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Many people were outraged when Dharun Ravi, who was convicted of bias intimidation for spying on a roommate who later committed suicide, was sentenced to only 30 days in jail. Some went so far as accusing Ravi of “murdering” Tyler Clementi, who was gay. But a gay rights activist speaking at my church in Maplewood Sunday had a different take.
“Ravi’s not a murderer, he’s a bully – one of many bullies that Tyler Clementi faced in his life,” said Joan Garry, former executive director of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination). “Those bullies were not just the ones standing by his locker – many of them were standing in pulpits.”
The reference to pulpits reinforced the title of her speech, “LGBT People, Bullying, and the Deeply Held Religious Belief Card.” Garry spoke to a noontime audience at St. George’s Episcopal Church, kicking off our celebration of Gay Pride Month. Next Sunday the sermon will be preached by Louie Crew, former Rutgers professor and founder of the Episcopal gay rights group IntegrityUSA. On Sunday, June 24, the Web Goddess and I will join other members and friends walking behind a St. George’s banner at the annual Gay Pride March in New York City.
“Here’s another important thing I learned about bullying,” Garry continued. “Standing behind every harassed child is a whole lot of clueless adults…. There are certain people who don’t want to be anything other than clueless. Those are the people we will never get. But converting the clueless is the path to victory. And how do we do that?”
Not through the time-honored defense mechanism of blending into the background. “Gay and lesbian people walk this really fine line, right? We want folks to know the realities, we want to tell stories, but we want to fit in. We want to be treated like anyone else…. but in order to get the rights we deserve, we have to talk, we need to tell our stories, and we need to stick out.”
Garry said when she asked New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand how to get through to people who are not interested in the issue, Gillibrand responded, “It’s so easy… because people don’t want government interfering in their lives. And for Republicans? They want government to be smaller, not bigger.”
Some gay people might wish they were straight, but “not me,” Garry said. “It is because of my difference that I have found my voice, that I moved from corporate America to make a difference in a non-profit space, [and that I have] a commitment to social justice that seems super-urgent.”
“Even when we lose, we win,” she said. “An opportunity to publicly argue about what is right, what is just, what is fair — even if we lose in the short term, it’s an opportunity to be visible, to open up many eyes, and equally as many hearts.”
She closed by saying “the movement for LGBT equality is the civil rights issue of our time. It presents us with an opportunity to speak out and stand up and do something. I’m pretty sure that’s why they call it a movement.”