy, to shame them, and to silence them. Based on a few “Living Room Conversations” I co-hosted with a Mormon dialogue leader in Utah, I learned that this is how they fear being treated. Interestingly, although the name-calling and labels are different, it’s exactly how the LGBTQ community has been treated by some social and religious conservatives. 

Breaking this pattern and treating social and religious conservatives as three-dimensional, sane human beings with good motivations requires courage and being intentional about how we communicate.  Here is what I found helpful from Living Room Conversations and other conversations I’ve had with conservatives:  

•    Get to know each other as individuals -- sharing hopes, dreams and concerns
•    Focus on sharing stories from personal experiences
•    Avoid arguing based on what others have said or written (e.g., constitutions or Bibles)
•    Be curious and open to learning 
•    Suspend judgment
•    Be authentic and welcome that from others
•    Listen to each other
•    Share food or a meal or drink (e.g., cup of tea or coffee)
•    Reserve a few hours to talk

It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding. You can get some valuable insights, get to know people you have other things in common with, make new and unexpected friends, and break down any stereotypes you may have. You might also find that you are able to reach people and be more understood yourself. 

How does one get started? In my experience, there are not a lot of people doing this. I credit my own fairly conservative Mom, who has also worked as a marriage and family therapist, with urging me to get off my “moral high horse of self-righteousness,” drop my arguments and seek to understand others.  If you don’t have such a prompt in your life, you may want to look to these resources for some inspiration or ideas: 

  1. Short article on our “Living Room Conversations” with Mormons & LGBTQ people.
  2. “Living Room Conversations” web site.
  3. Documentary (I’m the one in the Standing on the Side of Love t-shirt!) on about the humanity of people on both sides of NC’s anti-marriage equality amendment.

Best of luck, and would love to hear how your conversations go!

Tracy Hollister UU Fellowship of Raleigh 
Hollister.tracy@gmail.com