What’s a neighbor? As in “Love thy neighbor.”
I’ve been thinking about that. It’s funny how differently people react to stories. When I write, I work hard to bring feeling to life, to paint a picture you can dive into and explore with me. I want my stories to vibrate with humanity and empathy.
Why? Because too many people don’t think of LGBTQ people like me as their neighbors. We’re too different, too other.
Sometimes it works. A young woman once commented to me about on a semi-humorous but serious advice column I write for LGBTQ youth —
It’s infuriating that we still need articles like this! Thank you for helping take care of people in need.
LGBTQ people are my neighbors
This I know. We share struggles. We share obstacles. We understand each other’s challenges in ways other people often don’t “get.” We feel it in our bones.
We have to care for all of our neighbors
We LGBTQ people have to be neighbors to one another, because sometimes nobody else will be. But it doesn’t stop there. I was thinking about neighbors not so long ago when Sam’s sharp guard-dog bark startled me. A neighbor from down the street was in trouble!
I spot Helen’s bent frame trudging up the driveway before she knocks on the door. After I peek out the window, I slip on my shoes, figuring she probably needs her ancient Buick jumped again.
When I open the door, she’s almost in tears. “My car won’t start at all,” she quavers. “My kids are out of town, there’s a blizzard coming tomorrow, and I don’t know what to do.”
We live way out in the boonies where they don’t plow the streets, so when a serious winter storm threatens, we take provisioning seriously. Helen is panicking. She’s 92, lives alone, and while she’s very spry and healthy … she’s 92.
“Honey,” I say, “you should have texted me or called. You didn’t have to walk over here. You want me to run you to the store?”
Her whole body sags in relief. “Oh, would you? I didn’t want to ask.”
I grabbed a can of cranberry sauce and a frozen pizza while Helen did a major provisioning, then I did a little work on Facebook, reviewing new comments on some of my stories, and engaging with readers.
As I waded through everything, I noticed a sprinkling of comments that carry a theme I’m all too used to. To paraphrase, it goes something like this:
You guys need to stop playing the “victim card.” Everybody has problems. Your identity politics bullshit is over the top, and it’s hurting you instead of helping you. Stop pretending that homosexuals face special problems. They don’t. You just want special rights. Your sex life isn’t a movement.
I mostly don’t try to engage with people who say things like that, because I want my work to stand on its own. I try to paint life in such a way that I don’t need to answer those criticisms.
It’s pointless to try, I think. If you can read a story about a 14-year-old boy forced into physically abusive “conversion therapy” and then claim I’m fostering a “victim mentality,” nothing I can say is going to impact your thinking.
So, I sighed and worked through more negative comments while Helen shopped. I put her bags in the truck, took her home, and got everything arranged on her kitchen table.
She was smiling and happily putting her groceries away when I left.
How do you love your neighbors when they don’t love you back?
I don’t know. I guess you put one foot in front of the other and just keep marching. It’s either that or give in to despair, a process I’d rather like to avoid.
Are those commentators on Facebook my neighbors? In a way. They’re my fellow human beings. They have problems. Their kids go out of town. Their cars won’t start. They need groceries when a blizzard is barreling in. They feel despondent when nobody cares about them.
I’d help them if they needed help. Wouldn’t anybody? Isn’t that just basic? Maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m just crazy. Maybe “Love thy neighbor,” means different things to different people.
How is stigmatizing and excluding LGBTQ people neighborly?
Conservative Christian Americans push back on matters of full LGBTQ equality all the time, insisting that things are either just fine already or that we bring on our own problems by being too out or too open.
They oppose simple measures that would protect us in our ordinary human pursuits — like holding down a job or having a place to live. When Christians successfully argue that babies should be denied medical care because their mothers are lesbians, the concept of neighbor seems to evaporate into meaninglessness.
Beyond ‘I Do’ — Real Equality for LGBTQ Families
This baby’s story shows how far we have to go
Dozens of conservative Americans are arguing to me (right now on social media) that it’s not (or should not be) a human rights violation for an employer to fire a person for being LGBTQ if the employer is religiously opposed to LGBTQ people.
What’s a neighborly way to respond to that?
Love they neighbor as thyself by denying thy neighbor a job? All I can really do is shake my head and keep telling stories. I don’t know what else to do. You can’t teach people that hurting fellow human beings for being different is wrong.
All I know how to do is show. Do you know what it feels like to be othered? I do. I know exactly how it feels to be rejected and excluded because I’m different. Maybe that’s why I’m kind to my neighbors.
Is that really so hard? I wish more people practiced the empathy and love that lie centered in the heart of their religious faith.
James Finn is a long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Act Up NYC, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to email@example.com.