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    FAIR and Courageous Conversations for the Holidays

    By Andrea Shorter

    Holiday gatherings should be about being together, loving and enjoying each other, sharing our blessings, and strengthening the ties that bind. Along with the infinite online recipes for the best ever homemade cranberry sauces and cornbread dressings are the chats about how best to enjoy a copacetic stress-free visit with family and friends whose world views might not jive with yours. The sum of at least 98% of the red alert advisories is to steer clear of any discussion about politics all together.

    Declarations of “politics free zones” at the dining table abound as the favored policies for maintaining peace, harmony, and good digestive health at many a favorite auntie’s annual gathering of loved ones of varying partisan persuasions. In these tense and politically divisive times, one might just want to avoid a potentially explosive chat about the daily hazardous emissions spewing out from the West Wing with that uncle still sporting his red MAGA cap. That showdown might be inevitable, but just not right now, and certainly not before your favorite sweet potato pie is served.

    Exploring, debating, resolving, and coming to an understanding about political differences might not be on the menu for most holiday gatherings, but it is exactly the content that is being served up by a wave of binge-worthy cable and streaming series. Comic W. Kamau Bell’s United Shades of America and CNN Commentator Van Jones’ The Messy Truth are just a few efforts now to explain the cultural, political, and social divides among Americans during this Trump era. Comedian Sarah Sliverman’s I Love You, America on Hulu recently joined the line-up alongside staider, yet refreshing, offerings such as actress Ellen Page’s Gaycation on Vice TV that explore LGBTQ cultures and clash with mainstream societies around the world.

    The search for comic and sobering truths; the origins of racial, cultural, economic, and regional divides; as well as commonalities fuels these formats for both entertaining and educational food for thought. Among the annual sports events, parades, and classic holiday movies, perhaps these shows might be airing in the background, providing a little runway for one of those courageous conversations to softly land with that uncle in the red cap.

    Gaycation particularly stands out as a documentary series that takes viewers to Japan, India, France, Ukraine, Brazil, Jamaica, and the U.S. to learn about how LGBTQ communities survive, individuals live and are treated. Obviously, each country presents its own share of multi-dimensional challenges, barriers and dangers about being openly LGBTQ within the respective societies and historical contexts. Highlighting those differences and commonalities from culture to culture, context to context, provides an eye opener to those who might otherwise presume a much less dimensional outlook on what it means to be LGBTQ in the world.

    The vital importance of learning and understanding what it means to be LGBTQ in various contexts also serves as the basis for another welcome development for California public education: the recent approval of K-8 textbooks including the contributions of LGBTQ people to American history.

    Following a long, controversial journey towards the enactment of the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act sponsored by San Francisco’s former State Legislators Mark Leno and Tom Ammiano and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, at least 10 textbooks that include information about the contributions of Native Americans, LGBTQ people and people with disabilities have finally been approved by the California State Board of Education.

    As California stands as the first and only state to enact such progressive measures towards building a more inclusive society, predicted resistance in other states towards similar measures supporting diversity remains strong. Conservative factions’ prohibitive “no pro homo” laws or policies stand on the premise that teaching anything remotely positive about LGBT people or issues will serve to indoctrinate, recruit, and turn youngsters into raging homosexuals.

    Apparently, had I not in my formative years read or heard about the contributions and struggles for equality of iconic figures such as Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin, or Audre Lorde, I would not be a lesbian. Well, okay, then.

    There might be plentiful holiday advisements against having those “courageous conversations” about the toxic political tensions that seek to divide us as family, friends, and neighbors. As a result, you might not ever fully understand or accept why your uncle or cousin voted the way they did in 2016. Still, it is empowering to know that with the full enactment of the FAIR Act, upcoming generations of voters will be even more informed, educated, inclusive, and respectful of the diverse experiences that truly inspire the promise of real American greatness—and their overdue hard-fought deservedness for having a seat at the table.

    That should make for a really interesting conversation with the uncle in the red cap.

    Andrea Shorter is President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights, and marriage equality. A co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.