Commentary: Humanity Above Hate

Photo courtesy of WTVR-TV via Towleroad

You read about this, right?

V&R normally does not parrot the news already covered by practically everyone. However, this story truly hits home in various ways.

Jordan Addison, a young gay male Radford University student had his 2000 Volkswagen Passat vandalized a few times both at his residence and on campus. Word of these incidents and the student's financial situation regarding the repairs needed on the Passat reached Richard Henegar, Jr., the manager of Quality Auto Paint and Body in Roanoke. He stated to a Roanoke television station that he did not like what was going on with this student. Henegar decided to fix Addison's Volkswagen – with help of other local businesses.

This week, the end result of a complete customization of the Passat was revealed. The student was completely surprised by the result – a dark green paint job with matching rims, a high-wattage audio system and so forth.

One would hope this is the end of the story. I certainly hope so. Addison deserves to be on the forefront of something commonplace in this country – hate crimes. I am not just talking the usual verbal and physical assault from the hater to a victim. Vandalism against property – including automobiles – is also considered a hate crime in many jurisdictions. Hate crimes also fall under the Matthew Shepard Act signed during the Obama Administration giving Federal jurisdiction if presented to the appropriate courts.

My reaction? As a former Virginia resident, I never thought I would see the day that this would happen in the ol' Commonwealth. When I lived there, it was practically illegal to be gay. The temper of most of the state was summed up in an editorial in a Norfolk LGBT newspaper: "Go to Pride on Sunday, get fired by Monday." Even if you lived inside the Beltway, there is no guarantee of protection or safety from anti-gay sentiments and actions.

Perhaps this is the problem of perception and stereotyping on my own accord. I know there are good-to-fair minded people in places such as Southwest Virginia. Henegar and the crew at Quality Auto Paint and Body were extraordinary in their offer to help. What they have done was, first of all, prove me wrong. Secondly, prove the status quo of the Commonwealth wrong. Thirdly, they sent a message to Radford, Roanoke and all of Southwest Virginia that when someone decides to injure a person by using hate as the primary motive – it will be answered with love and compassion.

There is more than that, to be honest. This country has been on a teeter-totter since the Clinton Presidency. We lost the ability to be a nation that believes in the power of the neighbor, to recognize differences and find a way to unite when necessary. The divides we are seeing have been deepening with no remedy in sight.

This is not the country I was born into. Months after my birth, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took riots, assassination and the Vietnam War to finally bring us all together – or, so I thought. I was too young to understand what transpired at Sheridan Square in the West Village of Manhattan, but I do recall how much Harvey Milk changed my life by standing up before the political machine to take part in it for a cause now being fought on a wider theater.

For being gay, politics are part and parcel of who I am supposed to be. It used to be integral with my life, but not with vocation I have chosen. Not with the industry and culture I write about.

I found solace in the automobile world. While politics entered into parts of it, the debates we engage in are more towards seeing the industry improve in terms of product, management, marketing, motorsports and other related areas. I found a community amongst a diverse group of men and women whose passion is about how to find ways to bridge the automobile with society and the universe.

It is a world where screaming epithets is not acceptable.

Addison's story drove home a reality I once dreamt of. Henegar facilitated this story to ensure that compassionate people can make the world right for a change. It is a counter-point to the screaming across the Internet, in social media and through cable, satellite and terrestrial waves from either side over my rights as an American citizen.

In all, Addison's story is the intersection of sexual orientation, the struggle for co-existence and a transformed automobile.

I was reminded by this story when I visited the Minnesota State Fair this week. On the same road stood both sides of the "Marriage Amendment" – the November ballot measure amending the state constitution to legally define "marriage" as one between different genders. Walking around the Fair with people wearing "No" t-shirts and fewer wearing "Yes" buttons remind me of how humane and civilized the act Henegar and Quality Auto Paint and Body did for our country.

There was no screaming across social media involved in the process of reimagining Addison's Passat. Nor any debate or weapons were used to accomplish the surprised look on Addison's face when Henegar and his crew presented the Passat to him.

The good people of Southwest Virginia made me proud this week. There is faith in humanity still – even along that portion of Interstate 81.

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