Monday, December 16, 2013

Can We Make Someone Care about LGBT Issues?

I am just finishing 2 3-year terms on the NEA SOGI committee.  Posting a picture from the meeting on Facebook with the full name of the group, The National Education Association Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification, I received a thought provoking comment.  Essentially it said, "A group of people trying to make themselves feel important sitting around talking about gender?  As far as I know there are only 2, perhaps neuter."  This is a paraphrase.  I deleted the comment without saving it. To the the comment author, a gay man, I sent a note explaining that members of the team, including me, found this "offensive and ill-informed."

The fact that one of the largest unions in the country, dealing with shaping the future of education in the U.S., cares enough to gather a group of allies and LGBT members is a great thing.  I can tell you that the people I worked with there gather not to self-aggrandize, but to push the limits of NEA's support for these issues.  Most of them have multiple leadership roles which make them incredibly important already.  The most important thing they do is teach, and they do it well.

It is easy for those of us who live in progressive states to imagine that the problems for LGBT students are disappearing (though that is quite a leap).  That is not the case in less progressive places. Tennessee's legislature is attempting to ban any discussion by teachers of sexuality that is not heteronormative. It is referred to as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. They also want to require counsellors to report confidential disclosures by students that they are gay or questioning their sexuality to their parents.

What I found ill-informed in the comment was the simplistic view of gender, one I shared for many years.  Working with various groups, attending many conferences,  and most importantly, meeting transgender people, I have a completely different understanding of this issue. Just recently a friend share the story of an uncle who was born inter-sex and was assigned male gender at birth. He lived his life as a man for 62 years. Then the estrogen kicked in. Losing all body hair and developing breasts, doctors discovered that she has complete female "plumbing" and is now living life as a woman.

For LGBT gender nonconforming students the statistics for the abuse abuse from their peers is clear.  More frightening is that more than half of theres abuses are reported to adults and only half of those reports result in any action against their abusers.

In offline discussion with the comment poster mentioned above he made the statement, "You can't make people care."  In my experience that is true with most strangers to whom I speak.  But when I speak to people who already care about me it's a different story.  You can make someone who cares about you, care about the issues that affect you.

In my work with Believe Out Loud workshops, a program supported by Integrity USA, the Episcopalian LGBT advocacy group, and it's grantors, we focus on this point.  LGBTQI folks need to tell their stories to the people that care about them.  This is now change occurs.

If you or someone you know is not "out," this year, consider giving or suggesting they give an amazing gift this Christmas. Give the gift of the real you.

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