Embracing similarities to work past differences

In the film "City of Borders," which was recently screened and discussed at a local venue, one Israeli man says that going to a gay bar in Jerusalem helped him to see that all his life, he had been taught to hate Palestinians, and only after meeting several at the bar did he realize his hate was unfounded.

The LGBT community - both in the U.S. and abroad - could learn a thing or two from his experience. And perhaps if we begin to approach barriers of race, nationality, religion, gender - as with that film showing and another recent panel discussion - we can break them down in ways we never imagined.

The "City of Borders" event actually broke borders by bringing together the Jewish and Middle Eastern gay communities to discuss issues of civil rights relevant to all parties at the table.

Likewise, the April 30 discussion "Is Gay the New Black?" brought together members of both the straight and gay black community in a way metro Detroit has never experienced before.

Both events were groundbreaking in their efforts and hopefully, eyes have been opened to avenues of progress never before realized. But the key in all cases - whether the barriers are race, nationality or religion - is building alliances based on the things we have in common (i.e. being gay or lesbian and the struggles that come with that), not the issues that push us apart and make us hate one another. Only then can we build on love and achieve progress that will make all of us happier, healthier and more empowered.

In the case of the black community, the issue centers around race and religion. As several members of the panel discussion asserted, the feeling of some (a feeling created by religious and cultural anti-gay sentiment) is that there is no real black gay community, and that to link black struggle to gay struggle is to support white, gay males. When the black community and civil rights movement as it stands today accepts their LGBT brothers and sisters, they will feel more linked to the gay rights movement. Events like that discussion are the best and possibly the only way to make that acceptance happen.

The issue of Israeli and Palestinian gays is mired in a decades-long war that makes it hard to identify as anything but your nationality. But in sexual orientation and gender identity comes a link that spans across territories, nations and religions: the fight for freedom for persecution and the right to live openly.

In both cases, sexuality and the right to embrace it supersedes differences of race or religion or nationality. Or at least it should. Because when it does, we come to find that we all have things in common, and perhaps our preconceived notions about people aren't right.

In "City of Borders," Jerusalem's only gay bar taught love of fellow man in ways that couldn't have happened otherwise. We need to work harder than that. Discussions that bridge differences with our common community - the LGBT one - need to keep happening. Not just in panels, but in bars, conferences and community centers.

We must understand that our acceptance of each other and each greater community's acceptance of us as LGBT people go hand in hand.

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