Coming from the heart

By Mike O’Donnell
Imagine coming into a hospital room where your daughter is fighting for survival after receiving a heart transplant. You love her and her life has been on a thin thread of survival for years.
She’s your baby and life has been hard for her at best.
Every moment on the planet has been a struggle for her. She loves the challenges of life, but she has been handed more than any human should be expected to shoulder. You want her to succeed in the battle for survival and give the future world all she has to offer — if she’s given the chance.
That’s what Pocatello City Councilman Steve Brown has been experiencing.
Yet, he found himself in the middle of a meeting where he serves as an elected official and the audience was filled with people who were fired up about the rights of people wanting to live life as they are.
Inside the room were another group of people who clung to the notion that anything outside the “accepted” norm of behavior is a threat to society as we know it.
Exhausted from the emotional toll of giving his sick daughter a hug as often as possible, Brown looked into an audience of people determined to shape his thinking on an important issue to the community.
Dozens of them approached a podium and told him how wrong the world of discrimination is or how wrong it is to provide special relief for some. Among them were people who looked out of place. They spoke of prejudice and fear and the need for acceptance.
In his tired mind and tender heart, councilman Brown understood the world of those less accepted by the norm.
He had to balance his feelings with his own upbringing, religious training and political standing. Gay people, let alone aberrations like transsexuals, have always been something to be feared or ignored by many of the people who voted for him. Tolerance for their existence comes hard at best.
But it was in front of him — a choice.
Pocatello City Councilman Brown found himself facing this painful decision after midnight and six hours of testimony and debate.
He showed signs of fatigue from a trip back from a Salt Lake City hospital when he arrived for yet another City Council hearing on an ordinance to protect members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community from the pain of being targeted as unacceptable.
They said they had faced scorn when they went to rent a home or apartment, held or applied for a job or tried to move through the world of “normal” public events. It left them feeling vulnerable and alone.
Brown heard more than once about people who live in this world while being “different” and the scrutiny and prejudice they face.
Their testimony wasn’t lost on Brown. The seriousness and tired reflection in his eyes gave him away.
So when Councilman Brown heard the familiar litany of fear and conservative arguments about the dangers of giving another group of human beings the same rights against discrimination we all expect, the longtime Pocatello resident and father of a large family was skeptical.
Perhaps there was an insight bred from representing Sen. Larry Craig that made Steve understand the fear of those who pass across the comfort zone of acceptable behavior in the world of Idaho politics.
That likely conflicted with a realization that failure to oppose gay rights or a perceived liberal approach would pose problems. Steve didn’t fold.
And it wasn’t easy.
Hours spent in deep concern about someone who differed from the norm was more than fresh on his mind. Physical issues had made his daughter different.
People shaped by a culture of profound suspicion and intolerance had warned the council that morality hung in the balance of its decision. Fears of the past, including the notion of a dusty Communist Manifesto, cast a shadow over Steve’s political ambitions during the hearing.
As a member of the local Republican Party, Steve had seen the foolishness of deciding who was a true Republican with closed meetings leading to closed minds.
He also saw the cowardice of ducking responsibility and the frustration of a community put on hold.
There is no doubt in my mind that Councilman Brown found it difficult to focus his thoughts.
His daughter, Sarah, was too much competition. It took courage for him to adjust the lens inside of him, but he did.
Strategy led to the adoption of a new ordinance to protect the LGBT community in Pocatello. It came from the efforts of councilmen Roger Bray and Brown. Give and take had worked.
And only a fool would fail to recognize that a young woman with a new heart helped make that happen.
Michael H. O’Donnell is the assistant managing editor of the Idaho State Journal.