Dear Other Dad,
As a student I have witnessed institutions go to great lengths to suppress LGBTQ creativity in favor of shallow virtue signaling. Most importantly, I have witnessed LGBTQ work be dismissed and not be supported as eagerly as straight work. Witnessing these things has led me to become discouraged with achieving my academic and career goals. It has also led me to develop a bad reputation since I’ve made a habit out of calling this out.
As an LGBTQ student of color, is it worth it to call out the forces that have wronged me? As an LGBTQ professional, how often do you stay quiet / speak up about injustices that you have witnessed or experienced? How do you make peace with an institution that has wronged you?
As someone who is both LGBTQ and a person of color, you’re up against systems premised on the experiences and values of people who differ from you in multiple ways. People who are in the majority are rarely required to examine how they came to see particular content as valuable or certain aesthetics as good. If they’ve received the same instructions handed down across time from other people in the majority, it is easy for them to think that habit equals value. So when you come along and say, “Hey, there’s more to art than what can be shown through a majority lens,” it disrupts how they see — and that’s scary. Pushing back against you is easier than interrogating a whole system.
To answer the question of whether it is “worth it” requires me to ask you how you define that. If you’re asking whether to risk facing consequences, I can’t answer universally; the nature of the possible consequences matters. If you’re in a conservative setting, for instance, and could be kicked out for continuing to challenge the crusade, ask yourself whether that means you lose out on a place you need to be, many thousands of dollars, or your safety at home. If you are in a liberal setting and would face emotional toll only, such as poor relations with some faculty or classmates, that’s a different thing; you’d be considering comfort more than survival. (Not that comfort is anything to sneeze at.)
That said, the “worth it” piece implies that you already understand that it is important and valuable to not let injustices slide. When you ignore bias and harm, it allows the unrepentant perpetrator to repeat the action for the next student and the next. It also removes the possibility that speaking out might change someone’s behaviors or rally others to the cause.
Not knowing your specific situation, I would say two things: ethically, it is always valuable to call out harm; but how you do it should reflect your circumstances. You may find sometimes that simply stating your opinion, in person or in writing, is enough; you need not be confrontational to make your feelings known and to have it on the record. Sometimes it can help to foreground the idea that you know the other parties want to do the right thing, the best thing, and to make clear you want to help them see what they’re missing. That works best when the issue is inadvertent or the person in question simply doesn’t get it.
That may not be enough, though, for someone who is actively homophobic or racist, or who responds to your concerns with dismissal, sarcasm, or retribution. If you’re not feeling heard, consider who is up the food chain from the people you have called out, and report the situation; be clear that you are not doing so lightly. ( If applicable, make sure they know that you have already attempted to solve this.) If this does not yield motion, consider continuing up the ladder. If the issue is not at all muddy — if the person has exhibited clear bias — talk to the Human Resources person tasked with Title IX violations: they are required by law to follow up. You might indeed need to be aggressive, no matter how it is received.
Whatever you can do to document the situation, do it. When an incident happens, write it down immediately as accurately as possible. If others are present, ask them to do the same. (Don’t feed them your version; let them record what they remember.) If your communications with the party involved include emails or texts, save them all, unedited. This helps a lot when outside parties look at the events.
. . .
You should also talk to your community to see who can be allies. Increasing the number of voices helps. I know of an institution that had a faculty member perpetually accused of biased commentary and behavior; even after years of complaints, the school’s equity policies required such a slow and deliberate pace of investigation, it seemed likely that the teacher would have continued access to students for another year. When students banded together to force the issue into the spotlight over the summer, the school and the professor both felt the heat in such a way that the long-delayed ending came sooner and he did not return in the fall.
It is also possible that you may, for whatever reason, feel the best course is to state your opinion clearly and honestly once, then let it go, choosing to care for yourself in other ways and contribute to your community by the very fact of your presence.
As an adult professional, I don’t ever let an injustice slide anymore — but my use of “anymore” tells you that this was not always true. When I was younger, I often called out behavior I saw as wrong, but sometimes I did let things go — mostly if I was afraid of setting off a person who might do more harm or if I felt like a complaint was sure to be ignored. This was a function of my fear and, at times, a measure of my safety. That’s a valid concern: I’ve lost a job for being gay before and have been harassed and threatened over it as well.
One reason I am fearless enough to risk increased ire and lost income alike now is that I have both confidence and security that I didn’t have when I was younger. I can afford emotionally and literally to push back, which means I should; it feels like my responsibility. But there were definitely earlier years where my activism came more from being a good listener to those feeling wounded, making a difference among my peers, and not going away even when my presence was not 100% welcome.
Know that you don’t have to “make peace” with an institution that has wronged you if it doesn’t acknowledge that it has done so. One party can’t strike an accord alone. However, if your school or your classmates or offending professors ever acknowledge the harm that’s been done and offer to do better, be a person who makes growth possible. That’s what making peace should look like.
Whatever you decide to do in the face of these issues, your other goal is to work with the facts of your reality. Capitalize on whatever is valuable from your time there; maximize the positive outcomes that the school’s failings don’t effect. You don’t (and shouldn’t) have to pretend the failures never happened or didn’t hurt you. This is a rule that applies to every situation you will ever be in for the rest of your life: Always seize the good but never feel about calling the bad the bad.
This post was previously published on An Injustice!.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Pexels