September 27th, 2012
This week, we share the story of an ROP group that turned crisis into opportunity. Read on to be inspired, and to pick up more tools for your organizing toolbox.
Earlier this summer, following a community conversation about marriage equality in Lincoln County, a hate-filled op-ed was published in the paper, written by local pastor. The pastor refers to the Bible, saying that God said homosexuality is “sinful, unnatural, depraved, deserving death.”
Shocked but moved to action, ROP member group in Oregon Central Coast PFLAG wrote, “we want to turn this pastor’s hostile acts into pure gold – and demonstrate how healthy community can handle an event like this.” They organized an informal coalition of PFLAG families, faith leaders, youth, health advocates, and local immigrant community leaders to respond.
Within just a few days, they had drafted a letter to the editor affirming God’s love for LGBTQ people, then collected over 230 signatures in public support of it, including 15 pastors. They met with the editor of the paper, who listened to their concerns, and agreed to a schedule of pro-LGBTQ letters, and to publish a new “no hate” policy regarding LTE’s on a monthly basis. They flooded the paper with letters in support of a welcoming community for all, written from prominent faith and community leaders.
The quick response turned a frightening incident to a chance to show power, organization, and build new friends and allies. In small-town Oregon, it is so frequently these passionate, all-volunteer human dignity groups that are the bottom line for upholding basic standards of decency and respect. And as damaging as these vicious attacks can be, they’re also an invitation to grow stronger and educate the broader community about finding strength in our differences.
Creating that safe and welcoming environment is about our highest ideals, yes, but it is also about creating conditions for survival for people who reflect the increasing diversity of rural Oregon. At the same time as a hate letter was published, one gay youth was recovering in a hospital from a suicide attempt. Jeanne St. John of Oregon Central Coast PFLAG soberly wrote, “Good news is that kids probably don’t read the newspaper, but the bad news is that most of the adults in their lives probably do.”
Immigrant community leaders, who so readily stood up against this hate speech, also know well about safety. For many immigrants in the same community, a climate of hostility and intolerance leads to a greater possibility of suspicion, racial profiling, and unnecessary and dangerous law enforcement intervention. For undocumented immigrants, this can mean being deported, and facing dangerous conditions in their home country.
In Lincoln County, a strong history of relationship building ensures that when one group is attacked, everybody will show up. Thank you Lincoln County leaders for showing us what is possible with a little bit of teamwork and a lot of love!
P.S. Thanks to Jeanne St. John for your quick leadership to mobilize when it counts, and also for keeping such good documentation! Also, for those interested, the local paper’s new publishing guidelines are included here on our website.