I want to begin by thanking the hundreds of neighbors who came out to support Lewisboro LGBTQIA+ Pride Month. Whether you participated in the events or not, many of you are left wondering: how can I be a respectful and supportive ally? After decades of living here and learning what is needed in Lewisboro, I can tell you: always start by acknowledging harm.
What do I mean by harm? Not merely hurt feelings — people can feel upset for many reasons, not all bad. In this context, harm means making someone feel less-than, ignored or unwelcome because of some part of themselves they cannot change. Harm need not be intentional, nor visible to the person who created it. Harm just needs to be felt.
Acknowledging harm can be a scary thing to do in a community like Lewisboro. There is a strong culture of positivity, pride and loyalty here. These are all good things, but in an environment where we default to positive, pointing out the negative can feel like disrespect, bitterness or divisiveness. Especially if we’re talking about a person or institution that is traditionally praised. Acknowledging harm can feel like creating conflict, instead of resolving it, because many of us are wired to avoid conflict altogether. But no doubt, even in an environment as positive as Lewisboro, we know that inequities exist today. We may argue over how stark they are, but we know they’re there. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself if you would rather be a minority in Lewisboro. So, then the question arises: if those inequities exist, how do we address them?
Positivity culture suggests we should reassure marginalized folks that “we’ve come so far,” that we should focus on gratitude. But we know how disrespected we’d feel if a friend or family member did something hurtful to us, then said “at least I’ve improved,” and then did it again; or if you brought it up, and they called you bitter, or divisive; or if they said, “why are you blaming me for your feelings?” On an individual level, we understand the importance of acknowledging harm in building close relationships. We understand that we must make space for our loved ones to express pain, and sometimes accept responsibility for that pain. In order to maintain relationships, we sometimes have to apologize for something we didn’t realize was harmful.
Positivity culture allows to avoid shame. It is hard to acknowledge that we have hurt people, knowingly or unknowingly, and shame allows us to say, “That wasn’t me, I don’t recognize that part of myself.” I’m here to tell you it is me. I have hurt people, I have said the wrong thing at the wrong time and I have caused harm. So have you. It’s OK, and it is terrible, and it is human, and we will do better. But before we get to be better, we must understand how we have caused harm and acknowledge it.
When our conflicts pertain to sensitive subjects of identity or equity — subjects that are quick to arouse shame — the same idea applies: start with acknowledging harm. Don’t diminish it, argue with it, or dismiss it — we know how invalidating that feels. Just acknowledge it. It requires a dose of bravery, a dash of humility, and love for the other person. This does not make you a bad person, this makes you human.
Our community already knows how to acknowledge harm, in many cases. Many of us rallied together quickly when water quality issues posed harmful health risks. Many of us spoke out in solidarity at KLSD board meetings when harmful stories emerged from special education classrooms. Those rallying cries asked for two things: acknowledge harm and address it. In those moments, we came together with an understanding that acknowledging harm was the first step toward repair.
Over the coming years, we will continue to learn that our LGBTQIA+ neighbors have experienced harm in many ways we did not see. We will learn that certain policies, certain words, certain actions, certain organizations have created harm, have made LGBTQIA+ folks feel less-than. There will be calls to action, and the first step will always be: acknowledge harm. Don’t flinch.
My charge to you, Lewisboro, is this: when you see an LGBTQIA+ person sharing pain, do not dismiss that pain because it is hard for you to hear. It will be hard. It will be messy. I promise, it will be better. If you want unity with your neighbor, acknowledge them, and ask how you can help.
Jeremy Zitomer is a resident of Goldens Bridge, an openly queer member of the Lewisboro Pride Committee, and a local activist for social equity.