Yesterday was a craptastic day in democracy.
I spent the day rushing across town to the capitol (twice) and spent five hours hurry-up-and-waiting to try to testify in support of HB 517. HB 517 is a bill by Celia Israel, intended to stop unprofessional conduct by healthcare providers who inflict conversion “therapy” (torture) on kids.
In the end, I showed up both ten hours too early and ten minutes too late, as the bill which was scheduled for 10:30am was actually heard at 7:45pm, while I was across town casting votes at the AISD School Health Advisory Council meeting. I rushed back to the capitol as soon as the meeting was over, but instead of providing public testimony, I ended up slinking up to the reporter as she was recording testimony comments for the next bill and handing her my stack of printed comments to (hopefully) be submitted to the committee.
At the same time, hateful Senate bills 2485, 2486, 2487, which threaten Non Discrimination Ordinances (NDOs) against LGBTQ people, and HB 2109, an anti-LGBTQ ‘religious exemption’ bill that would allow justices, judges, magistrates, and justices of the peace to refuse to perform marriages based on their “sincerely held religious belief” were also in play.
With so much LGBTQ discrimination happening this session, I often find myself having to cherry-pick which bills I have the most time, energy, and expertise to support or oppose.
That is my straight, cis-gender privilege. (And welcome to Texas.)
This is What Straight Privilege Looks Like.
You see, whereas many of the people giving testimony in defense of LGBTQ rights are members of the LGBTQ community, I am more of an enthusiastic ally. I’m straight and cis-gender, and as far as I know at this point, so are my kids and husband.
In public testimony, you are encouraged to share stories about how the bill in question personally impacts your life. Giving testimony as a straight woman makes me feel somewhere between pretentious and a fraud. I try my best to give voice to my feelings of disgust over the loss of rights of my LGBTQ friends. Yet, my vicarious hurt can’t even scratch the surface of the actual impact these bills have on the lives of the LGBTQ individuals who are being forced to stand up against legislators and “Texas Values” bigots who are dedicated to stripping them of their legal rights and human dignity.
I get to complain because I wasted four hours of my morning for a bill hearing that was delayed. My loss is a late lunch and having to reshuffle some work commitments. Their loss is kids being subjected to electroshock therapy and other physical and emotional torture designed to make them straight or cis-gender. That’s my privilege showing.
I get to complain because there are so many anti-LGBTQ bills in play that it’s overwhelming and confusing….and well, my daughter has an orthodontist appointment, so I’ll see if I can come back later. They stay in over-air-conditioned conference rooms eating over-priced capitol cafe food for 18+ hours sending out social media pleas for people to come register their support/opposition to bills. That’s my privilege showing.
“It only takes a minute – there are kiosks all over the capitol or you can do it from your phone on capitol wifi!”
“Please take a minute to send an email to the members of the committee.”
“Please call your representatives to let them know why this bill is so important to you.”
You may complain that you’re too busy, or that calling people makes you anxious, or you’re afraid you’ll say something wrong and sound stupid.
Your Straight Privilege Is Showing.
Because it’s not your marriage that is becoming illegal. It’s not your health that’s in jeopardy if some doctor uses a religious exemption not to treat you. It’s not your community saying, “oh well, you didn’t want to support that anti-LGBTQ cake-maker anyway.”
Surprise: Being Gay and Being Into Activism Are Not Highly Correlated.
One of the biggest straight-privilege myths is the assumption that all LGBTQ people are born activists and will take care of their own battles because they love to march, protest and wave pride flags at the drop of a hat.
Most LGBTQ people hate conflict as much as you do. They hate driving in traffic to go to the capitol as much as you do. They have as much work to do as you do. Their kids have as many appointments and ball games as yours do. They would prefer to stay home on the couch watching Netflix as much as you do.
In fact, very few of my LGBTQ friends do participate any any kind of activism. I mean, how many times could you look strangers in the eye and try to convince them that you are worthy and have value and rights? The fact that this scenario may be tough for you to even imagine is straight privilege.
And then there are the parents of LGBTQ kids. They are put in the ultimate Catch-22 of being willing to do anything necessary to stand up for their children but often not being able to do anything for fear of their advocacy putting a target on their child.
They don’t have a choice. We do. We need to start choosing to put our straight privilege to good use. You don’t have to jump right to speaking at the capitol. Simply speak up in your day to day life. Be a messenger for the people who don’t have the freedom to speak up. Be a megaphone for the people who are speaking up but who aren’t being heard.
Easy Ways You Can Use Your Straight Privilege
Share a social media post. Call someone out on a homophobic “joke.” Celebrate when LGBTQ supportive bills get passed. Write a letter. Make a call. Join us at Informed Parents of Austin. Follow & sign up for newsletters from Texas Freedom Network, Equality Texas, HRC Austin and Transgender Education Network of Texas. Get Informed. Get Involved. Exercise your privilege.
Warning: one danger of using your straight privilege for good is assuming that all the “good” people in your circle believe the same things that you do and will support your efforts. I have to admit, when I started Informed Parents of Austin, my straight privilege rose-colored-glasses led me to assume, “those anti-LGBTQ people are spreading nonsense and if I just give other straight parents information, they will see that and help defend LGBTQ students.”
Many did. Many didn’t. It unfortunately opened my eyes to prejudice that I didn’t know existed in my community. It resulted in parents of some of my kids’ friends not letting them come to my home anymore.
But more than that, it has let true friends know that our home is a safe place for them and and their families. They know that I value their long-term rights and safety more than my temporary awkwardness or discomfort.
And that is my honor and my privilege.
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