New York Times  Bestselling Author

Can We Have a Little Tolerance, Please?

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-diversity-handshake-image12754442 Wow. On Facebook yesterday, I asked for suggestions for the name of an organization that would support gay and lesbian youth and that would form a good acronym. (The organization is created by a character in my work-in-progress.) I received tons of great responses. . . and a few not-so-nice retorts as well. I don’t mind the “I won’t read your book if you have gay people in it” comments; there are books I won’t read because the subject matter distresses me, so I can appreciate that. But I do mind comments that are ugly in their intolerance. In response to those comments, one of my readers asked “If you discovered the doctor about to perform life-saving surgery on you was gay, would you refuse the surgery?” Her question hit close to home for me.

My parents, whom I adored, were—let’s see, how to say this nicely?—bigots. To their credit, they raised my siblings and me not to be. They masked their true feelings so well that when I was asked to the senior prom by an African American boy, and a friend asked me if my parents would let me go with him, I responded “Of course! They don’t have a prejudiced bone in their bodies!” Well, ha. I discovered I was wrong about that, and thus I learned of their hypocrisy. After that experience, they didn’t hide their feelings as well, and I became aware of their bigotry in many ways, large and small. They were good, caring people, mind you, and I know some of their life experiences made them the way they were, but there’s no denying their animosity toward people who were different from them.

Then came my mother’s heart attack and the need for a quadruple bypass. We took her to a specialty hospital where she awaited the life-saving surgery. And then we met the surgeon. You guessed it. I’m sure if the situation had not been so critical, my parents would have asked for another surgeon. But time was of the essence and the surgery proceeded at the hands of the black man who promised to save my mother’s life.

We waited for hours upon hours in a tiny  room, some of us praying or trying to read and drinking buckets of coffee. Finally the surgeon came out and told us the surgery had gone very well. He shook my father’s hand, then left us. With a smile on his face and tears in his eyes, my father said over and over again, “Did you see his hands? Did you see how amazing and beautiful they were?” He was awestruck, and I believe, a little enlightened.

Did the experience change my parents? Yes, I think it did, at least to a degree. How could it not? But it shouldn’t take life-saving surgery by a black/white/Hispanic/Muslim/gay/lesbian/disabled doctor for us to see the value in every human being.

15 Comments

  1. Laura Chase on April 2, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Beautifully worded.

  2. Elizabeth Palmer on April 2, 2013 at 11:52 am

    This blog entry moved me to tears. The question about whether or not you would allow a gay person to perform your surgery confounded me. What does gayness have to do with a person’s skill . . . or with anything else related to surgery??

    What is everyone so afraid of?

  3. Emilie Richards on April 2, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Beautifully put, Diane. My parents were prejudiced, too, deeply so, although my mother less so than my dad. I remember sitting with her at a local five-and-dime soda counter when an African-American woman in a white maid’s uniform came in and sat down, too. I was young and surprised, since until then the counters had been segregated. My mom looked at her and said “She’s sitting there because she’s tired, just like you and me.” And wow, did that ever resonate for me. I’ve always been grateful she forgot her prejudices that day and just reacted like one human with another. She also had good gay friends growing up, and she talked about them with such pleasure. I grew up without a doubt that it was okay to be gay. Those are the memories I prefer to keep. I’ve weeded out the not so pleasant ones and I’m eternally grateful that I was able to make more enlightened choices for myself, due at least partially to her.

  4. Fee on April 2, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    The old adage about true beauty coming from within is so true, judge someone because of a label and you may lose the chance to know someone truly awesome.

    And as for same sex love, isn’t it wonderful that they choose love, shouldn’t that be the most important thing of all. Whom they choose to love is less relevant than the fact that loving someone lifts your heart up and makes you a better person.

  5. Stephanie S. on April 2, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Well said Diane. It makes me sad to know that in this day and age so many people have such hatred and intolerance towards others just because they look different or they don’t understand other’s life styles. When I get overwhelmed by this (as I sometimes do) I look at my three young children and know that I am at least making a small difference by raising them to not only be tolerant but to also have compassion and empathy towards all people. Hopefully the three of them will also be able to influence others around them.

  6. Marilyn on April 2, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Amen! ‘Nuff said.

  7. Tim Sunderland on April 2, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    My parents were like yours, a product of their times. For some reason, however, their bigotry was racial and never extended into questions of sexual gender. I’m sure they would have been upset had any of their children turned out gay, but it was never much of a discussion beyond that.

    My mother was a long-distance operator for AT&T during WWII and into the ’50s. The operators listened to all the calls and she knew the Hollywood dirt. In fact, I don’t remember a time when I DIDN’T know Rock Hudson was gay. When he announced he had AIDS in 1985, I was amazed at the number of people who were shocked. I’d grown up thinking everybody knew Rock Hudson was gay.

    We’re getting better. It is interesting, though. My wife and I attend a church that has a substantial gay membership. It is interesting to see older members who, while not in the closet, are more reserved. You know they remember the days when their lifestyle was forbidden.

  8. Raven Boutilier on April 2, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, Diane.

    Issues such as racism, sexism, and homophobia are so ugly and grotesque in today’s society. At some points we do forget that some of the people who are writing and posting these comments have been raised as such and know no difference. We unfortunately are subjected to them; but, we also get the chance to learn from them. We can read these comments and take them to heart; but we can also see them as a window for teaching others on intolerance. We must teach our youth and children about tolerance of others in all avenues of life.

    I cannot wait to read this book you are working on, Diane. It sounds very modern and I am completely open to the new and changing material of today’s society. Thank you for being this type of author!

    Raven Boutilier

  9. Patricia on April 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    wow what a powerful story. I too was raised by bigots, not because they were bad people but because that was the world in which they were raised in and lived. It took the unconditional love of a little bi-racial boy whom my brother (now in heaven) took on as his own. When he asked about why their skin color was different my brother told him he was lucky enough to be like a “twist cone” both wonderful flavors all wrapped up in one! It was this little guy that softened my parents around the edges. It is unfortunate that all people don’t take the time to get to know someone different then themselves so that they might know that it is not only our differences that define who we are but our sameness as well.

  10. Christina Wible on April 2, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Having been raised in the same town and time as you I know from where you were coming. My parents were just as bigoted and they way it came out of their mouths it didn’t sound as bad as I know now it was. To them it was simply a fact. It was when I went to nursing school that I began to shift, when I was caring for people of all races and religions that I my eyes were opened and I saw my parents ideas for what they were. Whilst I changed my way of thinking I never changed theirs. They died early, soon after my epiphany and to this day I wonder, they being a product of their upbringing, if I would have ever tried and/or been successful at doing so.

  11. kelly English on April 2, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    I found the question yesterday matter of fact. Sounded reasonable although at the time I thought how sad a group was even needed. Aren’t all kids basically the same – incredible people.

    The idea that people would not read your book is okay. their choice. The idea that they would spout crap out of their mouths is not okay. That is bigotry. That is what causes shame, hate, suicides and wars.

    Everyone deserves someone to love them – someone to give them a hug, an encouragement when needed, someone to talk to and laugh with. If that is a person of the same sex, different sex does it matter? It would be sad if we all had to be with only a person who had the same colour skin or the same colour hair.

    Hate me for saying it – I don’t care. I have no hate for anyone who doesn’t agree with me. I have tolerance for people who hate my opinion. I have no tolerance though for anyone who would hate a person because of who they are..

  12. Sheree Gillcrist on April 2, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Diane. We are of an age where our parents lived by their own creed. I think they have missed out on the opportunity to know that love knows no colour or creed, religion or sexual orientation. It is just love. I just finished reading a first novel called Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt which covers this love from the perspective of a teenage girl who loves her uncle unconditionally. Not because he is gay but because he is her uncle. I wept, not because of the intolerance in it but for the portrayal of love as it should be, unconditionally given and received. There is not enough love in this world.

  13. Doreen A Mannion on April 2, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    Diane, you are more generous than I am. I do take offense that someone who normally reads your books would not read one if it had “gayness” in it. I take offense because this type of person thinks they can just avoid “gayness” altogether. Wouldn’t this type of person be SHOCKED to find out that his or her doctor, grocery cashier, or car pool Mom is gay or lesbian!

    Thank you so much for the grace with which you have handled the responses to your question about an organizational name.

  14. Rob Lopresti on April 4, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Wow, Sis, I never heard that story about Mom’s surgery. Thanks.

    • Diane Chamberlain on April 4, 2013 at 2:41 pm

      Rob, you must have been on the left coast. Another tidbit I left out…The day before the surgery, the surgeon came into mom’s room to talk to her. I knew she was freaking out in many ways. She told him how much she loved to dance and asked if she’d be able to dance again. He assured her she’d be able to. Then, as he was leaving her room, he turned and said “Tomorrow, you and I will Tango.”
      I’ll never forget that guy!

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