This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Personal Experience and Prejudice

            At our Rotary meeting last week one of the club’s past presidents got up and volunteered to pay a “happy fine” to provide money for the club’s community service efforts. What he said (and I’m going from memory here) was:
            “My daughter, who lives in Brooklyn, started going out with a Coast Guard officer, and one thing led to another and they fell in love, and now they’re engaged. And I am so grateful that they are living in the state of New York, which recognizes gay marriage, and can get married.”

The Dog That Didn’t Bark

            The interesting thing about his announcement was the reaction to it, which was, well, nothing. He got a round of applause, paid his fine, and the meeting continued with no further notice of a declaration that I can’t imagine having been made before the club when I joined 23 years ago.
            Our club’s lone clergyman, a Presbyterian minister, wasn’t on hand to react, but I could make a pretty good guess as to what his reaction would have been. When we were chatting after a meeting a year ago, the Reverend told me how the scales had been lifted from his eyes on the question of homosexuality.
            He had been practicing his trade in another town, he said, and was invited to dinner by two male members of his congregation who were a gay couple. Spending an evening in their company, he realized they were as committed and happy as the heterosexual couples he ministered to — perhaps more so. The Reverend would probably have been one of the first to congratulate our past president after the meeting.

A Rotary Club’s AIDS Project

            More than two decades ago, the Los Altos Rotary Club, located in our district, which takes in most of Silicon Valley, launched an ambitious AIDS project. It was one of the first ever attempted in Rotary, and the story behind it was, again, a personal one.
            One of the longstanding and much-beloved members of the club, Dude Angius, had learned that his son, who lived in New York, had AIDS. Feeling powerless over such devastating news, he made an announcement at a meeting, and the club decided to get an AIDS project up and running. There was some opposition at first, but then it turned out that two members of the club — including the man who played Santa at Christmas parties — were HIV positive.
            That turned the tide, and the club developed an ambitious AIDS project that eventually became the subject of a highly praised documentary film, “The LosAltos Story,” and a model for similar projects undertaken by other clubs and organizations.

When the Political Becomes Personal

            What these stories have in common is a story line in which personal knowledge of someone in a situation changes previously held positions. I truly believe that prejudice and dogmatism can begin to dissolve when people become aware of the effect their beliefs might have on someone they know and love. Most, though not all, people are willing to let personal sentiment and loyalty override an ingrained belief, and that’s a good and very human response.
            I’m very happy for our past president and for his daughter. How wonderful that she now has the freedom to follow her heart, a freedom most of us take for granted. And how wonderful that her family and friends can share in her joy as she does so. It may run contrary to some concepts of religion, but to me, it’s a spiritual thing.