Op-Ed: Communication Plus Compassion Equals LGBTQ Liberation

Nothing is more important for promoting inclusion than how we talk to other people—and how we talk to ourselves.

Marriage equality supporter Joan Baldridge holds a sign at a demonstration outside an appeals hearing on California’s Proposition 8. Baldridge’s message is positive, compassionate and universal. (Photo: Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Mar 21, 2013
is the founder and director of the Center for Collaborative Communication.

Communication is a core aspect of being human. Pretty much every human activity depends on it—working effectively, enjoying the intimacy we want in our lives, building community and creating change and, just as importantly, fostering self-compassion and acceptance in how we “talk” to ourselves.

Research also increasingly shows how, as humans, we’re hard-wired for empathy.

I see these threads as all interconnected—especially for people historically marginalized in our society, including people who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum, and who want to create change in society and in our own lives every day.

The “Meta” Level: Creating Societal Change

The words movement and emotion share the same root: To move someone. Classical rhetoricians (keen observers of human behavior and how to impact it) realized the truth that we all like to see ourselves as “rational,” but in actual practice we are far more impacted by emotional appeals. Gandhi and MLK intrinsically understood that winning hearts is far more crucial than winning minds.

What does this look like in practice?

Phrases like “Gay Rights Now!” or “We’re Here, We’re Queer, Get Used to It!” are fun, vibrant and empowering. I’ve loved chanting these at marches! Yet it’s easy for someone who disagrees to push back—“Hell no, gay rights never…not on my dead body, and not in my kids’ schools! Not in my parade!”

Last year I heard someone say that gay people should be rounded up and kept behind bars. I found this comment so extreme, I was shocked. How could someone be advocating this, in this day and age?

We in effect are making demands and drawing a line in the sand—inviting opposition and resistance.

In contrast, acceptance, inclusion, peace and choice are qualities that all human beings desire and can understand. They are hard to argue with. Who would not want harmony or acceptance?

This is why “Freedom to Marry” is a highly effective slogan. It speaks to the core needs for freedom and, implicitly, for love, stability, connection and intimacy (needs often met through marriage).

By broadening the circle, rather than drawing a line in the sand, we build community and allies. Core needs hold emotional connection and resonance.

The “Inter” Level:  Transforming Oppositional Language

In turn, when we hear something we disagree with—especially if we find it hurtful or disturbing—it’s easy to push back and be reactive. Yet what if we can listen?

If we can stay connected to our own feelings and needs, and speak from that place, and listen for the other person’s feelings and needs, we can be far more effective in shifting opinions and in creating genuine transformation and change.

To practice this involves holding a positive view of another human being’s intentions even when we are probably most struggling to see it.

Last year I heard someone say that gay people should be rounded up and kept behind bars. I found this comment so extreme, I was shocked. How could someone be advocating this, in this day and age?

Underneath my reaction, if I look under my own “hood,” fear and anxiety are driving my judgment—and a desire to understand this kind of thinking. If I can find it in myself to wonder about the other person’s feelings and needs, I would bet they also are scared. Often, it’s when we’re frightened that we take actions that others might perceive as violent or extreme.

Once I’m connected with my own feelings and needs and curious about what’s going on for the other person, this can inform a far different conversation.  Once the other person is heard, on a core level, they have space to hear my side and what matters to me.  

Bringing It All Home:  Practicing Compassion With Ourselves

Being able to hear others depends on our ability to hear ourselves and to notice when we’re reacting or wanting to react. We need to use our feelings as a GPS system (to our needs) rather than as a gas pedal to opposition or disagreement.

Practicing compassion also involves a continual process of looking at our own core beliefs, including homophobic beliefs that we’ve internalized. Uncovering and discarding these beliefs is central to the gay rights movement.

“Pride” is about embracing all our beautiful diversity of gender expression and love to shift the internal shame that we all learned, at some point, about who are.

How do we love ourselves more and more…and love others more and more?

This seems to me the core, defining endeavor of the movement for LGBTQ inclusion. As Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, we can have no impact on those for whom we have contempt.

Are there ways you need to stop talking to yourself? Make the commitment in COMMENTS.

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