I thought the business could be successful. I'm very rooted in marketing and in fulfilling market needs, and I perceived this as an opportunity for a successful business venture. It also gave me the opportunity to spend my professional life serving a community that I care very much about. But I never perceived it as activism, I felt that I was doing it for myself.
My business partner and I are concerned with creating an open place where everybody can come and explore their ideas. And maybe if they're lucky, while they're browsing through the shelves they will come across some new ideas that they might want to learn about.
You don't always have to agree with a person in order to understand, accept and support their right to have an opinion. I really have learned that from seeing all kinds of people come into my bookstore. Like straight men and women whose gay brother is coming home to die, and they want to know how to take care of him. I remember one man who came in, and was so nervous about being in the bookstore, who asked me "My brother says something about the concept of 'family' in the gay community and it seems very important to him -- but I don't understand, what exactly is that?" What an amazing opportunity!
We get a lot of people in our bookstore who are "coming out," as well as relatives of people who are coming out, who stand out front and walk back and forth because they are afraid to come inside. We've created a very safe, comfortable space so people will not feel uncomfortable walking in with their head up.
I'm an open lesbian who is willing to put my name and my story out in the local media, so I can reach gays and lesbians who might not have the access to the gay papers. Unfortunately, that gave a chance to two people who are filled with hate to threaten my life on two different occasions. When the City Council was considering the hate crimes ordinance in this city. I was asked to describe those death threats. And I spoke in front of a committee, along with a dozen victims of hate crimes who came and told their stories. I told my story by letting them hear the vitriol and the anger of what I heard when I picked up the phone and someone screamed at me, "I'm going to come in there and kill you!" That's how I started my speech, and it got everyone's attention.
I also volunteer at Horizons, which is the gay and lesbian community service agency, as a youth center advisor. I feel very strongly about giving back to adolescents what people gave to keep me alive. I was a fairly disturbed teenager, and there were people who gave me a vision of the end of the tunnel that I want to pass on.
I think my parents gave me a sense of community and community spirit. Being raised as a Jew in a very Protestant and Catholic community, where in 1966 we couldn't join the swimming pool, teaches you who your community is. And I learned about justice, to fight for justice.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Women for a Change:A Grassroots Guide to Activism and Politics. Contributors: Thalia Zepatos - Author, Elizabeth Kaufman - Author. Publisher: Facts on File. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1995. Page number: 183.
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