How Do We Find Hope in a Time of Fear and Recriminations?

Ligia (Romero-Balcarcel), who is my caseworker at the Lansing Area AIDS Network, told me as I first start discussing this speech to accept the Kaye McDuffie Social Justice and Community Service Award that it was "about me." But you know what? It can't be about me. Not tonight. Tonight is about finding a path to endurance. To hope. To love.
When I agreed to accept this award six months ago, we were living in a very, very different world. We were in a pre-Trump world. His campaign rhetoric was audacious but many of us — myself included — thought he could never with such rhetoric win the presidency.
We were wrong. It was not a nightmare. Donald J. Trump will be the next president of the United States of America.
I suspect many of you are afraid, just as I am, for what an America led by him will be like. It's hard to find hope at time when our Muslim brother and sisters have been told that by virtue of their religion they will be rejected from our borders. It's terrifying to think that immigrants will face deportation squads and families broken apart. It is heartbreaking to think that a Supreme Court appointed by Trump could swing so wildly to the right that women could lose their right to control the destiny of their bodies and that same-sex couples could lose the right to marry the person they love.
There is much fear tonight. It is difficult to look at our neighbors and strangers on the street and not wonder, "Did they vote for him? Do they harbor hate for me? For my friends? For my neighbors?" It is easy to jump to the conclusion that anyone who voted for Trump must surely harbor hatred and bigotry in his or her heart.
As a person living with HIV who knows my medications and access to quality health care are vital to my survival, I understand what this overwhelming fear feels like and I could look at those who voted for Trump and ask, "How could you? Do you want me to die?"
However, that recrimination — just like the association that a person who voted for Trump harbors bigotry and hatred — is neither the right question nor the right answer.
What if, in fact, those who cast their ballots for Trump harbor fear — just like the one you have — that the country they know and love is changing irrevocably and they have lost their sense of place? We know that feeling right now. We know that instability and we know the terror that invokes.
So how do we find hope in a time of fear and recriminations?
We need to find it in each other. That's where hope is today. It is where hope has always been.
Hope is the 21-year-old gay student who messaged me on Facebook the morning after the election to remind me that I was valued and loved.
Even from the horrors of the brutal anti-gay and anti-HIV hate crime I was a victim of nearly one year ago, I find hope.
My friend Sen. Rick Jones is one reason. Those of you who know Sen. Jones know that he has had a long history of opposing LGBTQ equality measures. But this summer, to his own political detriment, he announced he was to become the lead co-sponsor of legislation in the State Senate to amend Michigan's Ethnic Intimidation Act to include crimes motivated by animus against the LGBT community.
He did this because he grew to know and care about LGBTQ people. He staked his reputation on standing up not only because it was the right thing to do, but because he was shocked, angered and horrified at the violence he saw perpetrated against the LGBTQ community. But it was also motivated by his knowledge of the impact on me as a person. Me as his friend.
And believe me, Sen. Jones and I could not be further apart on the political spectrum; yet we have forged a friendship and a mutual respect for each other. How?
I believe it comes from living the golden rule: Treat your neighbor as yourself.
Our community knows, intimately, that when we are seen through the prism of fear and stereotypes, it's painful and isolating. It's hurtful and enraging. It minimizes our lives and our experiences.
So as I accept the award for social justice, I am going to ask you all to remember as we face an uncertain tomorrow that we can find hope. We will find it in our neighbors — but only if we look. Only if we stop and listen. Only if we put down the social media and have a social gathering with people who think differently.
I also want you all to understand that none of us acts in a vacuum. Most of us do the right thing day in and day out, helping our neighbors and our friends in ways both small and large. We do it not because we seek congratulations or awards. We do it because it needs to be done and at the end of the day, we would hope that others would do the same for us.
So, while I accept this award, I want each of you to know that it is you who empowers me. You feed my desire and drive for social justice. You call me to my better self.
We can and we must all do that for each other tonight and going forward. We must all empower each other and feed a deep desire to make ourselves better than we were a minute ago, an hour ago, a month ago, a year ago.
To that end, each of you tonight are owed a debt of gratitude. Please turn to your neighbor, preferably someone you don't know. And say to them, "Thank you for being here. Thank you for being part of the solution."
My hope tonight in this dark time comes not from Scripture, but from the canons of our American thought. Over 50 years ago, JFK delivered a speech to graduating students of American University. In this speech, he laid out a new plan and a new vision for how America would fashion a world without war in a time of tension with the Soviets. In that speech, Kennedy said we had to find our commonality. So I leave you with his words of deep wisdom:
"So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."


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