Falwell's conversion is a testament to the hard work done by Soul Force and Mel White, who have treated Falwell with respect for years and years, patiently educating, showing up quietly and pressing the justice of our cause. (In 2000, we copied Falwell's positon deploring violence against gays to every Republican legislator in the Indiana Senate, and I am convinced his statement was important in provided cover for conservative Republicans in the Senate to support, as they did overwhelmingly, the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Hate Crime Bill.)
From the time I came out of the closet publicly in 1996, it has been my position that if we engage Hoosiers with confidence, dignity and respect, our fellow citizens will come to understand, appreciate, and support our fundamental citizenship.
But I have seen too little of that. Instead, what I have too much seen is members of our community hide in closets professionally, politically, socially, and in their families, and emerge only to throw insults and epithets at our fellow Hoosiers, as though somehow gaining the respect and sympathy of our neighbors is impossible and immaterial. Who are the people that are making an impact? Mostly, people who are quietly and diligently talking and engaging, confident in the ultimate goodness of most Americans and most Hoosiers.
It is appropriate to decry Eric Miller as a bigot, for that he is. But to call all Hoosiers bigots, or all conservative Christians bigots, or all Republicans bigots, or all southern Democrats bigots, or all legislators bigots, and then refuse to engage them as decent human beings, is not only wrong, but mind-numbingly stupid and enormously self-defeating.
To bring the majority of our fellow citizens to our cause takes a figurative arm around their shoulder and an explanation of who we are, why we are no threat, and why decency and the value of freedom of religion and equal protection combine into their personal duty to help protect us as a minority. It also takes a demonstration of courage and willingness to stand up for ourselves, with credibility and dignity, risking our careers and our personal relationships if necessary, before asking others to risk their careers by standing up on our behalf.
(If I get lectured one more time about this or that politician's inadequacies by a gay "activist" who has not explicitly affirmed to family or colleagues that he or she is gay, I'm gonna puke! But I digress.)
The tactics of Soul Force have turned Jerry Falwell from foe on the topic of our civil rights. We can't rely on Soul Force to accomplish the same with our neighbors.... Only we can do that... It is easy to show up for a protest, hurl words, and leave, but it doesn't mean a thing. Steady engagement, which requires time and energy, produces results. What we need ever more of is the time, energy, tact, and courage of our own community members. With those resources, spent delivering to us the hearts of our neighbors in Indiana, earning their support, we will prevail. Falwell proves success is possible, but not easy or quick.