I was reading a forum post somewhere, where a person off-handedly mentioned being gay in a small town in the USA. Let me preface this with a couple of disclaimers: I have never (and will never, gods willing) lived in a truly small town where I was old enough to know or care. I've never had to deal with an entire large group of random strangers who know all of my business (shut up, the Internet doesn't count) who I'm meeting on a regular basis.
Steve, however, did. Whenever we go out with his dad, there are bound to be at least two or three families out and around who recognise not only him, but (by extension) Steve as well, and in many cases, me. It's eerie. The next door neighbours at his father's house know me as one of his mother's son-in-laws, and will stop over for a chat if I'm outside and they're outside at the same time. It's eerie, and unsettling, because I have no clue who these people are, but they seem to know all about me.
Again, I'm reinforcing this with the fact that I don't have to live there, and any interactions I've had with folk out there have been friendly, warm, loving, and kind.
I find that in smaller towns, folk aren't as hateful as you would think that they are. Yes, you have hateful people in the churches who preach more of their brand of loathsome dogma, but you also have plenty of good decent people who are happy to let you get on with your life, as long as you let them get on with theirs. These are the same people who vote republican on the ballots, and are generally conservative.
However, I call myself a liberal, or moderate, or whatever, not because I have a fundamental understanding of how I vote, but rather because that's where my life and the conclusions I've drawn have lead me over the years. I didn't vote for Obama because I knew where he stood on all the issues that matter to me. I voted for him because people I care about, and whose opinions I respect deeply asked me to vote for him.
Huh. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
You see, I'm not trying to make myself sound like an idiot. I'm not. I'm intelligent. I am college educated. I enjoy reading, and learning new things. However, I am also able to be honest with myself, and that's what I'm doing right now: being strictly honest.
So why is it that I look with derision on folks who do the same thing that I did? They don't vote one way because they necessarily understand what all the implications of voting that way are. They do it because people that they love and whose opinions they respect are telling them to.
However, in interacting with the very same people (like me) whose rights they are restricting with their voting, the interaction totally becomes an "in the moment" experience, where two people share of themselves in a way that leaves both parties in a better place than when they started.
For the record, there is absolutely no doubt that I'm gay. You'd have to be outright ignorant of what being gay means to miss that glaringly obvious fact. The fact becomes even more glaring when I'm travelling with Steve, which I do frequently. However, in the small towns that Steve and I have visited (including the suburban towns that are largely conservative), we have been treated with kindness and warmth.
I guess what I'm trying to get at is that to make any perceptible change in the world, we need to live our truth. Whether this be about being gay, being vegan, being a person of character, or whatever, living in your truth is about the most valuable thing you can do to propagate it.
If you're out there yelling at people that they are wrong, and horrible, you're going to end up alienating them, and will have very few people who want to be in your presence. If you firmly and matter-of-factly state your truth ("I'm gay," I'm vegan," etc), people have the chance to get to know you, and see that your day-to-day life is really no different from their own. The threatening part of the unknown "other" starts to fade away, and people start to see each other as people.
Let me finish this off by saying that I don't want to move to a small town. That's really not something that would work for my more fast-paced lifestyle that I enjoy having. I'm also not trying to deny the absence of hateful bigots. Those will be anywhere you go, and in a big city, it's easier to ignore them, because there are so many other voices to drown them out. There's a reason that so many gay kids flee to large metropolitan cities.
However, I am saying that it'd be nice to avoid lumping all people from a particular walk of life into one category, and deciding that they're all worthless. At the end of the day, we're all people, and we have value. When you give people a chance, you're often surprised at the goodness and kindness inherent in humanity that comes out. It doesn't help anyone to demonise the "other side".