Comox shares recipe for potluck lobbying (Photo of Monika Grunberg and Serena Patterson courtesy of the couple)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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Advocacy News - Comox Valley: a recipe for potluck lobbying

April 26, 2005

Comox Valley: a recipe for potluck lobbying
Anti-gay MP inspires affirmation & celebration

By Serena Patterson

I thought you might be interested to hear about a bit of lobbying we did here in the Comox Valley last month. On March 14, we held a potluck dinner with our (Conservative and anti-gay marriage) MP John Duncan as our guest, along with a group of about 40 local GLBT people and family members. After dinner, people were invited to speak to Mr. Duncan with their concerns or hopes.

We focussed primarily on how the same-sex marriage debate affects the families who are at the center of it: how was being in the spotlight this way affecting us in this small community, with our neighbors, schools, and families? What did we wish Mr. Duncan to take back with him to Ottawa, in terms of understanding of our lives and our needs? What would it take for us to feel less alienated by, and more a part of this exciting process?

The evening went without a hitch. Many people spoke, including children, about the ordinary joys of family and community life, and about the difficulty of running into prejudice. Few directly addressed the legislation; the focus was intimate and personal, not confrontational. It was also full of pride and affirmation.

When Mr. Duncan rose at last to speak, his remarks seemed completely disjointed from what had just transpired. He reaffirmed his commitment to "traditional marriage", but hoped that we would "still remember us at election time" (Oh, we will. We certainly will.). He talked at length about his own family, and the bonds of family. He suggested that we had been mislead by the media to think that his party was attacking or in any way disrespectful to our families. Shock and incredulity registered across the room.

The moment was saved by a quick woman with a guitar, who rallied to lead us in singing "Anything's Possible", an lovely anthem to GLBT love and family life.

I'd like to recommend this as a way for groups of GLBT families to connect with MP's. It is a difficult invitation for them to refuse, given the climate ("Conservative MP Refuses Family Potluck with GLBT Constituents" doesn't make good headlines.) It may not change a lot of votes, but it does help to humanize the debate.

For Conservative MP's the message is about the debate itself as a channel for hate speech and discrimination. We told Mr. Duncan to "tell your leader to stop making inflammatory remarks; stop using (and hurting) our communities to score political points; stop encouraging prejudice in our neighborhoods and schools."

For supportive MP's, a local potluck seems a wonderful way to say "thank you", and to show them, once again, the words, faces and personal stories behind the debate. These anecdotes and experiences are powerful, we know, in reaching people, changing hearts and minds.

Here are some tips that I think helped up to have a successful event:

  1. Frame the event positively. If your MP is not supportive of same-sex marriage, then frame it as a time for respectful dialogue, for "putting a personal face upon the issue", for "meeting face to face with those who are most affected by the debate."
  2. If you are comfortable with this, think about it more in spiritual than in political terms. Our community responded very well to an invitation to do something that would "help to combat feelings of isolation and alienation from this process." We stressed the dignity of meeting, and of being seen, face to face. We opened the meal with a carefully prepared prayer (that recognized all faiths on equal footing). I personally think that this was very important; I spent a lot of time preparing for the event by musing on my own liberation movement hero, Rev. Martin Luther King. Although many member of the GLBT community are rather Christo-phobic (and for good reason), reaching out to a greater Divine Power to draw us together and to keep the event positive felt right.
  3. Stay away from questioning periods. We invited each person to speak "from your own experience", and not to answer to debate anyone else's words.
  4. Have planned a positive note to wind up the discussion and mark it's ending. Thank goodness for Rhonda and her guitar! We hadn't planned for this, but after Mr. Duncan spoke we desperately needed something to shift us back to our purpose, and our own joy and pride for having come out.
  5. Use telephone lists, not the newspaper, to gather the guests. Numbers are not important; it is more important to control the tone and safety of the event. We made it a place where children were safe and welcome, and people did respond by bringing their families.
  6. Put out a jar for donations to cover any expenses (hall rental was our only expense). Give any extra money to [a group active in supporting same-sex marriage].
  7. Take pictures (we didn't.)
  8. Be ourselves, and have fun, no matter what!

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