Reflecting on Orlando and What It Means to Be an Ally

Thank you so much Clare Forstie & Melanie Race for coordinating the conversation at the Multicultural Family Center tonight. What happened in Orlando feels too big to talk about. I will never make sense of it.

All I can do is reflect on how to respond in a way that will not widen the rift.

Someone brought up in the meeting the importance of clarifying the definition of allies. I consider all of my friends on Facebook to be allies, and all of the people I haven’t met yet–potential allies. I think part of being an ally is understanding (or being open to listening to) the experiences LGBT+ folks face at some point in their lives, and empathizing. As a librarian, I love questions. Even the really really stupid questions (when asked sincerely), because I too, have asked really really stupid questions in the past. So if anything–you asking me a stupid question will forge an even closer bond of similarities between us. What I’m trying to say is, I’m happy to share my experiences.

Here is my experience so far in Dubuque:
I’ve felt safe here so far (compared to the South, where I couldn’t safely hold my then-wife’s hand in most public places). However, as a white, somewhat-feminine lesbian who can pass for a straight person, I was also reminded tonight of my privilege that allows me to feel more safe than many others in the LGBT community. And yet even in my somewhat-sheltered existence, I had also–on many occasions in the past–not corrected people when they assumed I was straight if I felt unsafe around them. Molly Menster highlighted in one of her ally trainings, coming out is not something we do once. It’s something we do every day–sometimes multiple times a day. Especially when you have a ring on your finger (I can’t tell you how many times I had people ask me about my husband when I had a wedding ring on). That’s one decision we have to make every day, and it gets easier, but it can also wear a person down I think.

Dubuque has been a place of healing for me, but I’m still working to counteract negative thinking patterns that have become deeply rooted in my mind as a way to cope with being bullied and rejected, as far back as middle school, for not conforming to traditional gender norms (and feeling all-around different before I realized the difference was that I was gay). Reinforcing traditional gender roles, and rejecting someone because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or sexual identity is mentally destructive. It hurts my head.

Right now I don’t feel safe going to a large LGBT gathering, but I’m going to keep showing up anyways because it’s cathartic to be around others who’ve shared our experiences (good and bad). I’ll keep posting LGBT social group meetups. And I’m going to work even harder–with deeper convictions–to project positivity and light into the community (LGBT and straight). I think the best way for me personally to create change is on a one-on-one basis by further embedding into the community of Dubuque and setting a positive example and being open about who I am so more people will know an openly gay person.

I can’t understand the extent of suffering in Orlando. As someone said at the meeting tonight, the victims are our family. As such, I’m deeply saddened, and I put light around them in my heart.

 

Thank you to everyone at Inclusive Dubuque and other organizations here that are working to make Dubuque a place we can be proud to call home. 

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