Bridging The Gap

A reader writes:

My husband and I live in Houma, Louisiana, which is 60 southwest of New Orleans. Houma is staunch Republican territory. People have asked how we can live in such a very red state and in such a very red community. My reply is always, “Because of the people. I love them.”

I moved here when I was a teenager in junior high school back in 1977.  As a former Navy brat who grew up moving from state to state, moving to Cajun country was like moving to a foreign outpost. I’ve been enchanted ever since. I’ve lived here off and on for over 26 years. The times I’ve been away were when I was in the Army and when I attended seminary and was a Southern Baptist minister. I’ve always been drawn back and returned 16 years ago. I came out over ten years ago, divorced, and eventually remarried three years ago. This time I got it right.

How does an openly gay married couple survive in this bastion of conservatism?

Actually, it’s been easy. What we have determined is that as people get to know us, they discover that we’re very much like them. We love our families as much as they love theirs. We love our kids (my daughters from a previous marriage) as much as they love theirs. We love spending time with our granddaughter. We have an excellent friendship with my ex-wife and her husband (who I refer to as my step-husband). In fact, as strange as it may seem for some, our families get together for holidays and vacations.

My husband and I love attending football games in Death Valley and watching our beloved LSU Tigers play.  We were on Canal Street in New Orleans celebrating with the record crowd when the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl and had their victory parade. We know first-hand the impact that had not only on New Orleans, but on our region after Hurricane Katrina.

As an Army veteran, I’ve never had anybody question my loyalty to our country. As a public servant in our community and somebody involved in numerous nonprofit organizations, I’ve never had anybody question my love and loyalty to our community. As a former Southern Baptist minister, I’ve never been directly questioned about my faith, although I’ve been compelled to write numerous letters to the editor of our local newspaper respectfully and thoughtfully responding to anti-gay letters, relaying my views on spiritual matters and asking serious questions of those who hold different views concerning gays.

I’ve been fortunate to live in an area that has been influenced by a number of gays who have been successful in business or in the public sector. They stepped up to the plate long before I came out and made my transition as an out gay man much easier.

I think that’s the key not only in the South, but everywhere. As more gays come out and more people cannot help but be around gays, people discover that we’re not the ogres the Christian “Right” has portrayed. Yes, it takes longer down here and, yes, it can be frustrating when seeing how other areas of the country and other states have become more “gay friendly.” Yet, our roots are here and they run deep. It is home and I see it changing for the better. I know hope because I see changing perspectives in those I know and those I meet and get to know.  One person at a time. How else can you change a community? How else can you change a state? We’ve chosen to be a part of change.

Another reader:

I’m responding to this request from you:

If readers have their own stories to tell – not family but friend stories – we’d love to hear from you about bridging the gap. That goes for Republicans engaging Democrats as well, of course.

We live on the central coast of California, out in the country, on a private road with seven other homes.  When one of our neighbor families moved in about eight years ago, we were determined to welcome them, as we’d had a lot of problems with their predecessors, and wanted to ensure that we got off to a fresh and good start with this family, whom I’ll refer to as the Ds.

We liked them immediately. They’re younger than us by fifteen or so years, and at that time had a baby son.  The Ds had met and married in DC, where he had worked all his professional life for the government (including time in the Clinton White House), and she had worked at a couple of jobs, speaking bureaus, NGOs, and the like.  They are both bright, well-traveled, and he currently works for the government and travels a great deal for the Department of Defense (non-military).  She’s a stay-at-home mom with two children and has her own consulting marketing company, working from home.

At first we thought they were sort of like us: fairly sophisticated, politically interested, socially liberal, me a little more liberal, my husband a little more fiscally conservative, lapsed Episcopalians, and, as is commonly used these days, “spiritual, but not religious.”  But as we soon found out, they are Christians with a capital C. Upon moving here, they joined the local mega church (a former Baptist church that changed its name, I suspect, to attract more members since we live in a pretty liberal area).  We found this out when the local newspaper profiled them on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 – he had been at the Pentagon when it was struck, and described himself as having survived “by being in the arms of God.”  At first, when we read this, we were dumbfounded.  This was a neighbor of ours?  How could we possibly continue to be their friends?  How could he believe he had some special relationship with God, that ensured survival of 9/11, but not all the others who perished that day?  How could such an intelligent person (with a Stanford degree, no less) utter something so simplistic?

But we continued to see them, because they are utterly decent human beings.  We see them often, having dinner at each other’s homes, sharing wine and recipes, thoughts on the world, on DC, and laughing at just about everything, including our local politics.  Over the years, they have become increasingly disillusioned with the Republican Party because it is so mean.  But back in 2008, and again in 2012, they voted against Obama.  Again, it dumbfounds us.  But we continue to see them.  We’ve talked about everything we do not agree on, and it has been a real lesson for us, and for our two adult sons, both of whom are pretty cynical and don’t even pretend to have any religious affiliation.  But they love the Ds as do we.  I never would have thought I would have such close friends with whom I have such profound differences.  I think too it’s been an eye-opener for them, to have so many of their deep beliefs challenged.

A good example of this is a discussion we had about the age of the earth.  When challenged with the fact of carbon dating, Mrs. D. finally sort of threw up her hands, and said, “Well, I’m no scientist.”  So this I guess is an example of faith trumping reality, but still difficult to understand from our perspective.

Sometimes after a little too much wine, when the hour is late, we’ve come close to getting a little too personal, but we’ve never crossed the line, I think, because we all value our friendship so much.  In short, there’s more that holds us together than separates us.  But it has been a real education in “bridging the gap.”