If you would have told me 30 years ago that I would become an LGBT advocate, I would have probably had a hissy fit (that’s southern for temper tantrum). Born and raised in the deep south, I really didn’t have exposure to the topic of sexual orientation until many years later. In fact, my PawPaw was a southern baptist preacher and if playing cards or wearing shorts on Sunday was a sin, you can only imagine what he might have said about gays and lesbians.
In the early ’90’s I attended a dinner in D.C. during the Gay Pride celebration and all I can say is… OMG. Imagine a sheltered little lady like me seeing openly gay people for the first time… (gasp!) and seeing people who looked like women going into the men’s bathroom and vice versa (gulp!). Let’s just say it scared the living bejeebies out of me (that’s a southern euphemism for shit). Was being gay contagious?!
So how did I go from being so sheltered and ignorant to becoming an LGBT advocate? Simple: I became educated. I’m not talking about a university degree, I’m talking about coming to understand some of the many issues that bombard members of the LGBT community every day. Learning about life from their perspective changed my thinking. As someone who tries to live charitably and without judgement, I realized that this community needed as many advocates as possible.
Here are just a few of issues the LGBT community struggle against:
- Coming Out: Can you imagine how terrifying it might be to “come out” to your family and friends and the fear of rejection? As an advocate, I often ask those in judgement, “Why would anyone choose a life filled with judgement, condemnation and discrimination? That’s the point, they aren’t choosing to be gay; rather they are choosing to accept who they truly are!” Or, “How would you feel is this was your son or daughter? Would you condemn them to hell and turn a cold, unloving shoulder?” Believe it or not, many parents do just that and this alienation from the people closest to them is one of the reasons why LGBT suicide is four times higher among the youth in this group. Is death of a child better than acceptance of a sexual orientation different from your own?
- Marriage: Many LGBT couples have been in committed relationships longer than I’ve been married. Why shouldn’t they be entitled to marry? Marriage is a right of law, not a right of religion. Which brings me to this big topic…
- Religion/Faith: How many religious communities ostracize the LGBT community? After all my years as a diversity practitioner, I stand firm in my belief that the inequalities faced by the LGBT community reside primarily on the throne of religious beliefs. A pity too, since I’m sure God does not belong exclusively to the heterosexual community.
- Workplace Issues: Since the LGBT community is lacking federal protections offered to other protected classes such as race, color, religion, national origin, age, etc., this allows for differential treatment — aka lack of equality in the workplace. Fear of workplace is discrimination is one of the reasons why LGBT members “stay in the closet.” What would it feel like if you left part of yourself home everyday when you went to work day after day, month after month, year after year?
Then there’s parenting, hate crimes, and the fact that so many aging LGBT couples are separated from each other in hospital and hospice environments where only “next of kin” are allowed. Imagine the pain, if you can, of not being able to see your sick or dying life partner — to hold him or her one last time and say goodbye. This is a regular occurrence amongst aging members of the LGBT community in states where gay marriage is not allowed.
I worked as a diversity practitioner for more than a decade in corporate America and was privileged to learn about the LGBT community from conferences, classes and most importantly from the LGBT community. In fact, it was my job to be an expert on LGBT issues and my former company paid for me to learn as much as I could on this and other inclusion and diversity issues.
Here’s my bottom line: every one deserves equal treatment; every one deserves equal access — without prejudice of personal opinion, religious belief or external influences.
Suspend your judgement and just see people for who they are — human, just like the rest of us. Desiring love, affection, respect and the chance to be their authentic selves.
Sheila Callaham is an author, speaker and success coach. Her work of crime fiction, Truth Runs Deep, explores issues of religious and sexual intolerance in a fast-paced, suspense-filled mystery.
Image found here.