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Whispers of Change

January 25, 2012

A few days ago, my university made a small change to it’s equal employment opportunity statement. It was “Furthermore, we will maintain a work environment free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

It may seem like a small change to those of you living in more progressive parts of the country. But for those of us who have been working for this change, it is a huge step forward for this traditionally conservative university. Many years ago, this effort lead to a similar statement being added to the non-discrimination policy for students.  Much like this time, the change was made quietly and the word of it was spread by the local GLBT community. There was a concern that if the university made too big of a deal about the change, that certain groups would cause problems. Given the climate of the university in the past few years, it is quite possible that those certain groups will have their say sometime in the next few weeks.

You would think that such a simple statement of equality would be no big deal. But these are the same people who think that two guys holding hands are shoving their homosexuality down the throats of straight people. The same people who believe  that having a GLBT resource center on campus is some how giving the GLBT community some special privilege. The same people who don’t understand that being assumed to be straight is the privilege.

I know quite intimately just how much that privilege means. I know the privilege of being assumed to be straight every day, and up until a few days ago, the fear of being fired for not being the default. I have mentioned before just how lucky I feel to be working in such an open minded environment. But even there, the fear still lingered. Would the new department head to be more conservative then the last? What would happen if my boss retired? Would my efforts to participate in GLBT Awareness week and Coming Out week end in me being fired a week later?

Most days, I pass as straight. I talk about my husband with my coworkers, and if I decided to show up to work dressed in more traditionally masculine clothing, most people wouldn’t even notice a difference from how I normally dress. I know that there are others on this campus who aren’t quite as lucky, though. I am all too aware that if I had fallen for someone else, I might not be so lucky either.

In the same way that feminism requires male feminist participation, changes like this could not have happened without straight allies. The university administrators who helped make this change happen did not shout it from the rooftops. But they made their voices heard. For so long, just a whisper of homosexuality could end many a career. It’s nice for the whispers to be positive for a change.

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