Is Conservative the New Gay? Not. Even. Close.

I’m currently flying at 30,000 feet and just received an article from a friend, urging me to respond. The Women’s March on Washington is on Saturday, and I am flying to D.C. where I will meet up with the Olympic, Paralympic, Deaflympic and Professional athletes participating in the march as part of an Equality Is A Team Sport coalition. We represent a group of athletes, their families, friends, and members of the broader athletic community who want to clearly convey that we stand for equality and inclusion.

I’d like to start by saying that I think that Ms. Doherty, the author of the recent OpEd Is Conservative the New Gay, articulates valid concerns about the current state of political discourse in our country. Those who wish to respectfully articulate their perspectives should not feel afraid to do so, and as many have highlighted over the past year, the intensity of the animosity between different political points of view undermines the principles for which we as Americans strive to stand. As someone whose professional life and work in advocacy entails coalition building, I too am often frustrated by the rhetoric at both extremes of the political spectrum.

But Is Conservative the New Gay? Not. Even. Close.

While I can understand the inclination to borrow the “closet metaphor”, the proposed analogy reflects ignorance of decades of institutionalized violence and discrimination. From hate crimes against the LGBT community, to the fact that it is still legal for members of the LGBT community to be fired in the majority of U.S. states, to the disproportionately high rates of LGBT youth suicide, the challenges faced by the “conservatives” living in liberal communities are of an entirely different nature.

I agree whole heartedly that we need to find a way to engage in a more compassionate and respectful dialogue. But experiencing the frustration of being judged or feeling alienated simply cannot be equated with the systematic discrimination faced by the LGBT community, communities of color, and other vulnerable communities whose lives and freedom remain at risk as a result of legal and cultural barriers that still confer a second-class citizen status.

It is not right that Ms. Doherty feels hurt and afraid – that she does not find herself in space where she can engage in a respectful exchange of ideas. At the same time, I would encourage her – as I would would encourage all of us – to take a moment to search for compassion in understanding those with whom we disagree. What seems to fuel the judgement and professions of hatred? What seems to inspire the racist, homophobic, sexist stereotypes? The reality is that it is fear, across the political spectrum, that sparks the emotions that are then articulated in judgement and anger. Just as I have read Ms. Doherty’s piece with an empathetic mind, I would encourage her to recognize that the fear and anger underpinning liberal rancor is rooted in a painful reality that oftentimes stretches back generations.

I also believe, as Athlete Ally Executive Director, Hudson Taylor so often reminds me, that we would all be well served to examine areas of privilege in our lives. Even as we find ourselves frustrated by those who we believe seek to silence us, or at the receiving end of judgement we feel is unjust, it is each of our responsibility to examine and understand the privileges we have, whether on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, physician ability, or otherwise. Liberals do not and should not have the monopoly when it comes to opposing discrimination, and there are a myriad of ways that people like Ms. Doherty, regardless of political affiliation, can identify opportunities to proactively combat the “isms” and “phobias” that persist throughout our culture.

We find ourselves in a time when so many people and communities are angry and afraid. But it is up to each of us to determine how we can build bridges of awareness and understanding across the demographic and ideological cleavages that divide us. On Saturday I will participate in the Women’s March on Washington, because we all must continue to lead and make a difference toward a more equal and inclusive world – for women and girls, for communities of color, for members of the LGBT community, and for all who continue to be marginalized, treated as though they do not belong, or are the targets of enduring discrimination. I march, because in the words of Megan Rapinoe, Equality Is A Team Sport.