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In need of a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Pride. It’s something that everyone should have the good fortune of experiencing. Whether it’s pride in a job well done, pride in one’s family or pride in one’s culture and nationality, being proud can be a wonderful thing. Certainly, for movements making their way across the U.S. and beyond, pride is an integral part of letting others know who you are and what you stand for.

Gay Pride is often a rallying cry heard from those in the LGBTQ community. After all, there is and should be no shame in being homosexual, transgender or queer. Long gone are the days when such an identity condemned one to a life of exclusion and fear. We hope.

But then there are times when we question that premise. How safe, how accepted, how respected are those considered “different” by society? In the Harlem Valley, just two hours north or so of New York City, with many weekenders living in the city for the majority of their time, we’d like to think of ourselves as accepting, open-minded, sophisticated, even. And for many, that’s true. While we don’t all act the same and believe in the same things, by and large we respect peoples’ right to believe in what’s important to them. As long as no one gets hurt as result, it’s a sound philosophy.

Unfortunately, though, there are times when live and let live doesn’t cut it. There are times when some people target those who are different — and that’s not OK.

Recently in Millbrook, which is, by most accounts, an open and supportive, highly educated and culturally rich community, someone has taken to ripping down Gay Pride flags and damaging the buildings from which they flew. Again, not OK.

Such acts of hostility, whether classified as official hate crimes or not, surely shake the peace of mind we all deserve. Gone is our sense of safety, of knowing that we’re accepted and hopefully respected by our neighbors and colleagues, of feeling comfortable in our own skin. Take that away, and what’s left? Self consciousness, fear, worry that someone could be out to do you harm just because what you believe in is different.

Being different is not a bad thing — judging people, denigrating them, persecuting them  because of those differences, is. Hate is dangerous. It has no place in society nor in our local community.

Thankfully, most people around here agree. There is a common belief that hate — in all its forms — is harmful, that it’s to be condemned. We hope that’s the message parents pass on to their children, teachers pass onto their students and preachers pass on to their congregations. Because in a world with so much violence and fear, we need to teach compassion and acceptance.

So, when that rainbow flag waves — in the warm summer breeze or on a frigid winter’s night — it stands for something beyond the LGBTQ cause. It stands for every citizen’s right to have his or her own beliefs, his or her own identity and his or her own traditions — as long as they hurt no one. 

We don’t all have to agree on everything — that would be impossible — not to mention dreary and dull. But we do need to respect our differences. 

We all want to be able to express ourselves, to live our best lives. Such freedoms deserve fierce protection. Our common bond as men and women trying to do our best should surely connect us in some way. Let’s not focus on our differences — which should be celebrated — let’s focus on our shared goal of being decent human beings. After all, isn’t that what’s most important?