by Colleen Roth
From the Editor: Colleen Roth has been a member of this organization for more than half a century and now serves of the president of our at-large chapter in Ohio. Although she has been active at all levels, her primary interest and focus has been in helping people with multiple handicaps. She once headed a group specifically designated for this purpose, and she has adopted and acted as a foster parent for many significantly disabled people. The words she says are backed up by acts of her heart, and her profession of faith is matched by deed.
Throughout history the pendulum always swings, and when it is at either extreme, those who lurk somewhere in the middle or at the opposite end of the range can feel unheard if not outright excluded. This is the concern that Colleen addresses, and reading her views may require as much tolerance from those who hold different ones as she has tried to demonstrate in reading recent items we have published. Here is what she says:
I feel some concern that those of us who are conservative may be asked to leave the NFB. I joined in 1972. I believed then and believe now that blind people are a cross-section of society. I believe we should all treat each other with respect and welcome those who join with us.
Personally, I am a very traditional Roman Catholic. I do not feel the need to know someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. When I read a book from NLS [The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled], I skip "descriptions of sex or profanity." I know that some people are comfortable talking about sex. I am not one of them. I believe that intimacy should be used primarily for procreation, but I also know that many people feel differently. We must remember that we all have different experiences and upbringings.
I believe that our blindness is something we share. I respect everyone's right to express their opinions about who they are and what they want, but I would like the same respect without being considered uncaring, narrow-minded, insensitive, or politically incorrect.
In 1972 in Ohio, there were two chapters in many cities. One would be predominantly White, and the other predominantly Black. I was one of the people who worked to get one integrated chapter in each city. I understand that many Black people still do not feel welcome in some chapters, and I presume the same to be true for people of other races, including those who are White. While every characteristic we have is a part of our identity, none should be more important in our Federation activities than our shared blindness. It is our focus. Other characteristics that are important to us are those we should embrace with others who share our challenges and goals. In our meetings we should not hide them, but neither should we try to make them the focus of our Federation activity.
The NFB has no room for bigotry. God made all of us, and we are created equal. I believe our motto: security, equality, and opportunity.
I do not want anyone to be unwelcome. I do not care what race you are. Though I am a Catholic, I understand and have tolerance for those who believe in God differently from me. I was astonished when the president of the Maryland Affiliate said she was blindsided when a prayer was said at a chapter meeting she attended. The majority of people in the United States are Judeo-Christian. If you desire a different kind of prayer, you might volunteer to lead it periodically. I can honor that prayer, substituting the God I understand and the trinity in which I believe, and I can do this without in any way disrespecting or disrupting your genuinely offered prayer on behalf of all of us.
Currently, our at-large chapter meets on Zoom. People come in and out; therefore, we do not have a prayer. For over fifty years, our local chapter had prayer, and the Pledge of Allegiance included the phrase “under God” before every meeting. You could choose to participate if you wished, and I regret that President Othman was ever pressured to be a part of something that made her uncomfortable in one of our meetings.
We have freedom of religion in the United States. You can practice any religion though, sadly, not everyone will react with the tolerance and respect we all want in our country. If I lived in some Muslim countries, I would not be able to practice my Catholic faith and might endure torture or death. Praise be to God and our founders for making this a country in which persons of any spiritual belief may worship as called upon by their head, heart, and faith. Even those without a professed faith are free to believe as they believe, and although my soul would rest easier for them if they shared my faith, I’m not called on to force my Catholicism on anyone. Some people participate in communities of faith to learn about other religions and work together so that blind people may be included in their faith community.
My husband and I had several Black foster children with special needs. We also adopted a profoundly disabled child whom we loved very much. She was a gift from God, and we were truly blessed to have her.
We can all learn from each other and should be willing to do so. I believe that we should be treated “equally.” I believe that our NFB Pledge should continue to use the word “equality,” I believe that we should be welcoming to each other and try to maintain good taste. Having said this, let me be clear because this is not an easy path. I cannot in good conscience go against the teachings of the Catholic Church. I can avoid expressing my opinions in a way that could be hurtful to others, but there are limits beyond which my faith will not let me go. It is legal for people of the same sex to marry. This is the law of the land, but it is not in keeping with the scriptures I follow. For two people to be introduced as a married couple at a Federation event, I understand, but if called upon, I will politely ask someone else to do the introduction. My faith recognizes male and female. If members of my Federation family believe differently, I will use the name they prefer, but I cannot affirm the idea that one is born into the wrong sex or that it is changeable. At the same time, I am not required by my faith to publicly question or ask them to question who they are. My interest is not in arguing; no doubt I hold views about things with which they would not concur, but none of this is as important as being unified to fight what comes at us as blind people to be discussed and resolved. I will focus on our similarities and see that our differences don’t detract from the common goals we share.
Now comes what I ask of those who disagree with my faith: Please be sure that the beliefs you or others may call progressive, liberal, or enlightened do not exclude me. Please do not assume that my beliefs are already so well known that for me to state them is an attempt to suppress the things you hold dear. I should not dominate the space, but neither should I give up all rights to it. Tolerance is an easy word to say, but it embodies a concept that is harder to live. For the sake of blind people and our vehicle for action and change, let this be one of our dearest creeds: I will honor the right of others to hold different views from mine, and they will in turn honor mine. We will accept our differences and concentrate our work on our similarities. I may not be able to agree with you, but I will not be disagreeable in my conduct with you and about you. I will treat you as I ask you to treat me, and I will keep first and foremost our common commitment to help one another.