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Honey, Don’t Forget To Educate The Straight People

by Julie R. Enszer

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday September 20, 2008

Let's be honest, we're not going to be guaranteed equal rights under the law, until we convince heterosexual people to stand beside us. While elected officials may be the key to getting our rights, more and more it becomes clear that politicians will not act without the majority of people behind them.

Some polls demonstrate that the majority of people support some forms of equal rights for gay and lesbian people, but this support crumbles under pressure. We need to stop that. We need straight people to support gay rights, unequivocally and without reserve.

In order for that to happen, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community need to educate, cajole, and, eventually, demand that heterosexual people support our quest for equality.

To achieve that objective, we need to refocus our social change work to speak to and persuade not only our own GLBT community but also heterosexual people. We need heterosexual people, not all of them, but a large minority, to embrace queer rights. How will we do this?

One way to begin is by telling our stories and engaging heterosexual people in our lives. Engagement is more than simply telling people that we are gay. As a community we need to move the focus away from the hyper-energized "coming out" moment.

For many of us now and for most of us in the future, being gay or lesbian is not something that we are going to hide-a fact which in itself diminishes the significance of coming out. As a result for our heterosexual counterparts, instead of reacting to this hyper-energized coming out moment, they will need to respond to openly gay and lesbian people in a wide variety of circumstances-at home, at work, and in the communities. These interactions in which gay and lesbian people do not hide their sexual orientation and in which there is no heightened moment of disclosure, heterosexual people and gay and lesbian people will be much more human and authentic than in previously constituted "coming out" moments.

Coming out is no longer enough. We must move beyond coming out to helping heterosexual people to know not only that we are gay, but what it means to be gay as well as lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. We need heterosexual people to understand what our lives our like. We need them to understand that we must have the support of the institutions of our society in order to have full equality.

Fortunately, this isn't difficult. We live and interact with heterosexual people every day.

Our greatest ally for this in the past has been popular entertainment. Intentionally or unwittingly, the presence of gay and lesbian people and our stories on television and in the movies has created a more intimate understanding of gay and lesbian people by our heterosexual counterparts.

In spite of this success in the entertainment media, we need more visibility of gay and lesbian people in ordinary and mundane situations. People need the lived experience of knowing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in addition to the celluloid experience of watching GLBT people on the large and small screens.

Collectively, we can create a circumstance where heterosexual people cannot "change the channel" or boycott or ignore the everyday realities of gay and lesbian people in their, or rather our, communities and neighborhoods. We do that by being open, by not focusing on particular "coming out moments," and by living our lives honestly, openly, and authentically.

When we do that, heterosexual people will know us and, eventually, will support us. When we share more of our lives and our issues on a daily basis in comfortable, ordinary, and everyday ways, we will win meaningful and long-term support from heterosexual people.

In addition to our individual actions, we need our organizations to speak to everyone - not just the GLBT communities. The combined action of organized campaigns and individual action is how we will change the people's hearts and minds. Ultimately, this works well to embolden lawmakers to take the actions we require.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer based in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.