Accounts of gay teens killing themselves and LGBT individuals being tortured and murdered abound. I read, and I feel sad and anxious. I desperately do not want this to happen to my kid, or anyone’s kid.
A Dangerous World
Currently I live in a community with no queer visibility. Since we moved here two years ago, I’ve felt the lack of a LGBT presence. Recently it feels like a desert. Parched, I am crying out for a drink. There are crosses galore here, but no rainbows.
I became angry about this. I know there are queer people in this part of town, so why aren’t there any rainbow flags in the shop windows or stickers on cars?
People here are afraid, and for good reason. Workplaces are hostile. State and local policies are discriminatory, or blind at best. There aren’t domestic partner benefits or protections. Stories of bigoted cops harassing gay motorists are not uncommon.
I Am Complicit
The invisibility of my family’s identity, affiliations, and commitments make us complicit. I am the problem.
For the bulk of my adult life I have lived in places where I regularly saw rainbows in shop windows welcoming LGBT shoppers, or a long, thin, horizontal rainbow on the back of the truck in front of me at a red light, or an adorable woman, woman, dog, dog, cat stick figure family on the back of the SUV parked next to me at the grocery store.
Me, my naked car, my unadorned office door – this is the problem. I am the problem. Or at least I am part of the problem.
For many years I have benefited from the fact that others put their identities on display, so I can celebrate and appreciate the great community in which I live, or the cops can hassle them just a little extra at a traffic stop, or some bigot can scratch “Fag” across the hood of their car.
Walk the Walk
A couple of weeks ago I told my daughter, “I want us to put an equality sticker on our car.”
“Can we do it together?” she asked.
We went out into the garage, cleaned off the back window, and affixed the sticker using her kid-sized hands and my adult-sized ones.
I put my rainbow-colored Safe Zone sticker on the most visible spot next to my office door, and the matching Safe Zone pin on the bag I carry to work, and everyday I have worn a pin, necklace, or wrist band that makes my sentiments and commitments visible.
I had some trepidations.
I thought what if this harms my opportunity to advance at work? To that I concluded, first I have never wanted to work in a bigoted work environment. If I am just fooling myself that this place is inclusive by never testing the bounds then I am cowardly. Second and most importantly, my kid means more to me than this one job. If I expect her to stand up for her beliefs and identity, then I sure better do the same.
I thought what if my gay co-workers think I am being some weird poser with my purple NOH8 wristband? Queerness is not an open topic of conversation where I work. No one has ever asked me about my identity, so why should I care what others might assume about me?
Once again my fear and insecurity can allow the problem to continue or I can walk the walk.
I can’t make the larger community resplendent with rainbow flags, equality symbols, and little gay stick figure families but I can bring a little of it everywhere I go. I can make LGBT-ness visible to the cashier at the market, the student in the hall, and the teachers and staff inside the elementary school.
I don’t want my kid, or someone else’s, to grow up in a world feeling all alone. Hopefully, every so often these days someone is behind me at a red light or beside me in the produce section and finds comfort in a sign of LGBT community.
Be the change you want to see in this world.
– Mahatma Gandhi
A new study published in Sexual Research and Social Policy suggests that being stigmatized by a prejudiced society and enduring repeated “microaggressions” impact the health and well-being of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. Not surprising, but always very disheartening.
The abstract for the article, “’We’d Be Free’: Narratives of Life Without Homophobia, Racism, or Sexism” (link to HTML of article) reads:
Stigma and social inequality deprive disadvantaged social groups of a sense of social well-being. Stress researchers have focused on prejudice-related events and conditions but have not described more intangible stressors experienced by sexual minorities. We use narrative methods to examine how sexual minorities experience stigma and social inequality as we focus on the more intangible stressors that are both pervasive and difficult to measure. Three themes emerged in the narratives of our ethnically diverse sample of 57 adult sexual minority women and men: (a) stigma deprived them of access to critical possibilities and opportunities; (b) stigma deprives them of safety and acceptance; and (c) despite this, the experience of stigma is also related to the adoption of a positive and collective orientation towards their stigmatized identities. Recognizing these stressors and related resilience can direct policy makers toward interventions that go even beyond eliminating prejudice by including goals to strengthen minority communities.
Obviously the most important response to this is to continue trying to change society. But what can we do for individuals who are being stigmatized right now?
How does one counteract this, especially if you have the opportunity to work with young members of the LGBT community? Are there ways to reduce susceptibility to the negative consequences? Are there coping mechanisms that can be taught?
Thus far my approach has been:*
- instill a sense of pride of identity (going to Pride, identifying good role models, celebrating lesbianism, buying in-your-face t-shirts, etc.)
- impart the knowledge that familial support is 100% and unconditional
- foster a sense of positive agency – “I can make things better”
- immerse her (as much as possible) in visibly queer environments to reduce the sense of isolation/encourage a sense of community
Yet, I too feel the hostility. I try not to convey the creeping fear and suspicion to my daughter. I want to convey confidence and a belief in our agency. Still, we have to talk honestly about prejudice and hatred, and how to handle it when we encounter it. So hard.
*If you are reading this and think that I must be making my kid gay, realize that this is her identity; she is sure, and she has committed to being out. Way out. This is how I know . . . How Do You Know for Sure?