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sheilas-letters
Another View: County displays tolerance

As published in The Bellingham Hearld on July 20th, 2001
Erika Shepherd, Guest Columnist

SOCIAL ISSUES: Diverse group of people comes together to counter outsider's threat.

Something happened last month, and to quote a phrase from a venerable science fiction movie sequel, it was "something wonderful."

You may remember that Whatcom County had a near-miss experience with radical homophobe the Rev. Fred Phelps and his small but extremely demonstrative family. Now I know you're probably saying to yourself -- not that lesbian prom king thing again! Haven't we heard enough already?

Well, that isn't what I'd like to talk about, exactly, so please bear with me. You see, in the face of Phelp's threat to bring his hate-filled message here, many individuals, churches, businesses, and organizations in our community joined together to oppose him.

Together, they crafted a statement that told him and anyone else who was listening that hate does not have a home here in Whatcom County. The organization was called United We Stand, and the statement they issued was called the Community Affirming Promise. It was published in The Herald on June 9.

Okay you say, that's very nice, but what's so wonderful about it? Well, to me and many other people who were part of it, the wonder lies not only in the statement itself, but in the range of people and groups who built it. That loose group was comprised of people and organizations that, in the usual run of things, might never have chosen to be in the same place at the same time except to dispute each other.

There were ultra-liberals and ultra-conservatives, fundamentalist Christians and Reform Jews, gay activists and straight politicians, left-handed and right, and all range of viewpoints in between. Dare I say it? It was a shining example of diversity at its finest.

That disparate group came together in the face of an outsider's threat. No one in the GLBT community (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered) wanted to let his hatred go unchallenged, but neither did anyone in the religious community wish to be painted with the same brush. For a brief moment in time, all sides spoke loudly and publicly with one voice.

It was clearly a remarkable event. I don't know if such a thing has ever happened in this community before. For all I know, it may not have occurred anywhere else before, either. Everyone in Whatcom County should take note of that statement, and be proud that it could happen here.

Our community is not the sum of its streets and buildings, it is created by the collective minds and hearts of everyone who lives and works here. We each contribute a part in what we build. And last month, for a wondrous moment, the whole was greater than the parts.

So, should we let the moment pass into history, virtually unnoticed? Should we all retire to our respective corners and go back to sniping at each other?

Or, perhaps, might there be something else we could actually agree on, something that we could accomplish together that would help to wipe away some of the fear and prejudice that separates us?

Certainly, we would not convince each other of the absolute rightness of our respective truths. Far from it. But eventually, we might be able to see that each of us has a right to a truth that fits our view of life and ourselves.

I seem to remember that some of the first settlers to come to this continent from Europe were pilgrims seeking the freedom to express themselves and their religion in any way they chose. They were branded "heretics' by the religious hierarchy of their homelands, and often were forced to flee for their very lives.

Their efforts eventually established this nation -- a nation that honors each individual's right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." In our own small way, can't we do the same?

By the way -- the movie was "2010," based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel of the same name. And it, too, had a message of tolerance and hope.

Erika Shepherd is co-chair of Northwest PROUD.

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