Winning an Honest Friendship with a Most Effective Lesbian Activist
John C. Rankin
In November, 2002 I addressed a Mars Hill Forum at Boston University: “Is Same-Sex Marriage Good for the Nation?” It was set up by Mike Olejarz of Chi Alpha Ministries, who sought out Arline Isaacson to be my guest.
Arline is co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, and perhaps the most strategically effective lesbian activist in the nation. She organized fellow activists in 1989 to lobby the legislature for the first in the nation “Gay Rights Bill,” and in 2004, Arline led the lobbying effort for the legislature to yield to a court-imposed same-sex marriage bill, again, first in the nation.
Mike is a committed Christian diplomat. He persuaded Arline that I could be trusted as an honest interlocutor, and she also talked with her rabbi, who happened to know me.
That evening I arrived first, as students were filing into the lecture hall. Of the 220 or so people there, maybe 40-50 were known to be Christian and on my side of the question. When Arline arrived – the first time I had ever met her – I reached out with a smile, shook her hand, and said, “A pleasure to meet you.”
Arline had a coterie of homosexual activists following her into the room, and as I said these words, they all literally fell back 1-2 feet. The shock was deeply apparent. I was supposed to be a “homophobe” and not a gracious person toward Arline or them.
Arline gave the opening address, answering yes to the question. In her first words, even as I call this a forum, and not a debate, she said, “In debating John Rankin tonight on this issue, it is the first time I am not debating someone who palpably hates me.” I was blown away – especially if indeed she has debated others who have conveyed hatred for her person.
Later in the evening, during the question and answer period, Arline looked at me and said, “John – we know that you love us.” Yet I never used the word “love.” Rather I showed her unfailing respect as an image-bearer of God even as I fully disagreed with her about same-sex marriage.
Our second forum was at Harvard in March, 2004, just weeks before the Massachusetts legislature voted on the same-sex marriage bill. Several times Arline asked me, in different words, “John, why are you trying to harm me and my family by opposing same-sex marriage?” I was incredulous, and the audience was energized at this question. Arline has two biological children by artificial insemination, raising them with her partner.
So finally I gave response along these lines: “Arline – the real harm has been done by the male chauvinists who sold their sperm for fifty bucks and don’t give a damn about their children.” And her children were conceived years before same-sex marriage was a possibility. Quiet. These are the most caustic words I have spoken in any forum.
Yet Arline was eager for another forum, which came to pass in October, 2008, at the largest church in New England. At the end she gave me a hug, knowing well that we disagree completely on the subject. In other words, if we first win an honest friendship, tough and true words can be spoken if the moment requires it.
Sometime later, Arline emailed me, and has given me permission to quote her: “John, you are a true gentleman and a thoughtful advocate.” Is that what we expect from a most effective lesbian activist? If not, then perhaps we do not understand the yearning humanity deep inside all persons, except those few who have died to such humanity while continuing to breathe the air for a season.