When I was in seminary in New York City there was a woman in my class from a very conservative background. She said some especially offensive things about same-gender loving people. Honestly, I didn’t like her very much. But then one day, I and another gay guy found her crying in the quad. When we asked her what was wrong, she answered that she was in extreme pain (she had been injured earlier that year and her injuries were healing very slowly). The thought of a long subway ride to another borough was unbearable to her. We suggested she take a cab, but graduate school is expensive and requires some sacrifices, so, not surprisingly, she didn’t think she could afford it.
However, at that moment anyway, my friend and I could afford it. So, we offered to pay for her to have a cab ride home. She was very grateful. She even said, “Of all the people to come to my aid, who would have thought it would be gay folk?!” After that, she never said another homophobic word in our presence and she always greeted us as if we were friends.
Sometime later, our new friend wanted to speak to us. She had good news to share and she wanted to share it with us. She and her son had been estranged for a long time. You see, her son was gay and when he came out to her, she didn’t handle it well and their relationships suffered as a result. After her encounter with the Good Samaritan Gay Boys, she called her son and invited him to church. Of course he was outraged that she would suggest such a thing; but she explained to him, “Not my church, son. There is an open and affirming church in the city that has an annual Gay Pride worship celebration and I want us to go together.” At first he couldn’t believe she was sincere, but she was and they did attend that service together. It was very healing for both of them and their relationship got a reboot.
I was remembering that powerful encounter that changed more than one life (probably even my own) recently when I was reading some terrible comments about immigrants and Muslims and transgender people. The comments were saturated with fear and ignorance and hatred. As a gay person, I had heard them before but directed toward people like me. As I was reacting to all the xenophobia and transphobia I was encountering on social media posts, I remembered that sacred and healing human exchange in seminary. And I thought, “How difficult it is to demonize a group if you have experienced a member of that group as being fully human.” I’m not suggesting that offering cab rides will lead to world peace, but reminding ourselves and others that all the people we are inclined to demonize and dehumanize are actually human-beings could actually be a good start.
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins is the senior minister of Sunshine Cathedral, a post-denominational church in Fort Lauderdale.