Although I grew up in a largely, white middle-class suburb in Southern California, I was raised to believe that everyone has equal value in the eyes of God. When I was in elementary school, many of my classmates and friends were hispanic and a few were black, but I don’t remember thinking that was anything of particular note. I never heard my parents speck negatively about people of different ethnic or religious backgrounds. My own experience and naiveté likely prevented me from recognizing the building racial tension of the 1960s. My husband, however, had grown up in South Los Angeles where there was a good deal of racial tension that led not only to distrust, but to physical altercations as well. He was not at all surprised when the Watts riots broke out in 1965, for me it was an eye opener. Still my faith in the basic goodness of people in general was not shattered my the discord of the time.
Talk about naiveté, gays were not even on my radar until I was out of high school. It’s not that I didn’t know that homosexuals existed, I just didn’t know any. Or so I thought. Turns out several of my best friends in high school were. Though neither I, and possibly even they, knew it at the time. The stereotype was (and still is to many) that homosexual men are always effeminate and lesbian women are always butch. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their appearance, dress, speech and other traits vary much as they do in the straight population. These friends may have already understood that they were somehow different in terms of their sexual attractions, but it was not something you could not be open about in those days without serious repercussions. Heck, it was hard enough being a straight teenagers going through puberty and adolescence without introducing something that was considered by many to be abhorrent. Even today, some of those same friends remain guarded about their sexuality, only disclosing their true nature to close trusted friends and family.
It was when I was in college that I really had my eyes opened to the unique variety of people who share this planet. I interacted and made friends with other young people not just from different ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs but also some that were just coming “out of the closet” and learning to navigate as an openly gay individual or couple. It was sometimes awkward, but I don’t remember feeling intimidated or threatened by the differences. I dated guys outside my own religious and racial background. I embraced the diversity and welcomed the opportunity to grow as a person through these interactions. I learned that people are not really all that different. We want to find our place in the world, how we fit in, and what kind of an impact we can have. We want not only to have friends but we want to love and be loved.
I am now in my 60s, and will have traveled to all seven continents when we return from Africa in September. The more interactions I have with folks I meet across the country and around the world the more convinced I am that most just want to provide for their families, enjoy their friends, and live their lives in peace. People are people and love is love. Why can’t some people see that?