Fear and Loathing in Omaha

This one stings a little…

I live in Omaha.  Omaha is my home.  I am not a native, but I have been here for over a decade now and it is my home.  I found my soul-mate here, I started a family here and I have started a business here.  I am not going to leave Omaha.  There are a great many things about Omaha that concern me, but I believe passionately in the potential of Omaha and I believe in the people of Omaha.

Earlier this week the Omaha City Council considered an ordinance that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from employment discrimination.

The ordinance did not pass and I am disappointed.  I think that this is really unfortunate and I also think it is part of a larger pattern of behavior that is truly costly to this community.  Not only am I disappointed by the outcome, but I am also disappointed that this “conversation,” turned into, for long periods of time, a referendum on sexual orientation and sexual identity, which was disrespectful and arrogant at best.

This “conversation” was also a good reminder to me of how bigotry happens in the real world and why it remains so common.  If we want to, we can always find justification to judge, to discriminate to exclude others in our ideologies, be they religious, economic, political or philosophical in nature.

We cleave ourselves from our action.

And then we do not have to own it.

We can claim to be good or loving or non-judgmental people and then turn around and judge and hate and violate others because of how we interpret our chosen politics, faith, philosophy or economics.

Ideology allows us to divorce our heart our soul and our mind from our interaction with others.   It allows us to do bad in the name of good.

I heard a lot of people hiding behind their ideology during this “conversation.”  Many comments started with something like this “I love everybody, I do not have a hateful or fearful bone in my body, I don’t want to see anyone be discriminated against…” …and after declaring to the world that they were indeed a “good person,” they would go on to question the validity, normalcy, goodness and or humanity of the GLBT community or irrefutably prove why it was too hard, too expensive, too complex or too confusing to protect the GLBT community from discrimination.

I stopped buying into ideas of “good people” and “bad people” a long time ago…just one more set of categories that facilitate social pathology.  We all have the potential to do good or to do bad and we all do some of both.  I have not yet met the perfect person and am not expecting her anytime soon.

Hiding behind our chosen ideologies makes it much easier for us to do and say bad things.  Hiding behind ideology makes life easier and safer and simpler, but it is also dishonest, dangerous and can be horribly violent.   See human history.

Inclusion is often spoken about as some kind of soft, warm, fuzzy, altruistic idea where everyone gets a ribbon and a puppy dog.  Hardly.  Inclusion is maybe the hardest thing in the world for humans and groups of humans to do.  Because it requires courage.  Inclusion demands we have the courage to step away from our personal ideologies and advocate on behalf of the other…on behalf of people that are different than us…on behalf of people that maybe do not make sense to us or even like us.

Inclusion is the hard, hard work of actually delivering on the promises that we make as a nation (and as communities and organizations).  No ribbons, no puppies.  Most people just like to take pride in the promises and aspirations that we have and not pay any attention to whether or not we are delivering on them.

Sometimes we even kill the people that remind us of the gap.

Anybody can stand up and say “I love, I care, I respect.”  Big deal.  I can make my laptop do that.  It does not require one ounce of courage or leadership or conviction and it does not require once ounce of truth.

I do not care what your name is.

I do not care what your title is.

I do not care what doctrine you have chosen for yourself.

I do not care about what you claim as your intentions.

I do care about the evidence that you put out into the world through your actions.  The rest is just a sales pitch.

Justice is what love looks like in public, and when you stand up and claim to have love in your heart yet are against defending justice for your fellow citizens someone is telling a great and horrible lie.

Love or Fear.  Choose wisely, tell the truth about it and even more importantly, act accordingly.

Be good to each other.

  1. John Jorgensen


  2. fran melmed

    where is the “like” button?!

    seriously, great writing, passion and truth.


  3. Tweets that mention Joe Gerstandt | Keynote Speaker & Workshop Facilitator | Illuminating the value of difference -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by joe gerstandt, joe gerstandt, flask gordon, Steve Carter, R. J. Morris and others. R. J. Morris said: "Inclusion is maybe the hardest thing in the world for humans…to do-Because it requires courage." via @joegerstandt http://bit.ly/dBZ2BN […]

  4. Andrew S. Dungan

    Thank you Joe.

    I don’t know what else to say.

    When there is a say sector of society getting “kicked around” others within the larger population need to stand up and do something about it.

    Unfortunately, standing up for what is right isn’t popular and what is “right” in the eyes of people is interpreted in any conceivable way.

    However, humanity is common. We are all common I think. None of us are more special than others. If anyone thinks so they are misguided.

    This is only a setback. We must continue to bridge the gap within humanity and work within our own backyard on behalf of those that are in need.

    Because hatred gets us nowhere.

    Thank you once again.


  5. Julie Johnson

    Thanks Joe, I love the passion you write and live by. I am quoting a bit of this on my fb status, credited to you.

  6. Steve Humerickhouse

    Beautifully written and passionately felt as always. More people should read your blog and take your words to heart.

  7. Nuria Archer

    Just awesome!! So “Joe”! Very well written!

  8. Buf Reynolds

    You have a new follower. I have been at a loss for words lately. You found them. Thank you.

  9. Scott Anderson

    Great job, Joe. Like a lot of people the events of the past few weeks in Omaha left me speechless. Thanks for putting words to this. I’ve spoken to GLBT friends in the last week, people who make an enormous contribution to the Omaha economy, culture and social fabric, to say nothing of my life personally, who have been taling seriously about moving. Who could blame them? May be the bigger question is why they didn’t leave a long time ago. But if all the “minorities” in Omaha moved away, I’m sure there would others to fear. Old people? Sick people? Who’s next?

  10. Jay Kuhns

    Thank you Joe for not only framing the issue of inclusion this way; but for recognizing that it is about courage. It truly has only ever been the courageous throughout history (usually one person at a time) that stood up, and made a difference. We don’t need to move mountains, we simply need to start the climb and watch the amazing things that can happen when we work together.

  11. Shelly Alcorn, CAE

    Hear hear…

    Thank you so much for such a timely and well written post. Kudos to you for tweeting while the hearing was underway as well..I could not take my eyes off the tweetstream….


  12. cv

    Joe, this was exactly the sentiment (and encouragement ) I needed to hear this morning, the day after the election. A similar pattern of detachment, overabstraction and good intentions misapplied seems to explain may people’s support for ideas that (1) don’t make much sense, and (2) turn their backs on the real needs of real people.
    The gap between words, actions and outcomes is painful. cvh

  13. Eileen Kugler

    Thoughtful, clear, passionate. As commentor above, I found it a critical read on this day after election (in my district, still too close to call between long-serving competent public servant and a right-wing ideologue).

    As far as we are from inclusion on a broad scale, it is still astounding to see how discrimination is acceptable against GLBT community. And of course, you can say just about anything against Muslims in the name of national security. (How many are defending Juan Williams!) I have a colleague who is an Iraqi-American Muslim. Not much slack for him. Yes: “when you stand up and claim to have love in your heart yet are against defending justice for your fellow citizens someone is telling a great and horrible lie.”

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