(This article was printed in the Abilene Reporter News, November 30, 2014.  It is a shortened revision of a speech I presented, also included in this website).

When I was first learning to write, I obediently positioned my paper on my desk according to the teacher’s instructions. But when I wrote, unlike my classmates, I crooked my hand around so that I was essentially writing upside down. The teacher was teaching us as if we were all right-handers. I’m left-handed.

It was not uncommon, even a few years ago, for parents and teachers to try to ‘break’ small children of using their left hand, to convert to their right, thinking it would be better for them in the long run. In some classrooms left-handed children were punished by having their left hand tied behind their chair or by having their left hand smacked with a ruler or yardstick. My teachers did not try to break me. They simply ignored my struggle.

Children were treated as if they willfully chose to be left-handed and simply needed to be converted to right-handedness.

The decision to use one hand instead of the other for most tasks is automatic, not conscious. We pick up a pen to write. We grip a golf club. It’s not taught. It’s not a willful act. It’s not a statement. It is innate. We know this now and accept this without questioning, but it has not always been so.

Throughout history faulty assumptions about left-handedness were imbedded in the culture. Left-handedness was frequently seen as a sign of evil, pathology, or perversion. Even the Bible, portraying the righteous being on the right, the evil on the left, bought into the existing prejudice from other cultures of the time.

None of this was based on any real scientific knowledge, but solely on the fact that a minority group exhibited a behavior that seemed abnormal to the right-handed majority. Therefore, the legal, scientific, and religious experts of the day attributed malicious intent to the behavior they did not understand.

It was not until Paul Broca’s discoveries about the lateralization of the brain in the late 19th century that scientific interest in handedness began. Serious scientific study of brain lateralization and handedness did not begin to flourish until the 1970s.

With experience and accurate information, our culture and institutions now see left-handedness not as willful behavior, but as a normal way of being for 10% of the population.

Yet, even today in some places in the world, people are discouraged, even forbidden from and punished for using their left hand. You can’t forbid someone from being left-handed. You can stifle the use of their left hand, but they are still left-handed by nature.

Cruel conclusions are always drawn when people confuse ‘innate’ behavior and ‘willed’ behavior.

Our culture is finally coming to the same understanding of being gay or lesbian. We now know that homosexuality is not a chosen lifestyle. A person doesn’t will himself or herself to be homosexual any more than most of us will ourselves to be attracted to the opposite sex.

It is an innate part of who an individual is. It is a part of their biology. Non-heterosexuals make up about 10% of the population. They have always been part of our mainstream culture. They’ve always been our friends and in our families. But now they are more visible and vocal.

And yet in our culture, many forms of discrimination are still common and in some cases condoned, including firings, bullying, beatings, disinheriting, even killings by strangers, acquaintances, even families.

Programs exist that are aimed at converting homosexuals to something that is natural to most of us, but unnatural to them. You cannot convert a homosexual into a heterosexual; you can only suppress their natural inclinations and their behavior. With the right kind of punishments, you can do the same with heterosexuals, but it always comes at a steep emotional cost.

Each of us has close friends or family members who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. They may have chosen not to be open about it, but if you have any kind of extended family or circle of friends, you care deeply about someone who is homosexual.

As a community that values freedom of expression and individual liberties, it’s time we make this a safer place for them to be who they are.