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Mackay: Another walk across the infield

Published May 30, 2013 5:29 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

At a ballpark in Brooklyn there stands a bronze statue of Pee Wee Reese with his arm around Jackie Robinson. The legendary moment it captures — courageous, no matter how exactly it happened — is inspiring and rightly highlighted in the film "42."

During a game in Cincinnati, across the river from Reese's home town, Robinson is greeted with racist jeers and taunts from fans reacting to the social growing pains of integrated baseball. While warming up, shortstop Reese walks purposefully across the infield and stands next to Robinson. After a moment, he puts his arm around Robinson's shoulders, chatting and smiling conspicuously for spectators to remember.

Fifty years later Reese recounted: "Something in my gut reacted at the moment. Something about what? The unfairness of it? The injustice of it? I don't know." Here, the Hollywood version fills the gap and resonates as true. Reese looks inside himself and tells Robinson, "I need them to know who I am." The script then hits the sweet spot, with Reese turning his view to the future, "Maybe tomorrow we'll all wear 42. That way they won't tell us apart."

The magic of Hollywood risks implying that deep-seated cultural questions can be answered cleverly, if passionately, in a short phone call ("You think God likes baseball, Herb?" asks the Brooklyn Dodgers owner in response to a threatened boycott). Or that baseball's victory over segregation can be captured in short scenes packaged snugly into a two-hour movie with cheerful music at the end. But experience teaches us that the personal journey of re-examining our own social or spiritual complacencies is more complex.

Still, our progress is sometimes marked with symbolic and memorable moments. This coming Sunday, the Utah Pride Parade could be one of those moments.

I've been encouraged by authentic gestures of understanding emerging in Mormon communities addressing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. These gestures have real-life consequences and inspire life-saving hope in individuals and families. Courageous responses reflect concerns for human dignity and fairness, recognize the value of unique gifts and individual potential, and acknowledge that "few topics are as emotionally charged or require more sensitivity" than cultural changes in how we view and love our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters (www.mormonsandgays.org.)

While we have fallen short of our own ideals at times, Mormon culture has deep roots in a belief system of standing shoulder to shoulder and bearing each other's burdens with genuine efforts at understanding.

The Pride Parade — regardless of diverging political views or a wide spectrum of sincere religious beliefs — is such an opportunity. The parade's grand marshal, David Testo, became the first active professional U.S. athlete of the five major sports leagues to publicly come out as gay. He has spoken candidly about his soccer life and his journey — including abusive fans and players, and the healthy balance he has achieved — a story worth reading.

As an LDS community, several groups are participating. Mormons Building Bridges will march with hundreds of gay and straight Mormons willing to journey toward understanding and healing. Together, we can signal a cultural change that emphasizes respectful dialogue. We can stand on common ground of faith defined by family acceptance and love for gay and lesbian children. And we can listen when our LGBT brothers and sisters turn the tables and say "I need [you] to know who I am."

On Sunday at 10 a.m., I invite you to leave the sidelines and join this journey — a walk across the infield — in a gesture of love and human dignity toward our LGBT neighbors. I'll be wearing number 42. And if you do, too, they won't be able to tell us apart.

John Mackay is an active Mormon in the Stansbury Park Utah South Stake and co-author of an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Utah Pride Center.






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