We received an email this week from our human resources department requesting pictures of staff celebrating LGBTQ pride. Submitted pictures will be added to a mosaic on the banner of the staff resources page for the month of June. Above is the picture I submitted. (It could only be pictures of staff members so I couldn’t include Jeffrey.)
This may not seem like a very huge thing for those who work for organizations that routinely recognize and celebrate their LGBTQ staff, but the organization I work for has never done anything like this before now.
In the 25+ years I have worked in and for my agency, I have never met another openly gay employee. I have never read or heard the words gay lesbian bisexual transgender or the term LGBTQ in any emails or conversations that I’ve been privy to. The one exception is when they announced an informational webinar last year that was going to be hosted by several members of the transgender and non-binary community, to discuss gender identification and pronoun issues in the workplace, which I attended. (It was very helpful and educational.) We were encouraged to add our preferred pronouns in our email signatures, which I did immediately.
Although I have been openly gay since the first day I started working there in 1998, and all of my coworkers and staff (and probably the bulk of my agency that knows who I am) know that I am married to a man and that I am openly gay, I have felt pretty alone as a member of the LGBTQ community the entire time I have worked there.
I have “only” experienced three instances of blatant homophobic behavior during my career there:
An overheard gay slur (“pansy”) from a coworker as part of a joke he was telling in a neighboring cubicle, which I did address with him. He tried to justify it as “just a joke” and “no offense meant.” Although he did ultimately apologize, we were never friendly after that.
A coworker, listening to a radio news story discussing the fight for marriage equality (which he was not supposed to be doing in the office) felt the need to comment, out loud, knowing me and that I’m gay and sitting right right next to him, that he did not support same sex marriage equality because “gays already had the right to get married. They could get married to someone of the opposite sex.” What made this even worse, was that he was heretofore a family friend that had graduated with my older brother and knew me and my family well. Jeffrey and I had attended his sister’s funeral, and I put in a good word for him when he applied for a job in my office. I completely lost it and read him the riot act, then had to leave the office for the day because I was so upset. Needless to say, that was the end of our congenial working relationship and we have not spoken since. (And we no longer work in the same office.)
I had a supervisor who disliked me very much and would constantly criticize me and my work. When I eventually asked for a meeting with our superior to discuss her issues with me, she admitted that she disliked me because she found it offensive that I was referring to another man as my husband. (Marriage equality was a fact of law at this point.) I was very measured in my response to her, explaining that I am legally married, she was literally discriminating against me based on my sexual orientation, which was against our agency policy, and if I experienced any further harassment from her because of it I would be filing a grievance and her job would be at risk. (Which our superior immediately agreed with and supported.) HR and the administration called me into a meeting to discuss the harassment and if I was OK and if I wanted to moved to another unit. (I did not request to be moved.) They also asked me if I thought the agency could do more to protect LGBTQ people and prevent things like this from happening. I responded that, in the entire time I work for the agency, although I know there is a nondiscrimination policy which includes sexual orientation, and despite the fact that there were constant email blasts about awareness for domestic violence, discrimination against people of color, the need for respecting all belief systems, women’s equality and fair treatment, etc. (all of which I support wholeheartedly) there had never been an email blast about LGBTQ awareness, and I had never even seen the words gay, lesbian, or bisexual (never mind transgender) written in any form in any of the correspondence received from the agency, nor had I ever heard it talked about in conversations. I said it would be helpful if the agency was proactive in being inclusive with their language and making sure everyone knew that LGBTQ people were part of our organization, because the default assumption is that we were non-existent, invisible, and/or not welcome. In response to that, they added a question to our online discrimination and sexual-harassment training, which references a black lesbian in a wheelchair. (I guess they were trying to cover all bases at once.)
Other than that, I’ve worked in a mostly welcoming and accepting environment. But it still sucks being the only gay in the village (that I’m aware of. I know there are others, I just don’t know who they are.)
Many many years ago, early on in my career, we used to have in-person training sessions for everything, including topics of sexual harassment and discrimination. We would have to attend these sessions annually until they stopped doing in-person training classes and moved to online courses.
Whenever the class would be asked to list ways in which people were discriminated against, people would offer up race, religion, weight, financial status, gender, age… snd I would wait and wait and wait until the very end, then slowly raise my hand and say sexual orientation. At the end of the class, when we were asked in what ways the agency could be more inclusive, and how we would recognize that it was more inclusive, I would always speak up and say that I looked forward to the day when someone other than the only openly gay person in the class mentioned sexual orientation as a source for discrimination.
So this is the environment I have worked in at my agency. More excepting and welcoming than not, but certainly not a high level of inclusivity and awareness. So getting the email yesterday requesting these pictures and acknowledging that it was LGBTQ pride month really made my little homo heart swell and, while I’m not usually a fan of participating in these types of things at work, I felt obligated to send a picture, since they were finally making an effort to acknowledge our existence.
It is easy to rant about all of the ways in which society lets down its disenfranchised. It is easy to point out all the glaring ways in which people are still discriminated against and treated awfully. It is easy to argue that we deserve way more than we have now, in the way of equality and equal rights and treatment. Anyone who lives in this world knows this stuff and can point it out.
But when we see these small glimmers of advancement, when we see organizations and people evolve, and start to be more inclusive or at least try to be, I think we need to recognize it, appreciate it, and applaud it. While it may not seem like much, we really need to avoid getting into the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” trap – where we criticize organizations for not supporting us, then criticize them when they do, for not doing enough. I’m not saying we should settle for these little scraps of progress, but we should be thankful that they happen at all, and then do what we can to keep the momentum going.
There was a time when I was terrified that someone might find out I was attracted to boys. There was a time when I was terrified I would be fired if management found out I was gay. There was a time when I was afraid if I admitted I was gay and married to a man, my coworkers would treat me differently and not accept me. There was a time when I could never expect to see the words gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender or non-binary or preferred pronouns mentioned anywhere within my organization.
Now I’m voluntarily submitting a picture of me in a rainbow shirt, with a rainbow flag, to my HR to be included on a banner for my entire agency to see, hopefully only one of many pictures submitted.
That’s progress, folks.