Friday, November 9, 2012

A voting story you'll never forget

Dustin Wigham
On Election Day, right after I got to work, I fired up my laptop and checked in with Facebook. Every person I follow, of course was posting election stuff.

Someone was thrilled to be voter #1138. Someone had exchanged their profile picture with a picture of their "I VOTED" sticker, the ones that polling places have been handing out for decades. (And they haven't changed a smidge, am I right?) Some reiterated their wishes to have their friends vote "no" on the amendments. Others said the only way this country can save itself is for people to vote yes.

And then I came across the story of Dustin Wigham.

One of my Facebook friends reposted a story Dustin posted on his wall. This is what it said.

As I waited my turn to vote with a little rainbow pin on my coat, the lady next to me had a little toddler with her that was so cute. She just kept looking at me and smiling and I kept waving at her and talking to her. I love kids.
When I finished voting (no twice) I walked out of the room with a HUGE smile on my face and felt a tug at my jacket. I turned to see the lady with the little girl and she was crying. She said "I have a vote yes sign in my yard and I came here to vote ... and my little girl just couldn't take her eyes off of you. Children seem to see the good in people and I knew by how much she instantly adored you, that I couldn't vote yes. Even though I don't really understand homosexuality or agree with it; I couldn't do that to you. I voted no."
I hugged a total stranger today. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the dime I found on the ground on the walk to my polling place and gave it to her (I explained that I pick up any change I find on the ground heads down or up, because I feel like overlooking it and passing it by would be like ignoring a little gift from the universe. Telling her not to spend it but to keep it someplace as a reminder of the wonderful little gifts that the universe brings us."
Then I said "thank you for not overlooking me." This was a truly touching and emotional election day for me.
I'm not gonna lie to you. I was moved. Very moved. When I read this, I felt like this is the kind of story that sort of sums up the ethos of what happened to the marriage amendment. (And for the record, I believe the marriage amendment was an embarrassment. I think it was hurtful, divisive, and showed us a prime example of how the political system can be manipulated. Thankfully, enough voters felt that way, too.)

I'm also a journalist. And I get paid to be skeptical and ask questions. Part of me wondered if Dustin's story was true, or perhaps embellished. I'd heard from probably a dozen people on this, though. Including a fellow staff member who heard Dustin telling this story to friends at a local tavern. I'd decided to believe it. And then I decided to see if Dustin would talk to me.

He did.

Q: After having read your account, I had a handful of people forward it to me. Were you aware that it was getting circulated around Facebook as prolifically as it was?

A:  I thought that the experience I had was so beautiful and it really impacted me, so I just felt like sharing it with my friends on facebook. All of a sudden I was getting "like" pouring in and comments about it's impact. People asked if they could share my story and I gave permission. I didn't realize how fast my story spread. It was like wildfire. I never for a second thought my story would spread so fast and far and impact other people as hugely as it did. I really began to realize how much the story was being shared when people from all over the United States started sending me messages on Facebook. What a crazy chain reaction. It's amazing what the universe can bring to someone and have it effect so many people in such a beautiful way.

Q: Does what you wrote summarize the entirety of your conversation with the woman or was there more that you talked about that you didn't include?

A: We didn't really have much of a conversation out of what I posted and the little bit extra is kind of a blur. In a moment like that I was kind of thinking "is this really happening?" It was kind of surreal to me. Just by me being myself, I changed someone's opinion. I think maybe for someone like her that doesn't really understand homosexuality, she never really had a realistic picture of who a homosexual person is or what they are really like outside of some of the images and stereotypes projected by tv shows, etc. I think she just saw me; this boy in flaired jeans and makeup interacting with her child and realized that maybe I'm not the stereotypical male image, but outside of my "gay" appearance I was just like everyone else. When she stopped me to tell me I made her change her mind to vote no and was crying I really couldn't say much. I was just so choked up and it meant the world to me right then.

Q: Do you think this was an isolated incident of someone who came to vote "yes" and wound up voting "no," or do you think this happened many times across the state? (not in the same way your person changed their mind of course, but just in general, people who went in intending to vote one way and then voted the other.)

A: I certainly don't think that it was an isolated incident, especially after reading some of the comments that people were posting after reading my story that was posted on other people's pages. I read one about 2 sister's debating about how they were going to vote right before they went to the polls. Both decided that they were still voting yes and when they were done voting they actually both voted no. They said when they got to the amendment they just wouldn't have felt right voting yes.

Q: What do you think this story says about the amendment movement itself?

A: We all have our personal stories and ideas. I really think that by this lady somehow making a connection with me and her daughter gravitating toward me, that was what tipped her inner scale to the other side enough to vote no. I think that this hurtful amendment didn't pass because of all the people that know someone that's gay. We have strong allies out there that stand up for our rights. All of the door knocking and calling; all of the people taking the time to educate people about this amendment, really helped us defeat it.

We all have our stories and we all are really very much alike and I think sometimes in a moment, something makes people take a step back and they finally see that.

Q: Did you take the amendment movement personally? Did you see it as an attack on gays and lesbians, or were you able to see it as a policy question? 

A:  How could I not take it personally? I found it insulting that a majority of people were voting on my community's rights. I feel like the amendment was first and foremost meant as an attack on gays and lesbians. I also feel like it was trying to protect certain religious view/definition of marriage more than marriage itself. I personally felt like the amendment was an attack on love in general. I feel by people voting yes or religious groups pushing for the amendment it actually hurt the idea of marriage and made it less relevant. Love and marriages should evolve and grow and become stronger over time. I think voting "yes" would hinder that progress. I think specifically for gay people that vote on the ballot really mattered. I feel like for most gay people, every vote they made on that ballot was just as important. Every outcome personally affects the gay community, just as it does the straight community.

Q: Does what happened in your story give you hope for the future?

A: It just shows me that people really are becoming more open-minded and makes me believe that "love will be legalized." This experience has really touched me, as well as the comments and messages I've received. I will take the advice from numerous responses and never stop telling and sharing this story."

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