Dear Michael, (dropping the formalities of Dr. to have a human to human chat)
I keep seeing your name pop up on my twitter lists, people repost your videos, and I have read your blog articles regarding gays and lesbians. You and I have shared a few twitter rants back and forth although I think I walked away feeling rather disappointed because the needs for genuine connection or understanding were not met for me. I suspect you walked away thinking every criticism I have of you is some sort of attack on you. Seems everyone is in their own sort of flight or fight mode. I think you are accustom to being attacked here and there, so I get that. I have had my fair share of unkind words posted about me on the web. So be the world of twitter and social media.
I also saw the requests you keep putting out there seeking to debate with Michael Signorile. I think I am seeing your disappointment and frustration that your push for meaningful interaction with gay voices keeps failing or being met with resistance and even push off. I think I can offer you some explanation of why that happens to you and unless you change your approach, it will not change. Gandhi had a few clues into debating and talking with those who disagreed with him and I have learned much from his lessons. I do warn this article might be hard to read for you. I was honest and compassionate and you’ll have to humble yourself to listen knowing my intentions are about dialogue. I have no books to sell. I don’t need any attention in the world (and I would prefer not to have it). I just wanted to be up front, honest, and real with you.
The debate is over!
I know you want to debate because you keep saying it. The biggest issue is Michael, people come to debates ready to defend their position. That means they come believing from the start they are right and the other side is wrong. I can tell you as a long time mediator in both courts and out, no one really does well with the debate model because it is adversarial. In the gay community, no one is really interested in debating our lives, our loves, and our marriages. (you can call them what you want but thats the language in the certificate I got in MA). I think some may be okay with a dialogue if you could gain some trust. Much different than debate in many ways. Debate is about winning and losing where dialogue is about learning and changing. I and many others don’t believe there is room for change from you. I get the sense that you seem pretty locked in your ways and beliefs and that doesn’t feel welcoming, safe, or productive to any GLBT person on the planet. Dialogue is also about finding the places you agree by listening and understanding. Debates are about finding flaws in the arguments to prove one side right or wrong. More importantly, dialogue requires participants to suspend beliefs to fully empathize with each other. Debate requires people to invest fully in their own beliefs at the discount of others. You can see why debate doesn’t sound inviting to anyone when you consider what it is you plan to debate: our lives and those who we love.
GLBT Folks Don’t Trust Your Intentions!
Dialogue is also about trust and many GLBT people have little trust in anyone who doesn’t affirm our love, lives, and relationships. Most of us ask, what does this guy want? For many of us, the answers are not good when it comes to those labeled anti-gay christians. Considering you defended the laws in Uganda calling to imprison gays and lesbians. You have discounted and disrespected those who believe differently than you on being gay and Christian while demanding they respect your beliefs. Most recently, you posted on twitter about the name calling in talks with GLBT supporters and followed it with an article name calling us as “Twitter Trolls.” That doesn’t really fit with my understanding of integrity or walking your talk. You say one thing and do something else. When GLADD called you out on some of these issues, rather than respond to the specific comments made, you deflected blame to another blogger saying why pick on me when he is worse. Followed by more name calling. Thing is, they were talking about you, not JMG. You never answered their claims, just deflected. With that background, trust will be hard to come by for you.
We also assume you are out to change us. Guess what, we have heard it all before and we don’t want to hear it again. Most of us spent our early years praying to every god possible to not be gay. Some subjecting ourselves to harsh camps, treatments, or other programs to change us. For many of us, the process of coming out to ourselves was one of finally accepting ourselves just as we are and finally giving ourselves permission to love. It was a freeing sense of sweet surrender. The end the years of a battle against ourselves we were surely tired of fighting. Some loose that battle to drugs, reckless sex, and even suicide. We walked away from the shame people much like you have placed on us and said, no. I am done with that shame.
Some also assume your intentions have nothing to do with “us” at all and these attempt to dialogue are really attempts to promote your radio show and sell books. Neither of which do we care to help you do. Considering you remind people what you wrote in what book in multiple tweets, videos, and articles. Do you want us to talk to you or read your books?
Your history is also not building or allowing the trust needed for dialogue. Your association with people like Peter LaBarbera or Matt Barber, who have been documented saying things that don’t meet anyone’s needs for respect, doesn’t leave any gay person or their allies trusting your intentions in wanting dialogue. Trust is built and these past connections you’ve shared leave people like me and most gays and lesbians skeptical your intentions are not just self-serving or just meant to exploit us. It also means we are a little easily triggered by people like you hence its easy to lash out. GLBT carry years of pain with us that we have learned to manage each in our own way.
Coming to GLBT voices and asking for a debate after releasing a book about surviving the culture war against us sounds like a low chance way of getting anything to happen. I might suggest (with a few years of experience under my belt around community dialogue and conflict) you change the approach if a true and honest conversation is what you wish to achieve. I have to admit I am the first to doubt that is what you truly want AND I am willing to give you a chance. Here is my list of things I suggest:
1) Stop asking for a debate and request a real honest human to human connection. As someone who has done dozens of restorative circles, hundreds of mediations, and my fair share of large community dialogues, debates are only about somebody winning and somebody losing. No one wants that. Change the tone to one of seeking mutual respect (which you may think you have been doing and I can tell you it doesn’t meet with my understanding of the human need of respect)
2) Instead of a debate, take a cue from the world of restorative justice and set up some restorative circles. You might want to do your homework on those or call in experts like Dominic Barter from Brazil and you will get a whole lot further. Don’t be surprised if no one comes if you have not earned or built trust about your intentions or the “why” you want to talk. What’s in it for everyone not just you! What would be the benefit to any GLBT voice in having any interaction with you? Honestly, I don’t think I would dialogue with you if I didn’t see it as mutually beneficial and as of now, I wouldn’t. I must have some hope for you, or enough that I took the time to craft this letter. (Something I am sure to get some flack for doing from my own side not that I actually believe in “sides” per se.)
3) I think you could get further if you abandon the language of WAR. Even your radio show’s title is a war reference. If you want peace with those on the “other side” you might want to change the tone of the conversation. Read the book, Taking the War Out of Our Words by Sharon Ellison. Recognize just how much war and battle language you are using and how much those reference violence. Being “on target” or “in the line of fire” are not just catchy terms, they are violence related. Referring to everything as a “spiritual battle” means someone will win and someone will loose. If that is your desired outcome, then just be honest about that and stop asking for dialogue. If you want peace, learn to Speak Peace.
4) Humility is not just a word. I have seen and read twitter remarks to you and in other places where it is clear to me that some people, including myself, experience your words and interactions as condescending. When you walk into the conversation convinced you are right and everyone else is wrong OR when you walk thinking once you know what I know, you’ll change. It is unlikely people will warm up and trust you enough to talk to you. You may not call our unions “marriage” and you would do better to respect the fact, we do. You might just need to bow to the earns of respect and relationship, swallow your pride, and meet people where they are not where you are. In simple terms, don’t let your pride get in your way!
5) I might suggest you talk with ex-ex-gays and learn as much as you can about them. After all the scripture quotes are done, some of us are still gay. I think it is cruel to ask people to live celibate lives without romantic love. We all deserve someone to share our life with. I am happy to have someone who I love more than words and have been sharing my life with for over 15 years. I have every intention of sharing the rest of my life with him regardless of people like you or your beliefs. You learning to respect that is key to us trusting a conversation with you.
6.) If you truly want an honest conversation GLBT people will trust, it might be beneficial for you to refrain from promoting any book or radio show. In fact, don’t make it about YOU at all. Make it about listening, learning, and connecting, not selling yourself. I can almost guarantee if GLBT folks think your goal is all about you and promoting your books, and radio, they will not trust you at all and the offensiveness will lead to name calling and fuck you statements. Why? No trust. Take the advice of Marshall Rosenberg and make your goal of of conversation and dialogue about human connection on the needs level. Regardless how we all differ, we all share the same basic needs.
With all that said, I wish you luck! I agree with most people. The SCOTUS ruling ended the game on marriage. I am hoping this will be followed with nondiscrimination laws to protect GLBT people in housing and hiring. I don’t think anyone deserves to be kicked to the curb for decided to live who they are even if your religious views say otherwise. Your view and belief isn’t the only one! If you truly want people to respect your beliefs, I suggest you start by respected theirs.
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"Be the change you wish to see in the world"
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Martin Luther King Jr.
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