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COMMENTARY: Turning coal into diamonds

Those who think that the Salvation Army will never change its anti-marriage equality status might want to think again.

I recently agreed to attend a lunch meeting with my friend Johnathan Hale, Hale Media's publisher, about which I was quite nervous. We had agreed to meet with a woman who works in a senior staff position with the local chapter of the Salvation Army.

Why the nervous jitters?

Johnathan, San Diego Gay & Lesbian News Staff Writer Benny Cartwright and I headed over to the lunch meeting last week, only knowing that this woman had requested the meeting with us after hearing about some of the issues that some in the LGBT community have been having with the Salvation Army’s stances regarding the LGBT community.

The woman had read my column that encouraged the LGBT community to find alternative methods to change the hearts and minds of those within the organization, which provides support for millions of people in need, instead of calling for a boycott.

We agreed to meet at Barrio Star in Bankers Hill, and I was absolutely overwhelmed with the tremendous heart, kindness and respect this woman holds for the LGBT community.

She shared with us that as a Christian and a believer in the Bible, she was distraught over the inequality that the LGBT community faces in religious institutions and in society. She spoke about why she has chosen employment with an organization that works for those who are homeless or in need, and I was impressed by her kind, selfless heart.

Johnathan, Benny and I all shared our personal struggles as gay men with the woman.

Benny shared stories of the years he fought battling homophobia on a local university campus. Johnathan talked about his desire to truly reach those outside of the "gayborhood" with the message of equality. I shared about the near decade I spent in Evangelical church ministry and how I eventually left the church due to the rejection I received because of my sexuality.

We tied all of this into our desire to see such a powerful and giving organization like the Salvation Army change their tone and accept all of God's children for who they are.

I was surprised and pleased to hear from our lunch date from the Salvation Army that she had printed out my previous column and read it at a meeting of local Salvation Army staff.

This is how we change hearts and minds!

All of this reminds me of the moment when I approached Johnathan in his office in Hillcrest to share an "idea" that I had about putting together the first LGBT and straight military march ever in the history of our nation. Since that first conversation with Johnathan, I received overwhelming support from his company, Hale Media, which led to the march in the San Diego LGBT Pride Parade to receive international attention, all stemming from a news story published by SDGLN.

And now, we have learned that a heterosexual employee of the Salvation Army is reading an SDGLN story to her colleagues – these are the things that make change in our society.

As we each finished sharing our stories the woman asked, “How can I help?”

This came from a woman who many in the LGBT community may consider is part of an organization that does not want to have a dialogue with our community.

As we began to brainstorm how we could work together to make change within the Salvation Army, Benny mentioned that he has much experience leading LGBT-education workshops, dating back to his days as a student and then staff member at San Diego State University. He said that these presentations increased the dialogue among the campus community, opening people eye’s to the fact that LGBT people are just … people.

After throwing around a few more ideas, we agreed that hosting such workshops for staff members and others affiliated with the Salvation Army would be a great start. Really, members of the Evangelical community and the LGBT community just need to sit down and have a calm, civil dialogue.

The fact that we have been given the opportunity to host LGBT sensitivity workshops at the local Salvation Army is big news! It is something that some previously thought would never be possible.

To add to the interesting lunch, as we were just starting to eat, two well-known gay rights activists from the San Diego community happened to walk in to the same restaurant where we were dining: Dr. Delores Jacobs, CEO of The San Diego LGBT Community Center, and long-time activist Nicole Murray-Ramirez.

Upon hearing the credentials of these well-established leaders in our community, our friend from the Salvation Army thought it would be lovely to meet the two to show her support for increased dialogue throughout the LGBT community.

As our Salvation Army contact met and briefly chatted with the two community leaders, I was again touched by the powerful warmth and grace that this woman practices in her life.

After saying our goodbyes, I quietly held back tears as we left the restaurant. Something remarkable had just occurred!

History was made in our community on that day last week – we have been given the opportunity to come into an organization that has not had the best track record with our community and start the healing process as a way toward making change.

I encourage community members to support the Salvation Army, and when you do, let them know that you are LGBT!

Those who question the status quo truly can turn a coal of negativity and misunderstanding into a diamond of worth and change! And it will be a diamond that shines and says "we can" when so many say you cannot.

I challenge you to take your own coal that you have been given and turn it into something productive. Ruffle feathers and ask the tough questions – it’s the only way to make change.

Equality is on its way!