As a white millennial female in the U.S., I grew up with many privileges, whether I knew it or not at the time. Being apart of the visible majority of the U.S. and now being aware of this fact, I question how I can disrupt the somehow perpetuating cycle of discrimination, how can I better enable a warmer climate on campus and in the classroom? With the current events, it is hard not to be aware of these visible injustices in our nation and on our campuses. Here, in this blog however, I wish to push this concept further. How many folks are aware of straight privilege? How can we help students with invisible minorities, specifically sexual orientation?
I am an out and proud gay woman, but I am infrequently loud about LGB issues. I grew up and have spent the vast majority of my life in liberal-leaning supportive communities. I look “straight” and have mastered “don’t ask, don’t tell” professionally. It was not until graduate school that I struggled with the issue of “coming out” to colleagues and professors. It was not until last week that I was ever called faggot. It was that incident that prompted me to write this post, questioning how many folks are cognizant of these microaggressions on campus and elsewhere.
Despite being a member of the LGB community, prior to writing a paper for a pedagogy class, I was naive. I assumed in the U.S. today that the majority of the LGB community had similar experiences to myself. I had little knowledge of the extent of discrimination of sexual-minoritized people. Last spring semester, I stepped out of my comfort zone and wrote a paper for a pedagogy class entitled “Straight until proven gay: Concerns with ‘coming out’ and challenges LGB people face in higher education.” I read stories of discrimination ranging from small snide remarks in the residence halls to being overlooked for a promotion (or simply not getting hired) to physical beatings. While researching for the paper, I came across a 2014 survey, which reported of the LGB STEM faculty surveyed, 30% reported feeling isolated and 40% reported being deliberately ignored. If that proportion of faculty feel this way, I cannot imagine how many students do. Another study reported that even ambient forms of harassment have led to increased levels of anxiety and depression, decreased relations with instructors and decreased feelings of social acceptance for college students.
In the words of Paulo Freire, “. . .the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.” As a member of the LGB community I need to better take action and “enter in dialogue.” As a member of the LGB community, I ask for you to fight at my side: speak up when you hear homophobic slurs, don’t assume straightness and use gender neutral words when inquiring about someone’s significant other, and even ask questions to become more informed.
Short article on straight privilege: http://www.cs.earlham.edu/~hyrax/personal/files/student_res/straightprivilege.htm