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Look for the Helpers

By Michael Kimmel | Life Beyond Therapy

This is not the column I had planned to write. But, this week I’ve been very inspired by two experiences. The terrific LGBT exhibit at the San Diego History Center and the powerful documentary on children’s television star Mr. Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” that I saw at the Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas.

What’s the common theme to both of these experiences? I think Mr. Rogers said it best, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

There are lots of scary things in the news these days, so what can we do? Look for the helpers.

The San Diego History Center in Balboa Park recently opened a groundbreaking exhibition that explores the history and evolution of San Diego’s LGBTQ+ community. In collaboration with Lambda Archives of San Diego, the exhibit — “LGBTQ+ San Diego: Stories of Struggles and Triumphs” — is the first of its kind for the museum.

This is an amazing exhibit. Go! Go! You must go! This is our history, my friends, these are our people. The stories are powerful and gut-wrenching. I wept more than once as I learned about a history that I’d never really known.

This exhibit shines a bright spotlight on hundreds and thousands of LGBTQ+ San Diegans who were/are helpers. Some helped in a way that didn’t attract attention, but, anonymously and/or indirectly, changed the lives of thousands, if not millions, of people, both straight and queer alike. Other helpers were in front of the cameras and became iconic in San Diego and nationally. A few even achieved worldwide fame.

This exhibit is particularly powerful given the challenging times we live in. After eight years of so much progress in our community under the Obama administration, it appears that the Trump administration is trying to send us back in time, to a meaner, greedier time.

So, what would Mr. Rogers do? Look for the helpers. And, let’s take it another step further, let’s become one of the helpers.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, it’s time for action. Wise, respectful, contemplative action. While there is certainly a place for political resistance, for many of us, our helping is quieter, behind-the-scenes. Many of us helpers are effecting changes daily: at the supermarket, at work, with other drivers on the freeway, with our relatives. Oh, yes, with our relatives, for sure!

I had a good, but challenging, conversation recently with my brother, who I love — ultra-conservative opinions and all. When he said, “I think Trump’s done a pretty good job, don’t you?” I was reminded of another Mr. Rogers quote: “It’s very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It’s easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.”

My brother Steve and I definitely have differing views – almost diametrically opposing views – on most subjects. But lately, more and more often, we come together to work it out. Mr. Rogers is right. It’s very exciting that my brother and I have come to the point that we finally respect each other, after many years of major disagreements on more topics than I can even remember.

Helpers don’t give up on people with differing views; we just keep on helping. Joel Steward, board president of Lambda Archives of San Diego, said it beautifully in a recent interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “The (Balboa Park) exhibition provides a space to tell the personal and communal histories of LGBTQ+ San Diegans.” i.e., the histories of all the helpers. “[The exhibition] tells the stories of persecuted groups who have made substantial strides toward full equality while simultaneously acknowledging the struggles that lie ahead.”

Michael Kimmel

Exactly. We were persecuted once and the helpers came. Things eventually got better. A lot better. Now, we are again being persecuted.

I strongly recommend that you experience this wonderful exhibit at the San Diego History Center (bit.ly/2KPxd0F) and the terrific documentary on Mr. Rogers (fandan.co/2tAYn1g). Learn about all the helpers in the past, and then, become one yourself.

Now is the time.

— Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.

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