By Jody Paterson
I'm in that giddy state that comes after something you've been dreading is over, and it turned out not nearly as bad as you'd thought. In this case the anxiety-inducing event was a devotional I did this morning for my co-workers on gay tolerance - a subject that is rarely talked about here, and most definitely not in the context of the weekly prayer meeting at our office.
But for a while now I've been thinking that my co-workers are splendid, loving people, and that perhaps they really just needed a gentle push to reconsider some of the kneejerk prejudices against homosexuality that exist in Honduras. I knew I couldn't go at them with a forceful presentation on how wrong it is to deny people the basic right of loving who they choose, but I figured I might be able to just plant a seed or two that might start them thinking differently.
As it turned out, several of them had already been thinking differently. And while I noticed some people shifting uncomfortably in their seats once they heard what the subject of the devotional was, the lively conversation that grew out of the little PowerPoint I did went on for almost two hours and had everybody talking and sharing their thoughts. There was a lot of laughter, too, a great relief for a presenter bracing herself for stony faces and silence.
Honduras is heavily religious - still predominantly Catholic, but increasingly evangelical. My co-workers tend to interpret the Bible very conservatively, and there are at least a couple passages in the Bible that are pretty ferocious when it comes to condemning same-sex relations.
So while the Pope's recent comments about accepting homosexuals has given Honduras something to think about, it's not like people who have spent a lifetime believing that homosexuality is an abomination can just switch off their feelings and move on. I tried to make my points gently, and stressed from the start that I wasn't there to argue with them about their own beliefs (although by gully, that turned out to be quite a challenge at times).
The best discussion came when I broke them into pairs and gave them five "moral dilemmas" to ponder:
• Your son/daughter or other close family member acknowledges being gay;
• You discover your child's favourite teacher is a lesbian;
• You become aware that children are bullying a boy because they think he's gay;
• Your organization finds out that two people in a community are being blocked from participating in a project because neighbours think they are homosexual;
• It's election day and you have the choice of voting for an honest candidate who's gay or a corrupt politician who's heterosexual. (That last one got quite a laugh, seeing as it's basically a real-life example from the coming Honduran election.)
Those around the table who struggle the most with accepting homosexuality had the same kind of responses you can still hear in Canada and the U.S.: The Bible says it's a sin and that's that; the homosexuals want to influence my child's sexual orientation; we ought to have the right to our own beliefs even if thinking is changing elsewhere in the world. It's OK to be gay, just don't act on it.
But even the diehards admitted they'd never push a loved one away, never stand by and watch intolerance or violence happen to someone. One fellow, given the "what if it was someone in your family" dilemma, said he realized he wasn't at all prepared for such a development, and saw that he needed to reflect on that more.
Others were downright supportive. One young woman said she'd met a rural family with three gay children, and realized in that instant that it had to be in the biology of people. Several talked about the woman who dresses as a man in one of the villages up the road from our office (and believe me, you have to be some brave in Honduras to do that) who has a female partner and has been completely accepted by the other villagers. One said she'd learned a lot from witnessing that acceptance.
And I think we almost had a consensus that if the better political candidate was gay or lesbian, he or she would get their vote.
I'm well aware of how ugly the talk can get when the subject is tolerance of homosexuality; my years as an adult have pretty much paralleled the decades of heated debates over gay rights. But ultimately, I trust good-hearted people to see that it's just love we're talking about here. My Honduran co-workers are nothing if not loving, and I am honoured that they gave me the opportunity to say things they didn't want to hear.