Advertisement
  1. Pinellas

Harmony 101: Lessons in how to love and disagree

Valerie Holguin, a 20-year-old Eckerd College junior, and Sharon Joy Kleitsch, an 80-year-old community organizer, came together at Eckerd College Tuesday night. CLAIRE MCNEILL / Times
Published Nov. 22, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — When it came time to partner up, Valerie Holguin and Sharon Joy Kleitsch turned to each other in the theater's plush blue seats. The strangers each held a postcard, edged in red, that asked them to find something in common.

"Well, for goodness sakes, we're both female, and we live in St. Petersburg," said Kleitsch, with her mop of white hair and necklace of wooden beads. "Now it gets harder."

"I like reading," Holguin offered shyly, and Kleitsch said, "Me, too."

The two women, one 80 years old, one 20, had come to Eckerd College on a crisp evening, two days before Thanksgiving, to be coached on how to love through disagreement, or at least on how to coexist.

After listening to speakers, they were asked to pair up and craft a piece of advice to share.

Holguin, an Eckerd junior with a silver nose ring and a GOOD VIBES AND HIGH FIVES baseball tee, had pushed back her holiday plans to listen. It had been a few tense weeks with her boyfriend, who she'd see the next day.

"Here's a heavy one," Kleitsch read from a prompt. "What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?"

"Me and my friends were talking about this earlier," Holguin said, glancing down at her periwinkle nails. "We talked about the Holocaust. Also, with religion and sexuality, and how far you can take those jokes."

She giggled, a little nervous.

"Right now, my boyfriend is super religious and conservative," she said.

"Wait a minute," the older woman said. "Was he someplace else before?"

"He's always been religious, but now he's really diving into it," Holguin said. "Some things he's said, I think, are way too far, like saying being homosexual is wrong."

The women sat near the edge of the Beninger Theater, close to the stage where some panelists lingered. There was Shari Akram, representing an Islamic civil rights group, who had talked about unfollowing her Islamophobic aunt on Facebook but continuing to call because love was bigger than their rift. And Nadine Smith, director of Equality Florida, who talked about coming out, and then giving her dad chance after chance to reconcile, and being so grateful that she did.

"What was it about your boyfriend that particularly attracted you in the first place?" Kleitsch asked.

"He is really compassionate, and passionate about what he believes in," Holguin said, and giggled again.

They veered off briefly before coming back to Holguin's dilemma.

"I would be honest and say, 'This doesn't feel like it's going to be healthy for our relationship,' " Kleitsch said. "Something that you hide from doesn't stay hidden."

"I think unconsciously we have thrown it under the rug and ignored it, but we keep coming back to it," Holguin said. "I'm like, 'Where does it say in the Bible, where does God say it isn't right?' And he's very persistent. He just says it's there."

Holguin told Kleitsch about growing up Catholic in Phoenix, steeped in anti-abortion and anti-gay proclamations. She said transferring to Eckerd led to tough classroom conversations, ones that pushed her to dissect her own assumptions.

Kleitsch, who long ago left her corporate career to become a community organizer, said she had abandoned Methodism because she couldn't follow the logic of it, the way people sometimes leapt to judgment instead of love.

"We've been together for a long time," Holguin said. So if they had kids, she wondered, what would he tell them?

"Five minutes," a moderator said from the stage.

"What's so big about being right, or my way being the only way, or the best way?" Kleitsch said.

"Is that advice?" Holguin asked, and Kleitsch agreed it was. The moderator called out for everyone to tack their message on a bulletin board, but the two women didn't seem to hear him. They kept talking.


Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com

About this series

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes, they play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes, they may be part of it. To comment or suggest an Encounters, contact editor Maria Carrillo at mcarrillo@tampabay.com or call (727) 892-2301.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    The driver faces charges of driving under the influence and refusal to submit to testing.
  2. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The fire destroyed one business and damaged others inside a strip mall at the corner of 49th Street South and 1st Avenue South
  3. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Son and father both had weapons during an early-morning argument.
  4. Surveillance video from the Pinellas County Jail shows Deputy Amy Gee choking the neck of a 54-year-old Marie Butler. Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
    A federal lawsuit says training deficiencies led to the injury. It follows a string of incidents this year in which Pinellas sheriff’s detention deputies mistreated inmates.
  5. St. Petersburg police are looking for the driver of a white sedan who struck a bicyclist as he was crossing the Pinellas Trail at 49th Street S on Nov. 1. The bicyclist survived. St. Petersburg Police Department
    Then the driver pulled an injured Steven Weldon out of the road, got back into his car and drove off, according to police.
  6. Forensic Science investigators with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office collect evidence at the scene of the shooting behind the Walmart Neighborhood Market, 6900 US Hwy 19 N, in Pinellas Park, on Friday, November 15, 2019. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The victim was a Walmart employee. He was on break at the time of the shooting.
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The woman crossed the road in inclement weather and was not in a crosswalk, deputies said.
  8. Olivia Pruna, a student at Nina Harris Exceptional Student Education Center, practices with the school's drum line last year. The Pinellas County school district is asking parents and others for suggestions on ways to improve exceptional student education in the county. DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
  9. Steven Currall prepares to deliver an address during his investiture as the University of South Florida's seventh president Thursday at the Yuengling Center in Tampa. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    Though he started the job in July, Steve Currall is officially installed as president on his 137th day in office.
  10. Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share for Tech Data's stock in an acquisition worth $5.4 billion. If regulators shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County, where it employs 2,000 of its 14,000 workers. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private equity firms like Apollo create wealth for pension funds, financial institutions and individual investors by buying assets that typically are sold later at a profit.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement