Mix It Up At Lunch Day!

For more than a decade, The Southern Poverty Law Center has sponsored “Mix It Up At Lunch Day,” when instead of sitting with the same old crowd, students have lunch with someone different. The always paranoid American Family Association has decided the event is an insidious part of the gay agenda. Today, why parents owe their child the opportunity to Mix It Up At Lunch.

The first time I hired a sales assistant to work on the Ford Motor Company account I managed, Human Resources sent me almost 80 applications they had vetted. I should have expected the response. It was a great entry-level job for someone fresh out of college. It came with a company car and an expense account, and a salary a frugal family could live on. Remember those days?  My plan was to interview a dozen of them, and hire the one who overcame their nerves enough to make me laugh.

The first thing I did to whittle down that stack was to throw out any resume longer than one page. They were 21 years old. How much did they have to brag about? The second thing I did was to lose anyone who said they were homeschooled. Years later, I mentioned my hiring criteria on Twitter and all hell broke lose. Spoiler alert; the tweets weren’t from paper companies complaining I nixed second pages. Homeschoolers were understandably unhappy, but I honestly felt their children were the least likely to have the quality I most needed to find, the ability to work and play well with strangers of many hues and perspectives.

Human Resources had already determined the applicants knew how to read a blueprint and were not wanted for serial murder. What I needed to discover was who could get raked over the coals on Monday by George at Ford Styling because the gloss level on our Econoline fuel door was too high, and still go back Tuesday with a new set of prototypes, a bag of bagels and a smile. I needed someone who could work with New Delhi-born Suresh in Ford Body Engineering on the Mustang console, without asking him to repeat every third sentence. I needed someone who could commiserate with Ari from Ford Purchasing about Israeli suicide bombers over lunch on Wednesday, and sit at that same table Thursday across from Nabil from Supplier Quality Assurance and express his sadness at the plight of the Palestinians. And since he was a critical link in our ability to meet our delivery promises to Ford, I especially wanted someone who could maintain the good will and cooperation of Kenny, the owner of the injection molding shop we outsourced our plastic parts to, who was openly gay. I was looking for someone who could talk baseball and football, and basketball and hockey, but be just as comfortable attending a musical at the Fisher Theater, because the new hire would have access to company season tickets meant to treat our customers to a night out. Ideally the candidate would be able to speak a few words in Spanish, since the Ford plant that assembled the Taurus instrument panel we made the glove box for was in Mexico. And playing golf or tennis would be a plus, since our company had a membership in the Dearborn Country Club, where Ford buyers loved to be seen.

In short, I was looking for what used to be called “a well rounded kid.”  Today it can be boiled down to a one word slogan: diversity.

The value of diversity is also the driving force behind Mix It Up At Lunch Day. For more than a decade, The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization on the front lines against hate groups, has been sponsoring the event through their Teaching Tolerance outreach program. The idea has spread to schools all over the world. It’s an easy to understand concept. Kids, who since time began have a habit of eating lunch with the same group of friends day in, day out, are encouraged this October 30, to eat lunch with someone new. It is hardly a scary concept – unless you are The American Family Association.

This year, The American Family Association, in what feels like a counterpunch in return for being designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is condemning Mix It Up At Lunch Day, warning it is “perversity disguised as diversity.” The group has been driving an effort to persuade parents to protest enrolling their child’s school in the program. They tell parents the day is actually part of a secret gay plot that will harm their children, though I am not sure if they fear close contact will expose straight children to the virulent gay germ, or that discovering gay kids aren’t so different from straight kids will undermine the message of bigotry they are so desperately trying to send.

I don’t need to tell you The American Family Association spreads hatred and intolerance like Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen sloughed off dust clouds. Just last week, their Director of Issue Analysis, Bryan Fischer was abruptly taken off the air  for his anti-gay hate speech during an interview on CNN about Mix It Up At Lunch Day. Using the classic “I am rubber, you are glue” strategy, Fischer claims that The Southern Poverty Law Center is a hate group because it denounced the American Family Association. Fischer asserts anti-gay bigotry is not hate speech, it’s “Simply telling the truth about homosexual behavior – that it is immoral, unnatural, and unhealthy.” I would like to remind Mr. Fischer that an example of a “truth” is: “Some men are attracted to other men.” Any characterization of that fact, either good or bad, is opinion. A competent “policy analyst” should know that difference instinctively.

Bryan Fischer thinks there should be a religious “carve out”  for homophobia. Much like state laws often allow a clergyman to refuse to officiate at a same-sex wedding, Fischer thinks there should be an exemption that allows Christians everywhere to discriminate against gays, because he thinks their religion demands it. I wish I could suggest to Mr. Fischer that if his god demands his followers look down on anyone, maybe he should shop around for a better god; I hear there’s a very popular one named Jesus who wants everyone to love their neighbor. Sadly, I suspect that if even the words of Jesus haven’t been able to penetrate a heart as hardened as Mr. Fischer’s, any argument I made for his consideration would be futile.

If I have any argument that might break through to anyone, it is to parents whose child might someday be asking for a job from someone like me. Weigh these two options in your heart. Do you want your own child to succeed more than you hate the idea there are same-sex couples in your community who love one another? You can follow the lead of Bryan Fischer and complain about Mix It Up At Lunch Day so he can “teach The Southern Poverty Law Center a lesson.” Of course by doing so, you teach your children there is reason to fear their own classmates. Or you can follow the path of Jesus, of Gandhi, and most recently of President Obama, who cited his own young daughters, and the role model for tolerance he is striving to be for them, when he endorsed marriage equality. It is possible to encourage tolerance and acceptance in your children because it will make them better prepared to face a future in a diverse and changing world, even if you have a personal belief system that finds homosexuality distasteful. There is a universal truth about parenthood I don’t think Bryan Fischer understands; we all hope our children will grow to be better people than we ourselves are.

When you think about how much you love your child, I want you to think about that stack of resumes on my desk, and imagine one of them belonged to your son or daughter. Did you equip them with what they need to get that job? Because employers are looking for tolerance. They are looking for comfort in the face of diversity. They are looking for someone who can make friends out of sceptical strangers. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mix It Up At Lunch Day is attempting to teach your children all those things. What is Bryan Fischer offering them?

Photo courtesy of jim@jimwestphoto.com

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