Monday, September 10, 2012

Respectful Dialogue

When I was in grad school for social work, one of the classes I took during my first semester was called "Diversity". I'll admit that at first I was somewhat apprehensive about taking this class. I had come from a conservative background, and had heard from others, who at some point have had to take diversity trainings or classes, who had negative experiences with them.

Despite the fact that the class was about forming respect and understanding for all, I wasn't sure that I would be respected or understood. By this point in my life, I had already seen that there were a lot of people and groups out there calling out for acceptance and tolerance for who they were and what they believed, but often did not extend it to others who were different from them in either who they were or what they believed.

I had noticed this in particular when it came to the topics of religion and homosexuality, both of which were topics very close to me. Here I was, a believing Mormon who experienced same-sex attraction (which was how I identified at that time). If I were to reveal these aspects of myself, would my diversity be respected and accepted? Or would I get the same messages I'd received in the past that unless I lived in a certain way, I wasn't being true to myself?

In spite of the concerns I had going into this Diversity class, it turned out to be a very positive experience for me. The basis of all discussions in that class was respectful dialogue.

In the first few weeks of the class, we were all given the opportunity to present our own diversity. At this point, I hadn't quite developed the rapport or trust with my fellow classmates to open up about my sexuality, though I was open about my religion. For while I wasn't the only Mormon in the class, and I wasn't the only "sexual minority" in the class, I was the only one that was both.

As the weeks went on, my skepticism faded away and I saw that there was a respectful dialogue in the classroom. And over time as I got to know the others in my class, I also began to feel accepted by them.

Each week, we discussed different topics in this class, including race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and disabilities. It wasn't until closer to the end of the semester that the topic of sexual orientation was discussed. By this time, I knew I was ready to open up about myself and provide my own perspective.

By this time, I'd already discussed my sexuality in papers I'd written for the class, so our professor was aware of my sexuality and my beliefs. A week or so before the class discussion on sexual orientation, I spoke to her privately, and let her know that I wanted to open up about myself. I asked for her feedback. She thought that it would fit well in the discussion, and told me that she'd give me an opportunity to speak if that's what I wanted.

The week that we had the class discussion on sexual orientation also shortly followed the passage of an amendment to the Utah State Constitution banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. I remember several in the class expressing their frustration at its passage. Much of the discussion was focused on how its passage affected those that were gay or lesbian. I began to feel more and more nervous as the discussion went on.

But I realized that this was still something I needed to do. And when the opportunity came, I spoke. Though I no longer remember my exact words, I said something along these lines:

"I'm an active believing member of the LDS Church and I'm attracted to men. Because of my beliefs, I choose not to act on these attractions."

That opened up a dialogue about a perspective that many of my classmates had never before considered. Several of them thanked me for my courage to open up about myself. And it also lead to me building some new friendships.

For the rest of my time in that class, I was able to speak openly about myself and my opinion and perspective. During a group project on the military draft at the end of the term, I was able to add another perspective about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that would not have been discussed otherwise.

This class, probably more than anything else, has been what has prompted me to work toward opening a respectful dialogue with those of differing opinions and beliefs. After this class ended, I did start to make an effort to reach out to others in the GLBT community. As I was doing so while at the same time remaining publicly "closeted" about my sexuality, I only had limited success at the time. But it did give me experience in starting respectful dialogues.

Over the coming weeks and months, I will likely be posting more on topics that are more controversial and polarized. As I do, there will likely be those reading my blog that feel strongly about these issues on one side or another. As we discuss these topics, my desire is that we maintain a respectful dialogue. The point is not to change someone else's mind, but to hear and understand them and respect their right to hold their opinions.

As always, I welcome feedback on my posts. Your comments are a big part of what gets the dialogue going, so please share your thoughts and opinions on what I've written.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this Adam. I wish my diversity class had been that stimulating and open but I am happy you got to experience that and open up!