Book Excerpt – Two “Til Midnight
Copyright © 2019 BerNerd Publishing/Bernard L. Dillard No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher or author. The format of this excerpt has been modified for presentation here.
Faculty members and staff at a university are having a diversity meeting and are discussing issues that concern becoming a more diverse campus. A guest speaker is present to help facilitate the meeting, as she is a known expert on the topic. The activity they are engaged in currently is called "Standing Up For What’s Right," in which attendees must literally stand up if they agree with the statement. The first two questions have been asked, and everyone is getting rather antsy because the questions are becoming a little too uncomfortable to answer without offending some of those who may be in the room. Everyone is glad that Leigh is not present because she has a history of escalating matters and arguing her point to the nth degree in meetings like this. The facilitator is now moving into the third question for the group to consider.
“Alright. Here’s the third one,” Becca proceeded, “All students should be encouraged to support gay rights and its political agenda.”
“Yes, that’s great,” voiced Marjorie as she hurried and stood. Her standing wasn’t enough, however. “Indeed. We’ve got to teach this next generation how to be tolerant and point them toward being a more enlightened generation than we were.” Mostly all agreed and stood except for the obvious ones. Nieko had stopped cleaning and tidying, as he had become engrossed in these questions and responses. He sipped some coffee as things seemed to be getting heated.
As Garnet sat and grinned, she prepared her mouth to rebut but was forestalled by another sharper, louder voice. “That’s absolutely ridiculous! There is no way you all can sit here, well … stand here and think that statement makes any sense!” It was a voice that belonged to none other than Leigh. A student who needed to meet with her about a missed exam had detained her in her office. She had quietly entered the meeting room and had gone by the lunch area to choose from what remained. She held her plate of a half-a-tuna sandwich and some fruit and made her way over to an empty chair by the wall. Nobody would have to guess what her vote was on the matter as she sat down deliberately while she had the floor and everybody’s attention. Directing her attention to Becca, she dug in, “I know this is the Diversity Committee, but I have a serious concern about saying all students should have to do anything. Our role is not to make anybody feel the same way about anything.”
She continued, “I remember I had a student last semester who shared with me that she was a Christian and didn’t feel like being gay was right.” There was no such student, but nobody could prove Leigh wrong. She could safely hide behind this imaginary student to channel her own views. “She told me she always felt like her feelings and perspective were pushed to the side just because she lived according to a very conservative, Christian worldview. She has a right to feel the way she does without having us try to change her belief core. She has a right to agree to disagree.”
“Well, I’m a Christian, too,” said Peggy from the registrar’s office. She was standing and turned toward Leigh. “I can recommend to the student a nice reference book about how to be a Christian and embrace those in that community.”
Leigh barked back, “No! I’m not giving my student any reference book to try to persuade her to stop believing what she believes. I thought that’s what diversity was supposed to be. To appreciate all perspectives, not just one. Diversity means understanding that there are differences at the table and to appreciate all of them. All of them! As long as she doesn’t use her beliefs to inflict harm on somebody else, she can believe what she wants. It’s her God-given right. Actually, I wonder how many of us would still be standing if the statement was, ‘All students should be encouraged to support Christian’s rights, the Christian community, and its agenda.’” She paused and rattled her ice cubes in her plastic cup. No one responded. “My point exactly. If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander.” She looked at the discussion leader square in her face as though she had gained a small victory.
“I can sort of see what Leigh is saying,” added Seyto, who was the rep from Faculty Services. “Some of these students have been raised with deep religious convictions. So it doesn’t really seem fair to force them to have to support a cause or agenda that goes directly against what they believe.”
“Well, a lot of times, they don’t support that community because of fear,” Marjorie countered.
“Fear? Of what? Why does it have to be about fear?” responded Leigh indignantly. “Just because I don’t agree with an idea or cause doesn’t mean I’m afraid of it. That’s a very narrow-minded statement, Marjorie.” Out of all the faculty, she was the only one who called Marjorie by her real name, probably out of spite. And she failed to catch herself in time. She meant to reference the student.
“I honestly believe that most people who can’t understand the plight and struggle of the community are just trapped in fear. I’m sorry. It’s similar to how whites didn’t respect the rights of the black community in the Jim Crow south in the early–”
“Oh, Lord! I knew it would just be a matter of time before someone would go there and bring that up. That’s what’s called a fallacy of false equivalence. Marjorie, please don’t allow me to go into why those two scenarios are not and will never be the same. The gay struggle is not the same as the black struggle. I get so sick of people trying to equate that struggle with racism. It’s not the same.”
“Well enlighten us, Leigh, since you feel so strongly about it,” said Marjorie. She pounded the table with her fist, more out of frustration than antagonism. The pounding was somewhat awkward since she did it from a standing position.
“First, you can choose to hide your orientation if you wish.” She outed Marjorie on the spot, but it really wasn’t an outing. Everybody knew. “But I can’t hide my brown skin if I wanted to.”
“That still doesn’t mean that both groups still can’t be discriminated against. I didn’t choose to be this way. It’s genetic, a part of my biological code. Why would anybody voluntarily choose a lifestyle that puts them in danger every single day to be jumped, beat up, or tortured?”
“The all-to-infamous ‘gay gene,’ huh?” murmured Leigh. “I personally don’t believe you were born that way. But that’s just me. If it’s so biological, then why would only it happen to only one twin in a family as opposed to both of them? It’s more nurture than nature. Much of the literature out there supports that. You should take a look at the article by R.C. Kirkpatrick. And in the twenty-first century, most of these students seem to be doing it as a fad. You know, it’s the cool thing to do nowadays, to experiment with their sexuality and all. And I didn’t say both groups weren’t discriminated against. I’m just telling you why it’s not the same as racism.”
“Yes, I’ve read Kirkpatrick’s article. But you need to read the one by the other R.C. as in R.C. Pillard, which tells why it supports my position to the letter.”
Becca wanted to regain some semblance of control and remind all that she was the expert with respect to the literature. “Actually, Jannini’s article suggests that it’s more of a combination of the two. Neither nature nor nurture is the sole deciding factor. But let us stay focused. Our goal is not to argue about what causes it. We’re talking about making sure all people on campus are not discriminated against.”
“So, then, we need to start talking more about others who are discriminated against. Disabled people, Asians, other minorities. We haven’t talked about any of these yet, and I been on this committee for two years. This diversity discussion is never balanced. Why everything gotta go back to this same topic. But anyway,” Leigh started again, “back to the issue of comparing both struggles. I believe that gay folk generally live their lives in peace. Nobody is turning water hoses on them. Police dogs aren’t attacking them. No Ku Klux Klan after them. They’re not being lynched en masse, taking drinks at separate fountains, or asked to sit in the back of the bus. Any hardships they face can’t compare to what black folk faced a hundred and fifty years ago or even fifty years ago.”
“Oh, my God! Are you serious, Leigh? Do you even hear yourself right now? I guess you haven’t heard what happened during the Stonewall riots of the ’60s. Or I guess the name Matthew Shepard doesn’t ring a bell for you, huh?”
“Yes, we all know how the few mild indignities in your community are to be equated to the systematic exploitation and institutional degradation that blacks had to endure. They are not equivalent struggles, Marjorie.” Leigh smirked and chomped on a juicy piece of pineapple. She could be so sardonic, and it was getting under Marjorie’s skin. Although Garnet’s views were loosely more in line with Leigh’s, she became visibly upset with how Leigh was handling the situation. After all, every situation was an opportunity to witness and draw people closer to Christ. Arguing with people didn’t seem to be the right way, Garnet thought. Where was the love? Why would anyone want to live the saved life you professed to live if they couldn’t sense the love behind your words. You didn’t have to relinquish your views, but you didn’t have to taunt others’ views either. Stand your ground, and challenge what needed to be challenged. But do so with dignity and in love, she thought.
“Just turn on the TV, and open your eyes,” Marjorie clapped back. “You’ll see the discrimination and violence we have to endure. We’re still struggling to get health benefits and the like in the event our spouses die. We have no protection.”
“Marjorie, I see plenty of stuff on the TV and social media. Like how you’re able to swim comfortably in the pool in your own neighborhood. Like how you can study and sleep unmolested in the lounge of the university where you’re duly enrolled. Like how you can peacefully barbecue outside. Like how you can sit in Starbucks for hours and not get kicked out, even if you don’t order nothing. Like how you can rent a house on Airbnb and not be bothered.” Sarcasm was Leigh’s middle name.
“Either way, it’s a civil rights battle one in the same. You can’t be mad about injustice for one thing and not be just as outraged at injustice for another. Right is right.”
“So, then, talk about all injustices equally. Let’s have discussion about all injustices, not the same thing all the time. I just hate when you all play the victim as if you’re making no progress, while we’re over here suffering to no end. And then you try to bully everybody to make them do what you want. That’s why I’m glad the Supreme Court ruled the way it did and supported that man who refused to make the cake for that couple. Enough bullying is enough! Bake your own cake!”
“Ladies!” interjected Becca. “This is not a session to see which group has been treated the worse. This isn’t my intention.”
“She brought it up,” quipped Leigh. “Just know that there will be some people who will agree and those who disagree when you talk about sensitive subjects like this. And no party should be made to feel ashamed at whatever their position is. So asking people to stand or not stand is the definite match that will start that fire.”
Room 513 was living up to its reputation. The discussion was becoming more heated than Paola had bargained for. She thought she’d better jump in and try to smooth things over, “As you see, this topic is quite hot. We won’t completely solve it here. I just thought we’d address this particular topic today and address others in the future.”
Everyone sat down instinctively. Becca would forego reading any more scenarios for this exercise, although she was prepared to ask three more; time had escaped, and the meeting needed to be adjourned. Marjorie’s restless shifting was a telltale sign that she was still upset with Leigh. Both glanced at each other to gauge the other’s disposition. Marjorie drank a final sip of water out of nervousness. Leigh did so out of mere thirst.
Paola made closing remarks as members gathered their belongings. “Let’s thank Becca for coming out and leading our discussion on today. It’s always good to be able to discuss matters of diversity to make everyone’s lives on campus better.” Hands clapped throughout the room, and Becca smiled, adjusted her scarf, and nodded in appreciation. Paola kept at attempting to placate heated tempers. “And even if we don’t agree on all things diverse, at least we can keep the conversation going and grow as leaders on campus. It’s all about our students. Thanks for coming. Feel free to take any of the food with you as you leave.”
Her attempts at calming the crowd were somewhat futile. Marjorie pushed her chair back and walked briskly toward the door, hurrying to get to her class since she was giving an exam, or so she said. She gave Leigh one final glance, to which Leigh was oblivious. Few others straggled to the food and coffee tables. Nieko, who had been all ears, was ecstatic to have been privy to the drama that unfolded. He helped everyone gather their scraps. There was no Saran wrap, so everyone mostly put sandwiches and bland broccoli on small clear plates, covering it with a flimsy napkin.
As bodies filed out, Paola stayed back, poured a cup of coffee, and chatted with Nieko. “Thanks, Nieko. You always do such a great job for us.”
“No problem. My pleasure. Quite a lively discussion today.”
Paola ripped open two Splenda and poured the contents into her cup. “Yeah, that’s putting it mildly.”
“I didn’t mean to be nosy or nothing. I was trying to do my job but just couldn’t help but overhearing.” He was lying.
“You don’t have to apologize. How could you not pay attention? We have some animated members, as you saw.”
“Yeah,” Nieko chuckled. “That was some controversial stuff you guys were talking about.”
“Indeed. We just wanna–”
“Boss lady, your one o’clock is here.” She was interrupted by her secretary.
“Okay. I’ll be there in a minute. Alright, Mr. Nieko, take it easy. It’s meeting after meeting after meeting. I tell you. I’ll see you the next time.” She grabbed her coffee and headed out.
Belial had been utterly entertained by the meeting’s discord. He knew the different personalities present would create enough drama to last for ages. He’d have to move on to more serious business in Huntridge. Planning a death took notable skill, wit, and calculation. So off he went.
Nieko said goodbye and trashed all the food that was left. After he wincingly folded the linen, he shook his head, merely shook his head.