Experience Has Been My Best Teacher

Experience Has Been My Best Teacher

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I have never been ashamed to say, “I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas,” but these days I get a rolling of the eyes and a “Oh, Texas!“ response because of the anti-LGBTQ movement boiling inside Texas politics. So I say, “I know, I know,“ and try to move on. It’s too bad. I loved growing up as a kid in Texas (1949-65). We just had a 2023 family reunion with lots of hugs and fun and reminiscing. I was proud of the state back then with its size and scope and the year-round sunny weather. But…


“We’re moving to Chicago!“ my dad announced when I was 15. That was the biggest disruption in my life to that point, but random good fortune found me as I met my wife (52 years and counting) at the University of Illinois and married into a family that embraced me as if my own.

My extended family doubled and one little relative (she was 9 when I met her, I was 19) was very smart, loving, funny, and we hit it off right away. She was a flower girl in our wedding. She liked all sports and we would sometimes play guitar together and sing at family gatherings. She could converse (argue!) on just about any topic. She had a memory for song lyrics that was astounding. After college she had several jobs and traveled to many places, and then she ultimately settled into a position directing a Chicago-area nonprofit that funded programs that helped those in most need of food, shelter, education, healthcare, and social justice. She was very successful, won many awards for her achievements, and retired a few years ago.

During that same period, she discovered the love of her life and has had a wonderful marriage. They created a comfortable, loving home with a big vegetable garden and a chicken coop that has supplied us with fresh eggs. They are fitness nuts and travel around the world, while raising a cherished daughter making her way in Chicago after college in New York City. They welcome family and friends to their home year-round, but their signature gathering is on Christmas Eve when they serve an epic holiday meal. These are two of the finest people I know. Any neighborhood, city or state should be lucky to have them.

This precocious little 9-year-old opened her heart to me on day one when I met her, and I opened my heart to her. I have learned so much from her throughout my life, but most importantly, this white senior gray-haired straight male (me) was able to witness first hand from both her and her gay partner how much strength, resilience, belief, and determination it took for this same-sex couple to overcome all the difficult obstacles that were in their path since the 1960s: religious extremism, ugly bigotry and incivility, and legacy laws that discriminated against them. They did this with patience, grace, and tenacity as they fought and overcame all those obstacles.

I have often thought, where would my head and heart be today if I had stayed in Texas in the same white privileged evangelical Christian segregated culture where I grew up almost 60 years ago? Would I have emerged from a lifetime in the conservative Texas protestant echo chamber believing same-sex marriage was a sin? Maybe, but I’ll never know because long ago my dad packed up the car, drove out of Dallas and made a left turn for the Land of Lincoln and put me on a different path.

Many good people can have strong opinions about important issues that can calcify over the years from lifelong peer pressure and indoctrination. Despite that, I have seen that when a parent’s child reveals that they are gay or transgender, the power of a parent’s unconditional love rises to the top and overrules religious doctrines and legal targeting. Those parents will do what they think is right for their children and face the consequences with love and courage.

The overwhelming majority of Americans (71%) think same-sex marriage should be legal (Gallup, 6/5/23). My hope is that more and more people will have direct experiences with the LGBTQ population so they can clearly understand in their heart that demonization and criminalization of people different than you has no place in a civil democratic society. Maybe you have had a direct experience similar to mine that has been formative in your life.

In this regard, experience has been my best teacher.