Saturday, January 22, 2011

An open letter to an Iowa State Representative

When I was in middle school, I earned spare money by babysitting for a lot of the neighborhood kids. One of the parents I was employed by was Kim Pearson, one of the sponsors of the bill in the Iowa House to amend the Constitution to ban not only gay marriage, but also civil unions and domestic partnerships. This is my letter to her. (edited somewhat with the recognition that this is now going to a lot of folks who don't know me as well as Kim did, and who likely don't care what I've been up to since I spent a summer taking care of her kids)

Dear Kim,

This is your former neighbor, Stephanie Bell, writing you from a long ways away—Oxford, England, to be specific. I hope this letter finds you, your husband, and your daughters well. I know it’s been a long time since we were last in touch, but my mother suggested I reach out to you and let you know what I’ve been up to since you knew me as a middle schooler, over a decade ago. I went on to high school at Valley, and really thrived there. I got involved with a number of activities, from debate and orchestra to the Principal's Advisory Council. I got my first taste of what it means to serve and have an impact when the school district adopted a solution to its 2003 budget crisis that I had helped to develop with a coalition of students, teachers, and community members.

Those initial forays into community involvement really set the stage for my activities in college. I went to the University of Chicago, and spent part of my time there continuing to coach Valley’s debate team. The political consciousness and sense of equality and justice I had gained over the course of growing up in West Des Moines led me to join a movement to increase access to HIV/AIDS treatment throughout the developing world. I’m thrilled to say that we succeeded—in my junior year of college, we received word that our work led to a major drop in the price of a highly needed treatment in all countries where the median income is less than $2/day. We were a ragtag bunch of college students, learning what we were doing as we went along, with little more than youthful energy, drive, and idealism on our side. We were nothing short of dumbfounded by the impact we were able to have halfway across the world.

I also spent a great deal of time focused on the issues in my own backyard. The University of Chicago is located in a pretty rough area in Chicago’s impoverished South Side, and the surrounding neighborhoods are far worse. Tensions between the community and the University run high, and there are many unmet social needs in the area. Wanting to be a better neighbor, I took a part-time job with the area alderman. I helped her connect residents with city services, and sort out their complaints with the city and with each other. In the alderman’s office, I saw why the University inspired such anger—not only did it demand a lot from the surrounding residents, it attempted to dictate how they ran their lives as well. The University’s interactions with the community were contentious, borderline coercive at times. One well-funded, extremely powerful institution with a unified understanding of what was “best” could carry a lot of weight in the fragmented realm of local politics. Yet the University had no mandate or right to determine what should be considered “the good life” by the rest of the residents. It was no wonder the University’s involvement bred such resentment. As much as I loved the University and the intellectual rigor and the opportunities it afforded, it was still clear to me that the University of Chicago was sometimes a terrible neighbor to people in need of a compassionate community member—a neighbor that would listen, support in times of need, but never be so arrogant as to forcefully impose its view of the world.

My focus on communities like those on the South Side didn’t end in college. After graduating, I spent the next two years of my life working to improve the education system for disadvantaged kids. I think you'd agree that it’s shameful that in the richest society in the world, we’re content with a 70% high school graduation rate, and content that the rate is 20% higher for whites than for blacks. It’s a disgrace that our country has 2000 high schools in which kids literally have a coin flip’s chances of making it through. And it’s horrifying and maddening that out of all of the Latino boys that start school in Chicago at the age of 4 or 5, only 3% of those kids will graduate from college. Three percent. I spent the past couple years of my life doing my best to improve those odds—and you know, I think my colleagues and I made a dent in it.

I’m at Oxford now, honored to represent the state of Iowa on a Rhodes Scholarship and studying international development. I intend to spend my life figuring out how to empower people to make their lives better—whether that’s improving the education system in the US or working on public health abroad, I’m not sure yet. I am pretty sure, however, that I got here by being a good neighbor—by making good on all of those values I learned growing up in Iowa. While I may have left Iowa awhile ago, it’s never left me. In the most recent snowstorm in England (you might have heard about all the flight cancellations and such in Heathrow—the English are not a hardy people compared to Iowans), I was stunned by the condition of the sidewalks in Oxford. No one shoveled them, and in a day or so, they became dangerous sheets of ice, some four inches thick. This never happened where I grew up. People cleared their walks for the convenience and safety of their community, and if there was someone nearby who wasn’t able to clean their walk, their neighbors would do it for them, no questions or future favors asked.

I have an immense fondness for Iowa, and pride in my state for reasons that are exemplified in that somewhat silly anecdote. There’s a certain pragmatism about life in Iowa, a stoicism in folks’ willingness to go out and take care of business, regardless of how cold it is. But most importantly, there’s a sense of responsibility to each other, an understanding of oneself as a part of a bigger community, a community that is more than just the sum of its parts. And one of the things I love so much about Iowa’s sense of community is that it, too, is pragmatic. It’s a sense of community that recognizes that people are different, and so have different needs, different aspirations, different desires. It’s a community born of understanding that what’s good for the goose might not be good for the gander—and in that pragmatism, it’s respectful. The Iowa I know, the Iowa I grew up in was one that celebrated the diversity it had. The Iowa values I was raised on included everyone in that community—and the ties that bound us were stronger than the divides created by our differences.

You may be wondering why, over a decade down the road, I decided to contact you with what I've been up to and my meditations on and pride in my home state of Iowa. Part of it is to congratulate you on your election to the House, and to thank you for serving our state. And the other part of it is to make a plea, from one good neighbor to another.

Kim, I’m gay. I figured it out in the middle of my senior year of high school, and I stayed in the closet until I graduated. I adored Valley, but I also knew it wasn’t the most tolerant of places. My life was running too smoothly to rock the boat. I was so honored when I was elected to speak at graduation and I was on friendly terms with nearly everyone in my class. I was afraid all of that would end if I came out. I told my mother before I left for college, and I waited two years before telling my dad because I was so worried about how he would react. I don’t think you know my parents well, but my dad is fiscally conservative and we rarely talked about social issues. I think he’s voted Republican in every election since the age of 18. I’d seen friends of mine come out (or be forcibly outed by others), and have their parents reject them—refuse to pay for college, kick them out of the house, tell them they were worthless. While I didn't think my father would react as badly as that, I spent two years of my life too scared to tell him. My uncertainty of his reaction meant I stayed silent, to ensure that I didn't destroy a relationship with someone I deeply love and respect. I shouldn't have been so scared. Both of my parents were immediately supportive when I told them. In that regard, I'm tremendously lucky.

Coming out to my parents was hardly easy, but thankfully, they know what I know: that I’m the same person I was before I realized I was gay. I have the same sense of humor, the same love for my family and sense of responsibility toward them. My relationships with my parents and sister are stronger than they've ever been. The fact that the one time in my short life I was in love, I was in love with a woman has done nothing to change my personality, or my belief in the value of service that I know you and I share. I remain the same good neighbor—to you, and to the world—that I’ve always been. I thought Iowa understood this too. April 3, 2009, when the Supreme Court unanimously and courageously fulfilled their sworn obligation to uphold the constitution, and legalized gay marriage, was the day on which I was proudest to be an Iowan. I recognize that the way I lead my life makes some people uncomfortable—just as the ways others lead their lives sometimes make me uncomfortable. But on April 3, Iowa moved past that discomfort, or so I thought. The justices voted regardless of their political opinions, because that’s what the law demanded of them. That’s also what a true sense of justice and equality demands: equal civil rights for all.

When I was working after college, I lived with my girlfriend, Cheryl. Cheryl is easily one of the most compassionate and bravest people I’ve ever metsomeone I was proud to introduce to my family. She works as a special education teacher in one of the worst performing and most violent districts in the country. Her school draws from multiple gang territories. Kids bring weapons to school routinely, sometimes for aggression, and sometimes for self defense. Serious gang fights break out on a regular basis. One night she came home to the apartment that we shared and told me that a massive riot had broken out that day in an assembly. She was one of three teachers present, and they had been barricaded in by students. As you might imagine, Kim, it was chaos, and a number of the kids were injured. In addition to being so, so thankful that Cheryl and her fellow teachers were all right, and that nothing worse had happened to the students, I was forced to think about the fact that if anything had happened, I wouldn’t have been able to visit her in the hospital—the State of California didn’t recognize our relationship. Lesbians and gays across the country are literally putting themselves in the line of fire for the rest of society, as school teachers in gang territories, as police officers, as fire fighters. Yet their partners lack the security of knowing that if anything goes wrong, they’ll be able to see them in the hospital, to reassure them that they’ll be all right, or, heaven forbid, to see them alive one last time.

But what deeply worries and outrages me is that I shouldn’t have to justify having the same rights as the rest of society on my attempts to be a good citizen. Like you, I serve because I think it's the right thing to doit's how I was raisednot because I think that's how I'll get equal rights. It shouldn’t be relevant that the people we’re depriving of their rights are police officers, fire fighters, and school teachers. No other group has to justify their rights by pointing to all that they’ve contributed to the world, something gays are repeatedly challenged on. The rest of society has the right to marry because they’re part of society, period. The openly gay San Francisco City Councilman, Harvey Milk, gave a moving speech on equal rights, which opened with the idea that a young person in Des Moines who recognizes that he or she is gay has two options: to move to San Francisco, or to stay and fight for an equal world, for a better tomorrow. I’ve done both. I was living in San Francisco when Proposition 8 was passed and banned gay marriage in California, and when Iowa surprised the nation by making a courageous move to defend the civil rights of all people in its borders. Over thirty years after Milk was assassinated, I thought Iowa had moved beyond pushing its LGBT youth to live elsewhere when it recognized that depriving gays of their right to marry was fundamentally discriminatory and wrong. It’s an offense to our understanding of democracy and freedom to remove the rights of some because they make others uncomfortable, or because others disagree with the ways they lead their lives. It goes against the Iowan values I was raised on, which were founded on sensibility and respect. There’s nothing sensible about legislating bigotry. And nothing about it is neighborly.

Respectfully yours,

Stephanie Bell


86 comments:

Niki said...

Icommend both you and Cheryl in your efforts to better our youth and in your open-hearted plea for undstanding of your perfectly normal emotions for the people you care for which are not a social decision, but one of biology. I would hope that Iowa the state of my father's birth and my Grandparent's and their parent's parent's lives would give glbt young people every possible support.I am proud to know you through your friends. I have heard so many fine things about you.

John said...

I spent like 45 minutes writing a comment and then I lost it...

Bernie Keating said...

Superb. Thank you.

bucketochicken said...

Stephanie, you make me proud to be an Iowan. Thank you.

Sarah V. said...

As an Iowa girl myself, I am so glad that I stumbled upon this post. It was written amazingly, and it was so heartfelt. Everyone deserves equal rights. It's time that people start to recognize what "equal" truly means. I applaud you and Cheryl both. You make me proud to call Iowa home.

Tyler said...

An extremely compassionate and well-written letter. It's sad that it even needs to be written, frankly.

Bruce said...

I hope your letter has an impact on your congresswoman. It is certainly one of the best I've read in the ongoing struggle for equal rights.

Your choices and accomplishments are impressive. May they define you more than the bigotry foisted upon you by an immature society.

The Sad Silent Song said...

Beautiful. I submitted this to reddit.com by the way; hopefully it will get the readership it deserves.

floyd said...

Reminds me of that scene from V for Vendetta. http://t.co/6PNUC82

Darryl Zero said...

As an Iowa expat who was also rapturously happy to see his home state demonstrate a sense of logic and reason (especially in the face of a growing right-wing movement)...I couldn't agree with you more.

Brizzonator said...

Bravo, may you and those you love get the fundamental rights nation wide you deserve and are justified in desiring. I support them fully (as a straight individual who votes) and know many who do as well. We will overcome this prejudicial yoke which was placed on our country through religious authorities so long ago.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this touching and passionate post. My sister, a high school senior in Des Moines, came out a little over a year ago and has worked as you have in the community. I am devastated by the results of this past election and continue to be a bit ashamed by my state's choice. This restored my pride. Thank you!

frenchy62 said...

Excellent letter, well said. I would be curious to hear what Rep. Pearson's response to it would be. It would be nice if it would change her mind, but I doubt if that happens. People such as Pearson have too much of a self-righteous arrogance to be reasoned with.

TheChocolatePriestess said...

I'm from Iowa but my disillusion with the state I used to love started in early 1990s when a state ERA didn't pass but less than 1% of the statewide vote.

When I went to visit a few years later I could barely recognize the state. I had never heard of an Evangelical Christian before now they seemed intent on ruining good old midwestern common sense with their pseudo-Christian nonsense.

Worse yet are the former high school classmates I see now on social networks spouting off dogma and walking lockstep with the Right.

What the heck happened to Iowa?

Andrew said...

Thank you for expressing this articulate testament to equality.

Now must you not wait for her reply...'With bated breath, and whispring humblenesse.'"

Oxford English Dictionary: "1596 Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice i. iii. 125

Cassie The Venomous said...

Stephanie,

Thank you so much for writing this.

I feel that often this very real, human struggle is made unfairly impersonal by the politics surrounding it.

I have hope that voices like yours will break through and reach at least someone.

-Cassie

Ethan Lipman said...

well said.. I'm quite hopeful this will have a meaningful impact on many, including your neighbor.

MedicJake said...

Thank you for writing your letter. I wish more people had your conviction.

Cobalt said...

Thank you.

Brian said...

An excellent letter. Thank you for writing it. It's sad that it needed to be done, but sadder still that people are actively trying to deny rights to gay & lesbian people. One of the core beliefs this country was founded on is that all people were created equally. It's time people started acting like it.

Caitlin. said...

I, too, am from Iowa and went to Valley. I am also gay. This was a very inspiring piece and I cannot applaud your efforts enough.

frankenaunt said...

Well done.

William Earp said...

This is just a terrible piece of writing and is nothing more than self-congratulatory drivel.

I agree with you that gays should have the same rights as all others, but this sentence is quite troubling, especially when considering that you allege to have excelled at debate and once taught it:

"But what deeply worries and outrages me is that I shouldn’t have to justify having equal rights because I’ve spent so much time giving back to all of the communities that I’ve lived in."

So, you feel you are entitled to equal rights because you give back to the community. Is this your understanding of how equal rights work?

Also, typing all of this must've exhausted your right hand because I'm sure your left one was busy patting yourself on the back.

Awful Cute Studio: The Spiffiest Place on Earth said...

Yeah, but... I mean well... um...
I can't think of a good rebuttal.
You know why? Because you're totally right! YOU ROCK!

Wickham said...

William, I'm afraid you've misinterpreted Stephanie's letter to the extent that you believe the sentence you quote to intend the opposite of what it actually intends.

If you'd bothered to pay attention to any of the rest of the letter, or even the paragraph in which that sentence occurs, you'll see that what Stephanie meant was not this:

I shouldn’t have to justify having equal rights

because

I’ve spent so much time giving back to all of the communities that I’ve lived in

but this:

I shouldn’t have to justify


having equal rights because I’ve spent so much time giving back to all of the communities that I’ve lived in.

In other words--giving back to the community shouldn't be a prerequisite for having equal rights.

Which is exactly what your position is.

Furthermore, you seem to take the position that writing exists out of any context and without any actual purpose. This letter was written to a Congresswoman in an effort to get her to change her position on a political issue. If there are elements of self-congratulation in it, those are entirely appropriate, especially given that Stephanie knows the recipient personally and presumably understands what rhetorical tools might work and what rhetorical tools might not.

It takes a lot for me to want to call somebody an asshole on the Internet. I'm not going to do it now, because I don't know who you are or what your circumstances are, but it does seem to me that you've taken the opportunity to be gratuitously nasty about something you either don't understand or do understand but are pretending not to.

If I'm wrong I apologize. But your comment struck me as way out of line.

Stephanie, I live in New York but was married in Iowa earlier this year--on the 54th anniversary of the US Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, another monumental step in the history of civil rights--and was incredibly grateful to have been able to do so. I hope that the recipient of this letter takes it to heart.

A said...

I read your letter and was touched with its heartfelt sense. I'm proud to live in a world with people as dedicated as you.

Unfortunately, I weep to think of the difficulty of making those who thrive on nonsense see sense.

At this point it seems this problem will fade away in most of the country in a few years, given how public opinion is changing so rapidly.

I hope those years of working and waiting will be kind to you.

Regards.

William Earp said...

Wickham--I know what she intends and it's, "Look at me!!"

There's very little substance in her writing regarding actual gay issues and equal rights. 99% of it focuses on her accomplishments, which lends support to my prior post that she feels she's earned her equal rights. It may not be her intent, so it's more of a failure of her writing and inability to not toot her own horn for thousands of words at a time.

donna said...

Great letter! I'm a Austin, Texas lesbian,growing up we would drive to Des Moines to see my grandparents,aunts,uncles and cousins. In addition to some mighty fine pork sandwiches, Iowa does have a wonderful attitude. My Iowan father taught me many of the values of service to community,personal responsibility and sharing my good fortune. We will win the fight for marriage equality.because it is the right thing to do.Thanks again for your work

Willard said...

You know you're getting lots of people to read when the haters emerge.

hayes said...

Well done - would love to hear the response if you get one.

William Earp said...

I'm not a hater at all, Willard. She's a very accomplished young lady, it's just that her accomplishments have absolutely nothing to do with the issue her letter was supposed to address.

Gays should be considered equal in every facet of life, including the ability to marry. Might not have been a bad idea to concentrate on that a bit more in her letter.

James said...

I get done reading an amazing letter only to learn it's authored by the amazingly wacky and intelligent Steph Bell that I used to work with at The Fleur. Keep it up!

clr said...

I'm posting a comment because William Earp is a jerk trying to make this all about him, Mr. "I just registered on blogger so I could leave hateful comments".

Stephanie, you don't know me. I'm not gay and I don't live in Iowa. But I read this and thought, "This woman is my new hero." Bravo.

Tory said...

thank you

Laura said...

I read this letter from the link a friend posted on facebook. What bothers me is that even though you state that you shouldn't have to justify why you deserve equal rights, that's exactly what it seems like you're doing.

I'm frustrated that so many of us (and I include myself, here) feel that we have to point out all the ways that we are deserving of equal rights before we make the plea asking for them. It frustrates me that in our community there's a sense that we have to be better than the rest of the world to demand our rights, rights we deserve simply by being human. These rights are not something we have to earn, but something that our country owes us simply for being citizens.

Matthew Simpson said...

Wonderful, very well writted and very level headed. I'm glad I took the time out to read this.

Steph said...

Laura, I agree with you wholeheartedly--hence the entirety of the last paragraph. And I too wish it weren't the case that the only way I think I have a chance at persuading Representative Pearson to change her mind is the strategy I used: to appeal to the idea that the people she wants to strip of rights are people she knows, and people who make valuable contributions to the community she lives in. Unfortunately, extended arguments about justice and equality don't seem to make much of a difference in these discussions. Putting a human face on those people that Rep. Pearson considers to be less equal, and reminding people of their shared values sometimes does. I'm unconvinced that contacting Rep. Pearson out of the blue and launching into a list of legal and philosophical reasons that she's wrong would have gotten her to read my letter. I'm hoping that this will.

At any rate, I take your point, as well as William Earp's. The letter is written in the manner it is because I know Rep. Pearson, and this seems like the most plausible way to persuade her. I've edited a bit based on your thoughtful commentary, and the version I'm sending via air mail tomorrow will reflect that.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to read and comment.

dawn67 said...

While I admire half of this letter (the second half) I agree with a previous poster that my admiration is tempered by disappointment at the writer's self-congratulatory tone, and by the long-winded list of personal accomplishments and distasteful personal narrative of how she came to empathise with the poor and downtrodden. They make this letter far effective, in my view-- it sounds like a fellowship application (and as a former Rhodes finalist myself many years ago, this type of self-promoting narrative waved under the banner of philanthropic sentiment is something that sounds eerily familiar-- endemic amongst many high level fellowship recipients). Are these arguments more effective because of their truth, or because of the credentials of who speaks them?

Finally, I think you'll find that since many Londoners and other UK residents are unused to heavy snow-- their failure to shovel sidewalks is probably due to lack of shovels, not lack of neighbourly spirit in the 'Iowan' tradition (as an American living on the other side of the pond for more than a decade now, I promise they're not as different as you think. )

William Earp said...

Steph--we're all on the same team here, so I'm wishing you and us the best.

TB said...

Very good letter. I hope it makes it to her desk!

Rick M said...

Steph, this was simply awesome. Sounds like you have been doing amazing work. Regardless of any background, we all deserve the same rights. I am gay myself and we're having the same arguments here in Australia.

Australia has moved to instate many of the same rights but won't yet budge on marriage. I think the tide is turning though.

Seriously, well done and best of luck to you.

Bryan "Silver" Daniels said...

People complaining about the "self-congratulatory nature" of the letter make me wonder if they even read the whole thing at all, or if they understand that they letter is being written by a person who knows the Rep.

I get the reasoning behind the first half. In addition to being a kind of 'catching up' letter, It is written in a way to show that you really are just another person. That being gay didn't make you any different or any less deserving than anyone else in the world.

Awesome letter Steph, I really hope it changes her mind

Chris said...

Good for you. It's well written, just the kind of thing that gets attention, and you're correct. I am in absolute agreement with you.

Unfortunately, I think it won't work. the current crop of anti-rights legislators cannot be convinced. I hope that I'm wrong, but I fear that I am not.

Chris Harrison
Saint Louis, MO but originally from Marshalltown, IA.

nate van til said...

William Earp and dawn67 are proof that Human Stupidity has nothing to do with lack of intelligence.

It's not that they are jerks, it's that their inflexibility about what they think should be happening has prevented them from seeing clearly what is actually happening, even when the author explained it in the post RIGHT BEFORE THEIRS. (If she didn't see the author's comment while she was writing her own, then of course dawn67 appeared to be more inflexibly moronic than she actually was.)

What also makes them look stupid is
misplaced idealism and purism. The Essay On The Rights Of All Humans which they demand has never, ever succeeded in opening the closed mind of a Crusader Bigot. However, experiencing a member of a despised group as a sympathetic, worthwhile fellow human being often has.

We all have our filters. All I can say is that having read this letter through the filter of my own mind and experiences, I found dawn67's comment on the "distasteful personal narrative of how she came to empathise with the poor and downtrodden" to be outrageous, maddening, and conclusive proof that her own filter had not allowed her to read with basic comprehension or, more importantly, an open heart.

Personally, even though my mother is now married to a woman, this letter made me feel more deeply than ever before the horror of a fellow human not being able to visit his or her "life partner" in the hospital. And that can only make me a more committed proponent of gay rights--which I think demonstrates the effectiveness of the author's approach.

You will of course come to your own conclusions about who is closer to the truth.

Mary Kay said...

Brilliantly said! I hope it has the desired impact. My hat is off to you!

Mary Kay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
troy said...

I want to thank you so much for your story and your letter to Rep. Pearson. I work at One Iowa, and we are leading the charge against this bill. The only way we can change hearts and minds is by sharing our personal stories, and putting a face to this issue. Your story is very moving, and I hope that it can help soften Rep. Pearson's attitude on this issue. Thank you so much, and keep up the good work from across the pond.

Brian said...

I, another Iowa born/raised/moved to Bay Area @ 25 y/o, thanks you SO much for your eloquence and passion.... I, as well, was also proud to be Iowan April 3rd. I had moved to California about ten years prior to the ruling, though. My mother uses 'gay marriage' as her main selling point now in attempting to convince me to move back. ;) Words are, sadly, failing me now as you've used all the very best ones in your open letter... Thank you again, Stephanie... Much love, Brian

Kirsten said...

What a wonderful letter! This exemplifies the Iowa spirit at its best--using intelligence and sincerity to defeat small-mindedness. I hope the congresswoman takes this seriously!

Michelle said...

Thank you for writing such an eloquent letter that captures the on-going battle against legislating bigotry.
I have asked all my FB friends to re-post this letter on their walls.
Thank you again,
Michelle

Emily Pullen said...

Cheers, Stephanie! Very eloquent letter, and you articulated many of the feelings I share about Iowa: pride at having grown up in Des Moines, pleasant surprise at the gay marriage ruling, and severe disappointment at the current repercussions. Thank you for pinpointing some of the great things about the ideals that bubble up in Iowa while criticizing the current closed-mindedness. Good luck!

steward said...

I think what William is missing is the social construct of "resonance". People opposed to gay marriage are, for the most part, opposed out of fear or bigotry - and, for that reason, a letter concentrating on gay marriage will simply be ignored.

Instead, Stephanie quite adroitly uses the resonance construct: I'm like you. I'm like other Iowans. I'm the kind of Iowan that other Iowans look up to. I'm proud to be specifically an Iowan, not just an American, when I am in another nation. Oh, and BTW: I'm gay. Given all the other things I am, can you really condemn me for being gay?

Certainly a state representative would resonate with the 'back-patting' William accuses Stephanie of; because, although it is an open letter for its propaganda purposes, it is still a letter trying to break through a representative's fear or bigotry into seeing Stephanie as a person - just like a State Representative - who is proud of her state and has gotten ahead in life mainly due to the atmosphere they both shared in Iowa.

Indeed, if gay marriage is ever to be truly recognized, it is the Stephanies of the world who know how to use resonance who will get it done, rather than the people who keep chanting 'gay marriage' over and over again, instilling yet more fear into the already fearful.

Jon Cruz said...

Thank you, Steph Bell.

Meredith said...

A friend passed this post along to me, and it moved me to tears. The injustice of denying such an important rite of passage that everyone else is able to enjoy the benefits of is just so damn obvious to me, I almost have to avoid thinking about it or I'll put my fist through something or just bust out crying. I'm a practicing Episcopalian (explains a lot, ha), and it kills me to see hatred and cruelty justified in the name of religion. For one, people need to keep their religious beliefs confined to their houses, not mine, and for another, it hurts that they've so corrupted a vision of God that should belong to all who wish it, a God of social justice and unconditional love for all people, with none of this "hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner" bullshittery.

Grange95 said...

I found this post because it was Tweeted by OneIowa. Talk about a small world, I happened to have been one of Steph's junior high mock trial coaches, and I had no idea what she was up to since she graduated high school. I'm not at all surprised to find she has continued to be smart and successful.

Steph, great, thoughtful post, but I would expect nothing less from you. FWIW, here's a little something you may not have known about Coach Mike all those years ago:

http://craakker.blogspot.com/2010/10/national-whatever-day.html

Mandy said...

Thank you for your very powerful words! I, too, am an Iowa girl who attended Valley High School. I have just moved back to Iowa from Chicago with my partner. Part of the reason that we returned to Iowa was for marriage equality and the inevitable need to defend those rights. It means so much to have the support of gay Iowans from near and far. Thanks again for speaking up!

reptevia said...

I agree with you. I hope your head holds out longer than the wall.

reptevia said...

I agree with you. I hope your head holds out longer than the wall.

Jen said...

This is a beautiful letter and I thank you for writing it. As someone who moved to Iowa from the East coast, I felt a lot of pride in and respect for my new home—pride and respect that is now tempered with wariness and sadness.

Whether one is LGBTQ or straight, American citizens being deprived of their equal rights is an issue that affects everyone. It affects the fabric of the country we live in. It affects our culture on a fundamental level.

I'm a responsible citizen, I attempt to live my life with ethics and integrity—oh, and I'm queer. It is unconscionable to me that those in positions of political power should alienate —and in many cases vilify— American citizens for no reason other than personal or religious prejudice.

I was raised to think that this is a country in which church and state are separate. I was raised to think that, despite its many failings and mistakes, America at least seeks to protect its citizens. I am hoping not to keep being proven wrong.

I hope your voice and our voices are heard. I hope more people have the conviction to raise their voices.

Rob and Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob and Rob said...

Thank you, Stephanie. It's my hope that Iowa will retain the core values we know and love.

-Rob Martin, Gay, Valley Class of '97.

allthingsbtg said...

Grew up in Iowa, went to college in Bay area, married a New Yorker, and now lives in Las Vegas so I've had the pleasure of meeting people & having friends from ALL walks of life... I want my son to grow up in a world where everyone has the same opportunties, rights, understanding and most of all LOVE. Stephanie, thanks for being one of the people that is trying to make that kind of world.

Brian said...

Steph! I am so, so proud of this, and of you. I know that, even if we believe in something passionately in the abstract, it is often terrifying to face the prospect of our beliefs, and our identities, coming between us and our neighbors. But you always seem to confront such situations with steely-eyed resolve, and I admire and respect you so much for that, on top of your general awesomeness.

Lemme know when you get back from the UK, cause I owe you a hug and a beer.

-Brian

twinbabya said...

I remember you from Valley High School. My daughter, Meredith N., a fellow 2004 Valley grad sent me this link. Your article was extremely well written. I admire your work to address the needs of others less fortunate and your desire to educate via this type of letter. I wish you many great years in the future. I also wish for a time when ALL people are treated equally.

Andres said...

This was excellent
thank you for taking the time to write this

Sophia said...

This is really quite impressive.

Lydia said...

Wonderful letter. Lets hope there are more people like you out there willing to speak up. Thanks for putting this out into the world!

Eric Allen said...

Thank you Steph Bell for your passionate, yet humble, plea to my beloved home state. Although the Iowa House Judiciary Committee vote was discouraging, I have hope for the Heartland because people like you.
-EricAllen

Scott Foval said...

As an Iowan in exile whom is also gay, I commend you on speaking for all of us. Your comments were insightful, direct, and most of all...from the heart. I am keeping my fingers crossed that they have an effect.

Peace,
Scott Foval

Ruudboy said...

My daughter, a proud friend of yours, forwarded your wonderful letter. I grew up across the river in Illinois and have benefitted from the practical decency that this part of the nation quietly demonstrates. My brother, who is gay, enjoys the longest monogamous partnership among my siblings and enjoys none of the civil benefits that this responsible commitment has earned. Why fair minded Midwesterners have a blind spot for LBGT rights is baffling, but speaking out proudly is the best path to understanding.
Concerning William and Dawn's remarks, may I point out that for, at least, a thousand years those that have defended their nation have worn medals that honor their service so that fellow citizens may witness their commitment. Wear your accomplishments proudly so that we may know that your words are matched to action. Soldier on!
Jon Ruud

Little Bit said...

I sincerely hope that your letter makes the same impact on your congresswoman as it made on me. The eloquence of your words and the passion of your plea is to be commended as is all you have accomplished in your life.

Equality should be given freely and never be allowed to be taken away once done ... particularly by those within the majority. How can we adequately teach the youth of today that bullying is wrong when those in power continue to do so?

Sherry said...

Stephanie - glad that this was shared with us and that I had the pleasure of watching you grow through the middle school and high school years you described. It was a proud day when the courts made Iowa one of the "first" to do the right thing.
Let's hope your letter, and voices of thousands of other Iowans (in and out of the state), will make sure that new legislation to overturn this ruling gets no farther than the conceptual stage.
All my best to you in your further pursuits and continued courage in making the world a better place for everyone to live.
Tim Henkel

jbaudr said...

Stephanie, I left Wisconsin for the U of C and like you went on to study in England and Europe (though not not nearly as prestigiously!). I appreciate (and experienced) the sense of pride in the Midwest you so eloquently described. I cannot imagine grappling with so much while adjusting to 1st year, the Core, and so on.

Voting is Power said...

I am in South Africa, and while this letter deals with the issues faced in Iowa, your message can resonnate across the world where injustices are apleanty. I think especially of Uguanda, where homosexuals are being murdered for their sexual preferences.

I'd like to make it clear that I am an Evengelical Christian. However, I also want to point out that this does not matter. As your letter so eloquently infers, political or religious beliefs should not determine legislature. What is important is not the choices that people make, but rather the freedom they have to make those choices and the freedom they afford others to make choices of their own. I thank you for this honest account and I scream in solidarity with all whose choices are being stifled by narrow-minded bigots.

greg said...

Steph

Wow! Thanks for sharing your life story so far. We at Okoboji always admired you, but now it goes so much farther than debate.

Thank you for thinking of Iowans and Iowa teens who are going through this now.

Claire said...

Stephanie, thanks for taking the time to write this letter. Though I doubt it will change her mind, there are many other Iowans who stand in solidarity with you and Cheryl and wish you the best. This fight may not be over yet, but it's people like you are leading the way and putting names and faces to this issue.

ColoradoClint said...

Thank you, Stephanie, for sending Rep. Pearson such a compassionate and frank letter. Your words echo how I feel as a gay Iowa native and touch upon the sensibilities and unique diversity that make Iowa so special. This particular debate is often so contentious, and I admit that at times I have been less compassionate and eloquent than you were in this moment. Thank you.

Irene Ray said...

Thank you Stephanie! Your letter is making its way around the internet, and many "Iowans of the Heart" are inspired, impressed, and thankful for young leaders like you! I forwarded the link to about 19 friends and relatives, most with Iowa roots, in Germany, Massachusetts, California and places in between. You go, girl!

Aprille said...

Beautifully stated. Thank you for your articulate piece, Stephanie. I hope your former neighbor can move beyond political team sports and pause to think about what you've said. I also hope her kids for whom you cared turn out like you (that is, smart, compassionate, and thoughtful--we all know that their sexual orientation just is what it is).

Diagoras said...

Well done. Thank you. These last two years I've been deeply proud of our state (For having justices who put the law before politics) and extremely disappointed (In our population for not understanding the seperation of powers and how to appropriately express opposition). As Judge Walker said last August, "A PRIVATE MORAL VIEW THAT SAME-SEX COUPLES ARE INFERIOR TO OPPOSITE-SEX COUPLES IS NOT A PROPER BASIS FOR LEGISLATION..."

amanda.fisher said...

I'll echo the comments many others have left here and thank you for sending this letter to Kim Pearson. I also grew up in Iowa, came out while I was attending college, and left Iowa to pursue graduate studies. I was troubled by the election of Branstad, especially after hearing that his platform was based on overturning gay marriage. I recently mailed him a letter similar to yours, expressing my hopes and fears for Iowa. I've also been trying to send positive comments to Mike Gronstal. He's taken an active and logical stance on gay marriage although he represents the very conservative western district (Steve King is the congressional representative). I think the format of your letter is totally appropriate and I hope more current and former Iowans write openly about their support for gay marriage. It's critical that politicians know how political stances against gay marriage affect the people they know and represent.

marge said...

Thank you for your commitment to service and compassion, Stephanie.
As I write this, I send all my hopes that reason and compassion will prevail over bigotry and narrow-thinking as Iowa lawmakers ponder momentous legislation.

You make me feel proud to be an Iowan, too, Stephanie; keep up the great work!

CC said...

Hey Steph - Thanks for writing & sharing! Was inspirational on a number of levels. Please keep us posted if you hear anything!

-Your Former UChicago classmate Greg Kamstra

MGilbe85 said...

Stephanie I am so proud of you, your the writing drove me to tears. I shared your piece w/ one of the people I know is Doing everything she can to fight for the very rights you wrote about... Thought you might enjoy her response.

Sophia Bush
Stephanie Bell, hats off to you. You are brave & beautiful #LGBT http://postcultureshock.blogspot.com/2011/01/open-letter-to-iowa-state.html

Digginsmo said...

Stephanie, and you too, Cheryl...I am so proud of the both of you. While Stephanie was writing this letter, I'm sure Cheryl was right behind her, supporting the writing of this. I'm 61 now and live in New York City...for over half of my life time, and I am so proud of "my new state". But, I grew up in Oklahoma, a very homophobic state and went to a Christian college, Oral Roberts Univerisity, the only college my parents to where my parents would let me go - VERY Evangelsitic Christian. Of course, I had known all my life that I was more attracted to men than to women. I'm a male. But I couldn't bring myself to come out and have a normal life (same sex relationships are normal...yes, they are.) Even when I was drafted for the military straight from ORU, I didn't come out. Homosexuals went to hell...when my mother found out, she told me I had to repent of my sin and get married, or I was going to hell. She believed that until she died. But I've gotten off track here. Though Oklahoma is a very straight state, I can never see it ever allowing gay marriage, but ever since Iowa became one of the first states (there still aren't many) to allow gay marriages, it's given me some hope that even though the state I grew up in might someday pass same sex legislation. I love your history, and I have to say that, even though I haven't met you two, I love you and Cheryl. David Whittacre from a gay marriage state now here in New York!

Ludovica said...

Rhodes Scholar!! What a fantastic achievement that you totally play down here. More power to you. We need smart intelligent and compassionate folks trying to make a better world, both here in England and in the USA. I hope that someday people will see past the prejudice and injustice that are so entrenched in "tradition" and realise that we can only survive by moving forward, not by standing still and forcing others to live by centuries old outdated and repugnant philosophies