In this aftermath of the nation’s worst deadly shooting, people want to help. Its what we do. And, really, it may be what we do best. Watch what happens after a hurricane and you will see it. Neighbors who have never spoken before are assisting each other with sawing limbs and moving debris. Americans really are here for each other when the call goes out. I believe that.
In the days, weeks and months that follow, a lot is going to happen. Every possible “angle” of this story is going to be covered in great detail. Some of it is going to be challenging, angering and wearying. Knowing this and knowing people want to help, there ARE things people can do to help and CONTINUE helping the LGBT community, in no particular order:
1.) Join groups that support LGBT people. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Stop-homophobia.com and Equality Florida and GLAAD will keep you up-to-date on things important to our community. Maybe your work has a diversity committee. Think about doing a stint as a volunteer. If you want to get deeper involved, join one in the community and help with day to day events and operations.
2.) Listen to the words of LGBT people. If we say something is offensive, believe us. Help us bring positive change to whatever that is. Any minority group defines for themselves what is offensive. I can’t tell an Asian person what is or isn’t offensive to them, but if they tell me it’s offensive to call them “Oriental,” then guess what? I won’t. (BTW, rugs are “Oriental,” people aren’t)
3.) Show daily care and concern for LGBT friends and family. Just the little stuff. The small talk. Ask about their family. Ask how their spouse is doing. Have genuine interest in their life. How did you meet? Where did you get married? What’s (spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend) think about that? What’s he or she do? In other words, just think of how you interact with your straight friends regarding their family. Do that. Some of us had to travel many states away to get married legally. Some waited YEARS to be able to do that. Realize that LGBT people have the same things going on in their life as you do yours, and yet, are often invisible when the conversation turns to family, as if people think its “polite” to just not mention it. That’s not polite. DO mention it. Just be normal. I have a family! I have a beautiful wife! I have a great relationship! We have kids! We do stuff! We have jobs! Have interest in me the same way you have interest in someone else you just met.
4.) Don’t assume everyone is straight all the time. Realize that some people who are gay are not partnered or even dating anyone. For those people, it’s a little awkward to even “out” themselves on a continual basis. Those of us with a same-sex spouse, it’s easy. I can merely tell someone I have a wife when conversation seems to allow it. Boom, done, they know I’m gay. But if I am not dating anyone, then what? Am I supposed to just come up and announce, “Hi guys: I’m gay.” This gets back to having genuine concern for people and genuine interest in people and being a generally safe person for them to open up to. When I was a school nurse, one of the teachers came into the clinic and began talking about a health problem of her wife. I had no idea she was gay. But she felt “safe” talking to me, knowing I was “family.” Become a person that gay people around you KNOW is safe. You might be surprised who around you is gay.
I have learned to just “shut down” when I feel like I am around people who don’t care.
5.) Realize that our “outing,” IS a continual life-long process, not a one-time event. I “out” myself everytime I hold my wife’s hand in public and invariably someone does a double-take. Straight people “out” themselves as straight the minute they mention their spouse, their engagement, their comings and goings in life and the near continual commentary on members of the opposite sex. For us, it’s a constant decision of if and when.
Just this week I had to correct one man (a future pasture landlord), on the fact that “no, I don’t have a husband, I have a wife” and then hope that his response to that was going to be ok. There was another instance last week where I was talking to two men, also about my pasture, and I did NOT correct them when they kept mentioning my husband. It felt weird at that moment. My wife is a guitar-playing software developer, so I guess that sounds man-like, combined with the fact that people default their brains to “everyone is straight.” So, you can help by being one of the people who is open, kind, and accepting. If you are using gay slurs in conversation. laughing at transgender people, or attending churches that are known to be anti-gay in their stance, then you are not a person that feels real “safe.” Even if you think you are.
6.) Know your church’s stances. The church has been the area of one of our greatest sources of pain. Not only fighting for our basic equalities, but not being able to attend, or marry in the churches of our childhood, is painful. I was once sent an email from a pastor telling me that “No, you WOULDN’T be welcome here.” It was a very popular church that had programs I thought my kids would like. I was very distraught to get that email. Shocked, really. I had TAUGHT Sunday School many years ago when I was just a college student. I lived in a cul-de-sac with other families for goodness sakes.
Know what your church believes, on paper and in practice. Many of them have been fighting us at every turn for every dignity we have grasped onto.
I would personally not give my time and money to a place that was not fully inclusive of LGBT people, meaning allowing us to attend, marry and even serve as ministers. The Episcopals do that. If you need time to reconcile your faith with gayness, there are plenty of resources to help you.
And anyone reading this who is not “out” or who has been unable to reconcile their faith with their own gayness: Research shows that people who are out are more mentally healthy than those who aren’t. And the MORE people they are out to (work groups, family groups, and just society at large), the MORE mentally healthy they are. The stifling of yourself creates a schism in the person that in some cases, drives on to suicide, or as we can see, even homicide. Get help to help you get out.
7.) Stop homophobic language in your children. It’s just not ok for kids to use words like “faggot.” Please treat it like that when you hear it out of the mouths of your own children. It was a favorite up and down the middle school hallway. I remember being called a “f-ing dyke” as far back as high school and I have never forgotten it.
8.) Donate money to organizations like Equality Florida. There are legal fights that are costly. Our community has had to fight tooth and nail for adoption, marriage, and even anti-discrimination as to not lose jobs. It takes money.
9.) Ask candidates where they stand on LGBT issues and know that it matters. Our next Supreme Court Justice is important, for instance. We have people who have vowed their life and all their resources to fight gay marriage for the rest of history. We need to insure they cannot turn back the clock.
10.) Champion your children that are LGBT. They are beautiful, vibrant souls who can live a life of joy and love with a mate they are suitable with for the rest of their lives if they so choose. Or they can be single, rambling roses, who sprinkle their fragrance everywhere they go, making the world a better place. Not for one minute ever deter a child who is gay from being who they are.
In the immediate aftermath of this horrific event, there are a LOT more things people can do like donate water, blood, supplies, or join a human chain to protect the funerals of victims. Support law enforcement and medical workers with gifts of meals and tokens of appreciation. Reach out to our Muslim friends to let them know THEY TOO are loved and valued. We ARE in this together and the best way to do that is to understand each other’s concerns.
Thank you to all my friends and family who have been beside me through the radical changes in my life and supportive of my very gay household.