Something I always find amazing is how challenging it can be to “undo.” Simplicity is easier said than done. I think this is why paradigm change is often slow: it’s not just about changing people’s minds but changing process and precedent.
Here is some simplicity:
Respect people for their sexual orientation.
Respect people for their gender identity.
We haven’t achieved either as societal norms. We’ve managed to get respect for people in spite of their sexual orientation (“love the sinner, hate the sin,” “don’t ask, don’t tell”). We are further behind with gender identity. We presume to know better how to identify people than they know how to identify themselves. When I decided to begin identifying with gender-neutral pronouns, many resisted this idea. I don’t push it, but I still prefer it. For me, it’s as simple as, “I don’t want to be identified by the gender binary,” but for others, it might be a complete mindfuck (thinking of a synonym for “mindfuck” is also a mindfuck).
That’s why I think practical education is so important. It’s very easy to know a lot of facts about sexual orientation and gender identity (or any aspect of social justice), but it’s the ability to apply that learning. What does it look like to understand, respect, and accommodate? It’s a lot more challenging in practice.
The University of Vermont just took a big step to accommodate a simple aspect of respect. UVM has implemented new software that allows students to identify a preferred name and pronouns for internal matters without affecting external records. In other words, faculty and staff can see how a person prefers to be referred to around campus without endangering the legal protection or financial aid of that student. It is really quite brilliant, but it was a rigorous process to redesign the software to allow for such an accommodation. For as challenging as the solution might have been, the outcome is a more welcoming environment for trans students. Respect isn’t easy to achieve in practice, but it is always worth pursuing.
Here’s a quick roundup of some other LGBT-advancement efforts from other college campuses in just the past month:
Harvard has endowed a visiting professorship in LGBT studies, the first of its kind.
The San Jose State LGBT Center, which just opened last year, has been bequeathed $1 million dollars.
UC Berkeley has launched the Philip Brett LGBT Fund, an endowed fellowship for graduate LGBT-related research.
North Dakota’s Board of Education banned sexual orientation discrimination at all 11 of ND’s public schools.
Progress is happening all around us, but I think we all need to be proactive about holding people accountable regarding how we treat each other. Respecting and embracing diversity only serves the human experience in a positive way. It might be challenging at times, but who could really object to learning how to better appreciate other people?