When I was an undergraduate student at Purdue University (1984-1988), a number of our student body erected a shanty town on the campus mall to protest apartheid. Four years later, when I returned to Purdue to work on my Ph.D. (1992-1996), a black student was beaten up by a group of white students at a fraternity party. The disparity in the attitude and behavior between these two student body groups is not new. Intolerance and discrimination against others existed off campus as well. Guess what Idaho? It exists here, too.
Rachael Daigle's recent "Idaho's Stance on Human Rights is Pathetic" (BW, Note, June 9, 2010) shows that it is not illegal in Idaho to discriminate in the workplace, education and housing based on an individual's sexual orientation. Yet, protection does exist for all Idahoans with regard to gender, race, religion, national origin and age. What I find odd about the difference here is that all of us may be members of one group or another simply by changing the characteristic by which we define a group.
As a result of the beating at Purdue, the fraternity house was closed down by the school and the 100-plus members were required to attend sensitivity training and educational workshops. I volunteered to help the university department tasked with running one of these workshops. The objective of our meeting was to discover how each one of us may sometimes be similar to others and other times different. We all learned valuable lessons that day, among a homogeneous group of 18- to 20-year-old fraternity boys and our mixed group of program volunteers, by simply playing the Line Game.
First, we drew a chalk line across a large room, dividing the room in half, and instructed everyone to stand together on one side of the line. Then, the moderator asked everyone who was black to cross the line and stand on the other side of the room. Three people crossed the line and faced the majority. Next, the moderator asked for all women to stand on one side of the room. Five women stood alone and faced the majority. The moderator continued this process with more than 100 unique identity characteristics that related to religion, race, sexual orientation, one's major, illness, disability, family issues, death, divorce, alcoholism and drug use. Sometimes we were told to cross the line only if we knew someone who was a member of a particular group.
At the conclusion of the meeting, every single individual stood with a minority group on more than one occasion. When I stood among a few individuals and looked across the room at 100-plus people, I was intimidated and uncomfortable. When I stood among the majority of individuals, I was reminded that I am very much like many people with whom I live, work and go to school everyday. In fact, I was in the majority group with every single person in the room on many occasions. All of us had much more in common than we knew among our differences.
When the Senate State Affairs Committee refuses to amend the Idaho Human Rights Act to include protection from discrimination against Idaho's gay and lesbian community, they are in effect drawing a white chalk line across the state of Idaho and telling all gays and lesbians to go to one side of the line. When we as Idahoans continue to allow the current law to stay in effect, we are denying that members of the gay and lesbian community are also our friends, family members and co-workers. In other words, we fail to acknowledge all the other group memberships that we share with these individuals.
I believe the reason this type of intolerance exists is due to ignorance and fear. Perhaps we should all play the Line Game together one day and take a closer look at who we sometimes stand side-by-side with and other times look at across the line. You might be surprised to learn something new about a friend, family member or yourself. Even more, you might take intolerance and discrimination a little more personally and then do something about erasing the line and standing together as many groups.: Tim Kempf writes fiction and is currently working on a collection of short stories. He lives in Eagle with his wife and two children.