Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Need For a Different Dinner Table Conversation

After reading about Senator Rob Portman's recent decision to support same-sex marriage, I wrote the following op-ed piece which appears in the Cleveland Plain Dealer today.


Cambridge, Mass. -- I applaud Sen. Rob Portman's decision to support same-sex marriage. In this time of highly polarized party politics, it takes an enormous amount of courage for any politician to stand up and say he has changed his mind. With this act, the senator has taken an enormous step in support of compassion, dignity and respect for all Ohioans.
In the commentary that he published in The Columbus Dispatch, Portman details that his change of mind on same-sex marriage is driven by love for his gay son. That bond between father and son warms my heart. It also breaks my heart to think of all the other gay sons and lesbian daughters in the state of Ohio who have been afforded no sign of compassion, respect or dignity by Portman in the past, and many other elected GOP officials in the present.

It is true, as Portman points out, that Ronald Reagan said all great change in America begins at the dinner table. Why is it that at the Portmans' dinner table, compassion for all of the gay sons and lesbian daughters in Ohio could not be found until the Portmans' son found the courage and space to come out? It's time for a different dialogue over dinner. We are leaving too many people behind.

As a young gay man growing up in suburban Cleveland, I endured a great deal of hate and ignorance directed toward me by teachers, classmates and strangers over parts of my identity that I had yet to name or understand. I received countless messages that parts of me were hated, wrong, broken or otherwise undesirable. Along with every other gay son and lesbian daughter, I was systematically taught that the very essence of my self was unwanted. This assault on my developing identity was almost unbearable. Thankfully, I had a family that offered me unwavering compassion, dignity and respect. There were also a few stellar teachers who stood up and protected the parts of me that I had not yet learned to name.

That helped. It wasn't, however, enough.

I fled Ohio the first chance I got and moved East seeking a place where all parts of me would be valued, supported and cherished. It still saddens me that I needed to leave home to find the community and fellowship that allowed me to grow and flourish.

Sen. Portman has taken an important step. Now is the time for him to do more. It is just simply not enough to care for only those with whom we share our dinner table. Our human family is much larger than those who join with us at our tables. We need to leave a chair open for anyone to join -- a space left open for a viewpoint we've not yet heard. We are of many different sexualities, races, faiths and political parties. It is from within these many differences that we find our strength as a nation: out of many, one. E pluribus unum.

The senator should stand tall and offer love, respect and dignity to all of the gay sons and lesbian daughters of these United States of America. He should encourage his Republican and Democratic colleagues to do the same. So should you. We all need to find ways to leave a chair open at our dinner tables to take in a new view, hear a new voice and expand our circle of compassion until it encompasses all of our human family.

We all need to stand up and speak out for our beloved community -- a community in which we are all loved, cherished, supported and nurtured. Too often, in our individual struggles to decide what is right and moral, we act toward our children and neighbors in ways that demonstrate neither dignity nor respect. Too many lives have been destroyed as we turn our back on our own brothers and sisters.

I applaud you, Sen. Portman, for finding the beloved community within your family. Now extend that circle of compassion to include people who aren't like you and your own family.

Leave a chair open at your dinner tables tonight. Let's all extend our circle of compassion to embrace the myriad representations of difference and diversity that exist within our collective homes that make up this great country of ours, these United States of America. Just imagine how great we might become.

Mihalko is a psychologist with a private practice on Harvard Square. He was born and raised in Strongsville and lived in Ohio City until 1999, when he moved to New England to pursue his doctorate.


  1. Hi Jason,

    You made me think why I came to Massachusetts all the way from rural Japan.

    If I think retrospectively, I found the environment socially conforming to a young girl. The talk about sexuality is politely avoided. Even the most liberal sex education didn't question heteromormativity but rather denied the feeling of sexual intimacy by planting the fear of underage pregnancy.

    Even I was little, I saw heteronarmativity crushed the soul of many people. Some people were cruel to me but I knew why they acted that way to me.

    Probably I can think this way now because I'm away from the environment. Did I escape to Massachusetts to pursue whatever I feel passionate about? Maybe. I hope one day I can express as freely as you did in my first language.

    Last day in spring break. I feel bit awkward writing this but just wanted to say thanks to make me think retrospectively.


    1. Thank you , Shuko. It's so nice to get to know more about you here in addition to through the pictures on your blog.

      I think people's stories of migration are so interesting. Thanks for sharing part of your story here today. I imagine in a collective society there might not even be words for heteronormativity -- are there?

      Hope you enjoyed lots of sunshine today -- here in the Merrimack Valley it was glorious.