OK, so you believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) folks are people of sacred worth. You’d like to see the world grow a little (ok, a lot more accepting). While the religious right is screaming “abomination!” you want to counter that with something supporting that won’t get you arrested, but you just aren’t quite sure what that would be. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions.
First, my thoughts… I want to thank you and commend you for wanting to be supportive of LGBT folks. For the first 42 years of my life, when I identified as a straight person, I had much more power to fight for the rights and equal treatment of LGBT people. Once I realized my true orientation (I guess I’m a little slow) as a lesbian woman, I lost most of my power. It’s one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever experienced. The LGBT community needs straight allies. The majority always has to stand up for the minority if anything is ever going to change. So, thank you in advance for anything and everything you do.
What most people don’t realize is that in many ways LGBT folks fight for themselves on a daily basis. One situation after another presents itself and we internally process questions like these:
- Can I be myself fully in this place, job, situation? Is this person, are these people safe?
- Do I want to risk holding my partner’s hand for fear of stares or rude comments?
- Can I come out to my health care providers? Will they still care for me?
- What will my kids experience?
- What will other parents think/say?
- How do we fill out forms designed for husband and wife? Or mother and father?
For LGBT folks it sometimes feel like we never get to stop “coming out” and so find ourselves vulnerable in many situations. Here are some simple and even subtle ways to help LGBT folks know that you are a safe and supportive person.
Display a rainbow – I found rainbow cord at the fabric store and handed out pieces of it yesterday (I’ll bring more next week since we ran out)… or buy some yourself… tie it to your purse, your key chain, your lanyard for your job, your door knob, just somewhere visible… it is a subtle, but clear, signal that you are safe.
Be aware and inclusive of the language you use. For example, ask people if they have a partner or significant other instead of a husband/wife. If you are designing forms, make them friendly to non-traditional families of all sorts. If you’re talking with kids, don’t assume they come from a “traditional” mom and dad family (with divorce rates as high as they are this seems unlikely in many ways).
Pay attention to the language you use. A friend of mine plays in a band and one of the songs they sing is “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. It’s a great 80s dance tune, except for the line that talks about “the little faggot with the earring and the makeup.” It just made me cringe every time I heard it. Finally, I mentioned that to my friend. The next time they played the song, I braced myself for that line, but it never came. They had taken it out. God bless their little pea pickin’ hearts!
Here’s another idea. If you are a teacher, parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle of younger kids, buy books that expand a child’s awareness of different family structures. Try The Family Book by Todd Parr or 123 A Family Counting Book by Bobbie Combs.
“That’s so gay” is a phrase that used to mean something was stupid or bad and can now be very hurtful to kids (or adults) who are gay themselves, or who have friends/family/parents who are gay. There is nothing wrong with using this as a teaching moment to explain why it may be hurtful and shouldn’t be said. Or if it was meant hurtfully, then it is time to draw boundaries around what is acceptable and what isn’t. Silence, ignoring it or excusing the behavior simply allows it to continue.
There are many, many people who experience bullying, violence, disapproval and harrassment for being gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Thank you for being a safe place and for slowly helping to change the world.