With inclusivity, it’s the little things

Sometimes it’s the littlest gestures that mean the most.

I’m proud to work at one of the most LGBT-friendly colleges in the country. Because of this, colleagues frequently ask what we do to be so inclusive. It’s the little things.

Today, during an Orientation workshop, I was reminded of one of the little things we do so well. In meeting students at Orientation, we use the following dialogue:

“Hi, my name is Jason. I’m one of the Orientation advisors and I use he, him, his gender pronouns.”

We don’t do it once. We do it all of the time.

We don’t do it with just new students. We do it with all students.

This isn’t an introduction but a continued dialogue.

Let your students share their chosen name and prefered gender pronouns. Don’t make it a big deal. Just make it a normalized behavior.

Sure, it might feel funny to you to say something that might be obvious if you’re a cis-gendered individual… but for those who identify as trans, gender queer or non-gender normative, it gives them an opportunity to proclaim who they are in a safe and non-threatening way.

Besides, knowing someone’s prefered gender pronoun is far more helpful to know than what their favorite ice cream is or their favorite Disney movie or their spirit animal.

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With inclusivity, it’s the little things

Of Fred Phelps, death and the grey

Fred Phelps is dead and countless people on Facebook and Twitter are celebrating the death of a man that has caused infinite pain to other human beings.
I get it. I do.

Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church harassed and disrupted the minds of many members of the LGBT community, not to mention allies, friends, families, veterans, etc. How many impressionable teenagers were forced to doubt who they are because of this man and the message he brought? How many young people attempted suicide because of his words? How many young people succeeded?

But I don’t celebrate his death.
I understand the anger among our community, but there is no joy in death. This is that grey area, that non-black and white moment where you feel conflicted and it’s okay to feel that way.

A friend of mine is living his last weeks in hospice care, battling a long fight with colon cancer. His sister has been blogging his fight with cancer. This week, she posted the most amazing thing –

As your time together draws to a close, remember that even though there is great sadness and difficulty in loss, you’re giving your loved one a great gift by accompanying him or her on such an important journey. 
Matt isn’t alone as he closes this chapter.
His loved ones are with him. We may be separated by miles, but there are many with him.

I can only imagine how alone Phelps was in his last moments. Intense loneliness. Confusion. Anger. Doubt.
This is a man who was not surrounded by love.

For the LGBT community and our allies, there is nothing here to celebrate. This is a time of mourning for the additional lives that were lost. This is a time of remembrance for all of us who have been impacted by Phelp’s legacy. This is a time of love and compassion for each other and the struggles we all endure.

When my time comes, I want to be surrounded by love.
Phelps, not experiencing love, is reaping his rewards.
Of Fred Phelps, death and the grey

On movement and movements

This afternoon, a federal judge in Texas ruled the ban against same-sex marriage in Texas is unconstitutional.

As someone who lived in Texas for a long time, I should be glad. As someone who has been vocal about marriage equality for more than a decade, I should be ecstatic. There is movement within gaining LGBT rights. But my views on equality are evolving.

It’s a weird thing, really. When I moved to Massachusetts, I knew I could be legally married in the eyes of the state. It was thrilling and empowering. As a gay man, I suddenly had rights that had been long denied to me.

In the last few months, state after state has decreed their same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional. After all, giving civil rights and liberties should never be voted on by the masses. That’s why they’re civil rights and liberties. They’re in place to give protection to those who need it.

But with this, I find myself a bit sad. A bit overwhelmed.
Why?

Because there is more work to be done. Marriage equality is an easy thing to fight for because it’s lovely and pretty and sweet. There is more important work to be done with LGBT issues.

29 states do not have workplace protection for LGBT people.
Only 17 states offer workplace protection for gender identity.
90% of trans-people report experiencing discrimination or harassment on the job with no legal recourse.
It is illegal for same-sex couples to adopt children in 27 states.
Only two states allow for same-sex conjugal visits in prison.
29 states offer no protection from housing discrimination for LGBT people.
19% of trans-people have been denied the right to rent or own a home/apartment because of their identity.
11% of trans-people have been evicted because of their identity.

What is happening today in Arizona with SB1062 is a sign that there is much work left to be done. As written, the bill makes it legal to refuse service to members of the LGBT community.  In a way, I’m glad this bill has been brought up. It exposes the lack of rights within the LGBT community, rights that extend far beyond marriage equality.

There is much work to be done.
Texas may be the final nail in the coffin for marriage equality. When Texas goes, other states will follow. But this is the beginning. I hope others realize the fight for equality has just begun. The movement has just begun.

On movement and movements

An impostor no longer

True story – I’ve been hesitant to write for the better part of two months.

Two months ago, I wrote a blog post about how I have struggled for 20 years with anorexia. The comments came pouring in over email, facebook, twitter, text message and on this very blog. While the majority were supportive and encouraging, there were a few internet trolls who snuck in with awesome comments like:

“Real men don’t have anorexia.”

“I hope you starve to death, fag.”

Its fine. Those were most likely random internet trolls who stumbled across the blog. But then came the anon trolls who clearly knew me and followed me on twitter or facebook:

“So, your status about eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerrys was a lie?”

“Just another desperate grab for retweets.”

And suddenly, my voice was gone. The positive comments didn’t matter. I couldn’t write any more. Someone who knew me was trolling me. Was it worth the message? At that point, I decided no. It wasn’t worth it.

I gave it another try on National Coming Out Day with the reasons why I don’t celebrate the “holiday.” And again, internet rolls reared their ugly heads and my decision to stop writing was cemented.

But something happened in the last week. I went to a conference and attended a session based on the book Lean In. While the lessons are geared to women, I couldn’t help but be moved by the idea of Impostor Syndrome. I couldn’t internalize my own worth or accomplishments. I couldn’t get lack of worth out of my head because of this impostor syndrome. I was hesitant to take the lead on a project at work concerning masculinity and leadership because of these internet troll voices in my head.

But by putting words to what I was feeling, I found a way to get over it. I had to get out of my head space and start being me again.

So take that, internet trolls. I’m here and I’m ready to take you on. Let’s get writing again.

An impostor no longer

Why I don’t celebrate National Coming Out Day

I’ve been annoyed all day by the concept of “National Coming Out Day” and I couldn’t put into words why it bothers me… Thanks to a twitter conversation with the clever and lovely @Neil_McNeil, I’ve got it.

People come out in their own time, in their own ways.
Coming out isn’t easy. To cheer “Come out, come out, wherever you are!” is a slap to those in situations where they can’t come out.

To assume it just takes bravery to come out is false. It takes financial security, housing security, and civic safety.

Every day, LGBT youth are disowned and left homeless because they’re queer.

Every day, LGBT people are victimized because of who they are.

Every day, LGBT people are fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartments for simply being gay.

There are so many reasons why someone wouldn’t come out.

I wish we treated National Coming Out Dayas an awareness day, where we could educate others about the rights denied to LGBT people and how far we have to go. It’s scary enough to come out. Don’t drag people out of the closet… because it needs to happen in their own time, in their own way.

 

Why I don’t celebrate National Coming Out Day

Born This Way

It’s nice working at a college where we don’t fear the results of the annual Princeton Review.

When I worked at a large SEC institution, we dreaded the results. There would inevitably be some reference to binge drinking, promiscuous sex and a guaranteed top 10 finish in Best Party Schools. We’d then be forced to beef up our programming efforts in a belief that would change the results for the next year. It never worked.

Life at Emerson is different. For the second time in as many years, we’ve been named the most LGBT friendly college in the country.

What is interesting is you won’t find administrators waiting for the ranking, nor will you find an official response to it. It’s not that we don’t care. We were just born this way.

I know… that’s a silly response, but it’s true. While we’re incredibly proud of this title, it’s not something we set out to achieve. Our goal is to be as accepting and caring to every student as possible, to treat each student with the respect and dignity they deserve, to embrace the identity of every student. This filters down to the hiring of faculty and staff, to the policies and procedures that govern us and the admission of students. We don’t try… we just do.

We don’t have a dirge of LGBT-focused programming. Our LGBT student group, while strong, isn’t a force on campus as compared to other orgs.

What we have is a group of students, faculty and staff who care. We integrate LGBT issues into classes, programs and events. We seek out ways to be inclusive and accepting. We embrace all of our populations. From the beginning of a student’s career in the Admissions Office to the eventual step of becoming a part of Alumni Relations, this is a priority – not because it makes us buzz-worthy, but because its the right thing to do.

Seven years ago, at the SEC school earlier referenced, the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs told me I acted too gay and I needed to tone my gay down so I wouldn’t offend the normal students. It was humiliating and devastating.

Today I hold my head up with immense pride… pride that I call an institution home that embraces all students, that respects human worth and fights to spread this message. Even if we don’t brag about it.

Born This Way

Leveraging your voice

On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 27, 2011, I watched in horror from Boston as my former home and community in Alabama was torn asunder from a devastating string of tornadoes that cleared a path from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham, winds reaching over 190 mph. As my friends picked through the rubble and helped a community rebuild, I toiled from afar, safe in my apartment in Beacon Hill. I was desperate to assist.

From home, I tweeted this: “Frustrated that I’m not in Alabama doing something. I hate this feeling.”

That’s when a friend in Birmingham called me out on Twitter – “You have over 1000 Facebook friends and 500 Twitter followers. Do something.”

It was a shock to my system. I was embarrassed to not think of this, to not use my voice to help tell a story. I was a self-professed social media fanatic. Why didn’t this dawn on me? It was the first time I was conscious of having a voice and having the ability to use it in a positive way.

Today, I was conscious of it. It started with a Facebook status.

FacebookStatus

I expected to get some likes and some comments. I thought it would stir the pot a bit and would get a rise out of some people. All in all, it was an honest statement and I was interested in seeing what came from it.

Truth? I didn’t expect what came next… I didn’t expect to hear dozens of stories from friends and family members, colleagues and students from all across the country.

Status4

Status5

Status3

Status2

I could keep going, but you get the point.

I watched these statuses tag me over the course of the day. It was a beautiful thing to see my simple status come to life. I’m thankful to have so many thoughtful friends who tell their stories to their own friends and family.

While the visibility of the HR sign is nice and makes you feel like an ally, changing your profile picture won’t actually change anything. Taking action, writing your legislators, working in your community, telling your story is far more important than a two-click profile pic change. Take a few minutes, be intentional and actually do something.

Leveraging your voice