Dismantling Heterosexual Privilege
I initially published this article in the forums over a year ago and recently redrafted it for another venue. So I'm posting it again. I feel even more strongly today that we in the LGBT community have missed the mark in not helping our allies understand the damage heterosexual privilege does to all:
DISMANTLING HETEROSEXUAL PRIVILEGE
It's been some 40 to 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement made its mark on our country, and we're still at the beginnings of understanding white skin privilege. My guess would be that the vast majority of well meaning white folks would deny the very existence of white skin privilege, but their denial doesn't change the fact that it exists and that even the best of us benefit from it. In March, 2009, almost a thousand people traveled to Memphis to attend the White Privilege Conference. It was the first time the conference had been held in the South. It had a powerful impact on those who attended.
All of this leads me to wonder how long it will take to dismantle heterosexual privilege. Two years ago in Des Moines at the Catholic Worker gathering, I gave a workshop on "Heterosexism and the Catholic Worker Movement." I was amazed that somewhere between 50-60 folks attended; the vast majority saying that they didn't know what heterosexism meant. The discussion was, for the most part, lively and healing. The Des Moines Catholic Worker printed an article on the workshop, which I believe may have been the first time a CW newspaper had addressed the issue of gays within the CW.
When I returned home, I wrote my former pastor, Michael, a note about the workshop. He had always been very supportive of LGBTs, and his brother is gay, so I was shocked when he wrote back to me asking me what I meant by "heterosexism." That Sunday at church, I spoke with another straight ally, kind of chuckling about Michael's ignorance and she said to me , "even though I have spent a lot of time with gay people, I'm afraid I don't understand either. "Since then, I've found myself thinking that we LGBTs have really failed in helping our straight allies in understanding how heterosexism works.
Two examples of heterosexism that I gave at the workshop, I believe, will help people understand how heterosexual privilege works. The first happened back in 2000, when Soulforce organized its first large denominational protest at the United Methodist Conference in Cleveland. Jimmy Creech, a former Methodist minister who had been defrocked for performing same gender marriages was one of our major heroes. We had been invited to meet with some of the Methodist Bishops and put together a list of demands. One of them was the reinstatement of Jimmy Creech, and a request to send him to California where he would be a welcome asset to the Conference there. Jimmy wasn't present when we were putting together these demands. The next morning he addressed our gathering asking us to remove that demand, because he couldn't, in all conscience, rely on his heterosexual privilege and be reinstated until every LGBT who had been denied ordination, or removed from the UMC, was also invited back. Everyone was shocked. It hadn't occurred to any of us that Jimmy's being reinstated without the reinstatement of others who were LGBT would be a matter of supporting heterosexual privilege.
The second example happened just a few weeks prior to the gathering in Des Moines. At our parish, we baptize the babies in groups of 5 -7 families at our 9:30 am Family Mass. For the first time in my memory, they actually had a gay couple's baby being baptized and introduced the couple saying they'd been together for 7 years. For all of us who were gay and lesbian, it was an amazing moment, and almost all of us cried tears of joy. As we were having coffee upstairs, I talked about the experience with my straight friends. None of them got the significance of what had just happened. For 18 years, I'd sat and watched the baptisms, wondering if ever, I would see a gay or lesbian couple publicly have their baby baptized. I explained to my straight friends how they could always assume that their child would be baptized, but for the vast majority of gays and lesbians, we could never make such an assumption. The very fact that heterosexuals don't comprehend what heterosexism is, is I suspect, a precise definition of heterosexism.
One of the other ways I personally experience heterosexual privilege is when I communicate with a number of my straight friends and family, there is this unstated rule. We'll enjoy each others communications and company, as long as I don't mention ANYTHING about my being a lesbian. When I do, there is absolute silence. Not by all my straight friends and family, but by significant numbers. Those who have close friends or family who are gay, for the most part don't have a problem with this. It is those who think they don't know any gays, and in their own hearts still believe there's something "not quite right," about being gay who silently demand it not be acknowledged nor discussed.
No one, who takes their faith seriously, wants to think of themselves as a supremacist of any kind. But the reality is that people's biases are such that they have not as yet reached the place that they understand the concept of heterosexual privilege, and many aren't willing to examine these issues. Our job, it seems to me, is to first help our allies understand this concept and from a place of love, begin the process of dismantling this privilege, so as to build a world of justice and equality.
Last edited by kara speltz; 01-11-2010 at 04:14 PM.
Reason: grammatical error