STORIES OF SOCIAL EXCELLENCE: “BUILDING BRIDGES IN BOYSTOWN”

ImageEXCERPT FROM [SOCIAL EXCELLENCE: WE DARE YOU ]

Andrew Marin is a devout evangelical Christian. When, over a period of a few months three of his best friends broke the news to him they were gay, Andrew’s religious beliefs and personal relationships were suddenly at seemingly irreconcilable odds. Andrew admits, he “grew up as the biggest Bible-banging homophobic you’ll ever meet.”

But Marin had another deeply-held belief—that meaningful, engaged, thoughtful conversation with people from all backgrounds and belief systems could do more to build bridges than fear, avoidance or anger ever could. So he moved into Boystown—Chicago’s gay neighborhood—and started connecting with the people who lived there.

“When I moved to Boystown, I moved there to learn. I didn’t know what I was supposed to learn, but I figured that proximity would help,” said Marin when interviewed. He moved in with two of his best friends (both lesbians) and, as he put it, “Back then—and now—I was just a dude who was trying to learn to live and love in real time.”

Once he settled into his new place, he asked his friends what people in this neighborhood did for fun and just like that, he found himself smack in the middle of a loud, crowded gay bar.

Marin recounts, “This guy came up to me and said, ‘You’re not gay, are you?’  I said ‘no’ and the guy immediately yells to his group of friends, ‘I told you! I win the bet. Pay up!’  He then came back over to me and said, ‘If you’re not gay, what are you doing here?'”

Here’s where Marin’s demonstration of Social Excellence really takes off. He answered, “I have no idea what I’m doing here. To be honest, I’m kind of homophobic and I’m here with two of my best friends who just came out.”  While his friends shook their heads in embarrassment, Marin’s response triggered a level of fascination in the group of strangers he had just encountered. His level of vulnerability, transparency, and honesty apparently struck a chord, and quickly he had a group of curious people around him, asking questions about what it was like to be homophobic. They talked until the bar closed and left with the promise to get together again and continue the conversation.

Within six weeks, that small group conversation had grown. “It was me and thirty-six gay and lesbian people coming together regularly and sharing with each other.” The gatherings Andrew led were not about spreading a gospel, preaching a doctrine, or changing people; they were about diverse viewpoints discussing sexuality, religion, politics, and real life.

Andrew continued to build his social network in the neighborhood with the intention of engaging in real conversation. He started hosting what he calls “Living in the Tension” gatherings at a nearby gay bar. At these gatherings, he invited every conceivable viewpoint on Christianity’s relationship with homosexuality to dive into the discussion, learn from one another, and build bridges.

Within two years, those late night bar conversations had grown to 150 people every week, coming together to engage, share, and learn from one another.
When asked how he kept his work in the community going in the early years, Marin said, “Five to seven nights a week I’d go out in the neighborhood with my friends and just talk to people. We’d go to anything—bars, clubs, organizations, gatherings, whatever. Person by person by person, I wanted to hear people’s story. Most people didn’t even know my name, they just called me Straighty McStraighterson, but that was fine with me.”

Marin’s work has sprouted a nonprofit organization called The Marin Foundation. Their website, http://www.TheMarinFoundation.org explains, “We are a Movement shaped by bold individuals of reconciliation; whose orientation is one of love, who live in the tension and refuse to allow hate, disagreements or past experiences cause division in any community.”

“What our work is really about,” said Marin, “is being transparent and real—and doing those two things in the context of relationships.”

Despite your personal belief system or opinion on Andrew’s work, his willingness to build bold relationships, strike up powerful conversations, be vulnerable, and engage with his community are all hallmarks of a Socially Excellent lifestyle.