May 17 was the International Day Against Homophobia. As a diversity professional for the majority of my professional career, I hold memories of myself as being open and affirming. Some of my best friends are gay or lesbian, and I couldn't imagine having negative attitudes or feelings toward them simply because of their group identity. As a psychologist, I explored my own psychosexual journey and had been privy to countless individuals' psychosexual story and knew that same-sex attraction and affection were probably more the norm than most people would care to believe. I have taught classes and workshops on the sexual orientation resolution process; I studied the Kinsey Report; I know the current sexual orientation scholarship and understand the relationship of sexual orientation to gender; and I have read the research literature on sexual fluidity. I am so enlightened that some of my gay friends tell me I know more about the subject than they do. Yet I am a recovering homophobe.
In graduate school in the mid-1980s, I took a course entitled, "Counseling the Culturally Different." The title of the course should already be a signal to you that diversity scholarship had a long way to go in the 1980s, because everyone who was not a White, European-American, middle-class male was considered "culturally different." The approach to the course content followed a culturally specific model, with a menu of those who were different as the focus of each week's lecture. We spent two weeks on gays and lesbians, because they were considered very different. A major portion of our grade was determined by the insights that we shared in a two-page reflection paper.
While preparing my prior home for sale and to downsize to a condo, I decided it was really okay to get rid of the boxes of notes and papers from graduate school. After 20 years, I wasn't going to need those notes, and besides, there were new tools like Google and Wikipedia now if I needed some good reference materials. Paging through the notebooks, I paused when I found my reflection papers and took the time to read my paper on homosexuality. I was prepared to read all the wonderful insights that I possessed during a time when I was immersed in daily intellectual rigor and was shocked to find, in my own writing, a rigidity of views and ideas that frighteningly sounded like people who were... yes, I have to admit, homophobic (yikes!). I even wrote quite eloquently about allowing for respect of the gay individual as a human being while acknowledging the atypical and often disordered emotional behaviors. I sat embarrassed and in disbelief. Did I really write that garbage? I would have had gay and lesbian friends at that time and began to wonder about all the ways this homophobia oozed out of me. I am sure that it must have, and to all of my wonderful GLBT friends during those years, I offer a long-overdue apology.
Finding this paper was a godsend. It quelled any sense of diversity righteousness I may have once possessed. I have a lot to learn about the field of which I am noted to be an expert. Yet this is why I love diversity work. It allows me to be a continuous student. Diversity is a topic that I will continue to learn about even six months after I am in the grave. Through this work, I have come to know that we are all homophobic (sexist, racist, classist, ageist, etc.). It is just a matter of degree. I continually work to rid myself of homophobia and reduce my own heterosexism. An International Day Against Homophobia is a good reminder for me that I have come a long way, yet am probably unaware of how far I have yet to go.
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