The Christian right often points to the health disparities faced by LGBT people as evidence there's something inherently unhealthy about them. The disparities are indeed alarming: higher rates of psychiatric disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, smoking and suicide.
But the Christian right’s oppression of LGBT people is the self-fulfilling prophecy behind the grim statistics. A growing body of research shows the unhealthy choices made by LGBT people result from social stigmatization, discrimination and denial of rights – all of which are promulgated by religious extremists.
LGBT people are caught in a trap similar to that experienced by blacks in the Jim Crow South. Racists gloated over illiteracy rates as evidence of black inferiority even as they blocked blacks' access to education.
Unfortunately, LGBT people inevitably absorb the message that something is wrong with them – and behave accordingly. They fail to accept and love themselves. They fail to treat themselves and each other with compassion and respect.
At a press conference in Milwaukee City Hall on Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, the group Diverse and Resilient rolled out a bold new campaign designed to combat oppression. Dubbed "Acceptance Journeys," the campaign challenges LGBT people to expect more out of life. It encourages them to imagine how different life would be if they lived in a world where they could hold their partners' hands in public and live openly anywhere they wished without fear of discrimination or violence.
Like John Lennon’s anthem "Imagine," the campaign inspires a yearning for the endless possibilities life offers.
Acceptance Journeys is built around the most universal of human interactions. Through billboards and advertisements on public transit, it presents portraits and stories of LGBT Milwaukeeans with their friends, co-workers, family members, neighbors, pastors, etc. Each picture includes a story that, together with the image, encapsulates how an LGBT person allowed a straight person the opportunity to get to know them, and how that knowledge opened a mind and a heart. In essence, "the campaign puts words, faces and names to the process that each of us goes through in learning to love," according to D&R's description of the project.
At the press conference, D&R passed out five-by-five cards with images and stories from the campaign. One pictures a young man with his two brothers – an obviously close-knit family. On the other side of the card, the young man tells the story of coming to terms with the discovery that one of his brothers is gay. On another card, a young woman stands next to her beaming uncle. Her story centers on the positive impact her gay uncle has had on her life.
"I think all of us want to be accepted, and we want to be accepted for who we are," said Mayor Tom Barrett, who participated in the campaign. "We can find ways to isolate ourselves or feel isolated … and to isolate others. But we can't live up to our full potential (without acceptance)."
We hope our readers will take this innovative campaign to heart and utilize it as an opportunity to reach out to people in their circle of acquaintance. We hope it will inspire members of Milwaukee’s LGBT community to imagine the rewards of living in a world where they are accepted, and to help make that world a reality.