Tears welled in her eyes as I answered her question. She asked me, “Why are you sitting at this table?” I said, “I am an ally and I want to learn more, so I can be more effective with my support.” I was speaking at an HR conference. The attendance was huge! 15,000 professionals. On this day everyone could be seated for lunch based on the table topics posted. I chose the LGBT table. Suzanne, one of the attendees, took charge by asking everyone to introduce themselves. Everyone except me stated that they were gay, lesbian or transgender as well as what their job responsibilities were and where they lived.
So why the tears? I asked. She shared with me, and the other table mates that in her many years of attending conferences such as this one, no straight person ever sat at the “gay” table, so her tears were tears of joy. This exchange launched an in depth discussion about gay straight alliances.
Men have become much more educated about “women’s issues” and have started to speak up and speak out for equality of women. This behavior elevates the issues to economic and societal issues, not just women’s issues. The same is needed as it relates to LGBT issues. Until straight people are willing to speak up and speak out on behalf of other people who happen to have a different sexual orientation, the issues faced by this group will continue to be diminished.
Even with the current political climate of more and more states voting on the right for gay people to marry, and while at the same time the Boy Scouts of America has changed its position on admitting gay scouts, there are too many straight people afraid to voice their supportive views for fear they will be assumed to be gay.
I fully realize that many people say they cannot support “the gay lifestyle” because it is against their religion. My hope is that we all develop the willingness to be a cultural learner instead of only being a cultural critic. Knowledge informs our opinions and values. Being gay is not a lifestyle. People chose many ways to live. Some people chose a suburban lifestyle; some chose an urban lifestyle; some chose a family lifestyle; some prefer the single’s lifestyle. Gay people practice all of these lifestyles with or without a same sex partner.
Okay, so what about the tough one? The concern that one’s faith will not allow acceptance of LGBT people. A lesbian colleague of mine said this, “I don’t care if you “accept” me, but I do expect you to respect me as a human being, just as you expect me to respect you. Mark Sills, a Greensboro clergy and expert on religions of all types made a statement about inclusion and faith that puts this and all issues of understanding and inclusion into perspective. He explained that when someone makes you uncomfortable because of the words they say or the way they live, it is a time to become introspective instead of critical. Ask yourself, why this person makes you uncomfortable? Perhaps it is an indication that more faith study and understanding is needed. Maybe more questions need to be asked. Mark shared that when you are firmly centered in your faith, no one can say or do anything that would shake that faith.
Whatever our beliefs and opinions, perhaps we all can enhance our diversity intelligence by leaning into our discomfort and asking why. Let me know what you think. Click here.