Tell us about a time you made a false assumption about a person or a place — how did they prove you wrong?
I have a few stories in the vein.
First, there was Kevin Acklin. I wrote this in 2009 when Kevin submitted a guest blog post.
My first encounter with Kevin was at the January 10, 2009 LGBT Advocacy Rally . He was in the back of the crowd wearing a long dark coat and looking suspiciously clean cut. We discussed who this guy might be and decided he was probably an operative for the right wing. Then he introduced himself, reminded me he had run for County Council and said he supported gay marriage! I remained skeptical even whilst Kevin showed up again and again. We met for coffee one summer afternoon and had a conversation that really touched my heart in a way that few interactions with politicians have done. We also had a good laugh when I reminded him that I thought he was a spy infiltrating the gay community.
Kevin went on to prove me wrong over and over and over again. He helped me raise $15,000 to provide holiday gifts to homeless families. He helped me personally (in his lawyer hat) when I was concerned that my blog was being targeted by right-wing extremists. He helped our family when the City misplaced the Domestic Partner Registry. He spoke out again and again on LGBTQ rights. And the man I thought was infiltrating a gay rally is now the Chief of Staff to Mayor Bill Peduto, the most progressive Mayor the city has elected perhaps ever. So … if a well dressed man comes to your January rally, give him the benefit of the doubt.
Second, there is Nikki Heckman. Nikki is the owner of Bistro-To-Go, a delightful restaurant and catering company on East Ohio Street on the Northside.
My first impression of Nikki was that she was a member of a Northside church with a significant anti-gay bent. So I assumed she was a Christian with an anti-gay bent and dismissed the idea of patronizing her business. A mutual friend called me out on that and asked me to talk with her, insisting she wasn’t like that.
He was right and I was 100% wrong.
I met with Nikki and talked about my concerns. She was very honest with me about what she knew of the church and then told me repeatedly that her business was not a ministry of the church. And she proceeded to demonstrate to me very concretely how she lives her faith. She hasn’t wavered since that day five years ago. She hires LGBTQ people and even hosted the wedding of one employee. She hires lots of people. She makes meeting space available for people in need. She gives and gives, but also manages her business to keep people employed. She is one of the best people I’ve ever known and one of the very few people with genuine humility. It is an honor to be her friend.
Nikki also took my concerns back to the church. My point was that saying your aren’t actively hosting a reparative therapy type ministry is not adequate; welcoming and affirming LGBTQ people is the requirement. She gets that. She doesn’t shut out people who don’t get that because she believes everyone can grow in their understanding of their faith.
When I get so angry and torn up inside by the awful things people do in the name of religion, I think of Nikki and Kevin (he’s Catholic.) I think of how they both walk the walk and have done so with a considerable degree of consistency since I met them. Today when I was researching a different church offering free school supplies to local children and discovered their ties to the Christian Dominionists, I was almost overwhelmed with sadness. Every good act seems to have strings. Western Pennsylvania feels like ground zero for this looming Christian war and the LGBTQ community will certainly be among those first to be sacrificed. Or so it seems. I could be wrong.
The gift of being so very wrong about these two human beings is that it gives me hope that I am wrong about other people. That joy of being so very wrong about these human beings is that they have both been faithful, compassionate and supportive of me. The blessing of being so very wrong about these two human beings is that they are both spinning their goodness into Pittsburgh each and every day.
I suppose if you asked me the question about whom I would like to have dinner, I’m pretty sure I would pick Kevin and Nikki. I think it would be pretty awesome to bring these two warriors for justice and fairness together over a home cooked meal and soak up the lessons. I might even do the dishes.