At the beginning of the school year, one of the student organizations I belong to held a virtual educational panel about diversity and inclusion to promote acceptance in our community. The presentation was not new to me, and I know that the subjects covered were not new to most other attendees. Still, once the presenter has reached the slide about LGBTQIA+ inclusion, a question popped in the chat from one of the attendees: “I feel uncomfortable around gay people, why is it homophobic?”
The majority of Davis students are well-versed in inclusion, and many feel strongly about protecting the rights of underrepresented students. Unsurprisingly, many participants immediately responded with aggression towards the girl who asked the question, with comments ranging from “you should take the time to educate yourself” to “if you can’t see the problem with that, you are the problem.” While I understand the commotion over the question, surely too many of us who were raised in accepting communities, the question seems inherently flawed. I couldn’t help but feel that we should all take a step back and adjust our points of view.
Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that the question was sincere, not one with malicious intent. Possibly the student grew up in a more conservative environment where the LGBTQIA+ community is less accepted, and her feelings may be rooted in her upbringing. If so, then this was the attempt to educate oneself. After all, the presentation was about inclusion, and it is meant to be a learning moment for those that are less comfortable with the subject matter. Attacking her did not help; it probably shut her and further ground her beliefs in place. It shouldn’t be up to the LGBTQIA+ community to educate the world. But if this person reached out to learn, it would be beneficial to constructively talk to her about her feelings and open her to alternative perspectives. It could’ve been a turning point in this person’s belief system, and if I could go back in time and speak to everyone, I would.
To this girl who asked, and to many more who have this question on their mind, my answer is simple: you can’t control your feelings, but you can control your actions. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable near LGBTQIA+ individuals, you might not be able to immediately change the way you feel, but you mustn’t let this feeling dictate your actions. First, ask yourself why you feel this way: Were you raised in a community that ostracized LGBTQIA+ individuals? Have you had a negative experience with a person from the community? What are some underlying beliefs that you have about the LGTBQIA+ community that might cause you to feel this discomfort? Try to get to the root of your belief system and break it down logically, bit by bit. It may not change how you feel, but at the very least, you will have acknowledged the source of your discomfort—and you can start working on it. Then, next time you have a prejudiced thought, you can catch yourself. Whether we like it or not, we all have unconscious biases, but it is up to us to consciously work on them. Most importantly, do not let your discomfort affect the way you treat LGBTQIA+ people in your life, if you want to be accepting and respectful then treat them with kindness and appreciation the same way you would treat others. If you have an internal critique about their identity, don’t vocalize it. Do not let your discomfort become their burden. Remember that the goal is to be accepting and your biases are for you to work on.
This may seem trivial to some, but it is important to remember that everyone comes from a different background, and we owe much of our acceptance to our upbringing. A change of perspective is a difficult and lengthy process, but people can grow, and we all have our paths to tread.