Doing the readings for last week’s class, which focused on the rights of the LGBT+ community, I found myself really questioning where my voice fits into the conversation. I am not a part of the LGBT+ community. I do consider myself an ally, but even as someone who is very invested in the rights of people within this group, is it ok to express my opinions? Somehow this question was much easier to answer when it came to other class topics. Generally, a respectful disclaimer that I cannot speak for the group, and yet would like to share my thoughts in a professional forum feels like enough. Perhaps this week’s anxiety stems from the fact that people very close to me are part of this group. Perhaps it is because people who would hear what I had to share are a part of this community.
There is a certain amount of intimidation that can take place when you try to speak on a topic that directly affects those around you, but does not directly affect you. So far this semester, we have tackled a lot of issues concerning a wide variety of marginalized groups. And yet, due to the apparent homogeneity of race and ability in the class, I never thought that what I was saying would be countered by someone who experienced the issues that we were discussing. In those cases, I could be blatantly wrong and no one would know because they could not know. Last week I had to face that realization, as I knew that this was no longer the case.
After reading the blog discussion before class and noticing a point of contention having to do with the voices of allies, I became even more concerned with how to appropriately participate. I only have my own perspective as a straight ally to work with when sharing personal experience. This raised a lot of questions for me. Is my experience worth sharing alongside the experiences of people who are LGBT+? Should I contribute to the discussion solely when citing an LGBT+ person? How can I support the people I love who are part of this group without my privilege as a straight person overshadowing their words? Is it ever appropriate to use my privilege to call attention to the cause? Are my experiences as an ally facing ignorance even relevant?
During the class session itself, I could feel that there was some tension in the room as we discussed the art, history, and activism surrounding sexuality and gender identity. While our readings gave us powerful insight into the lives of people in the LGBT+ community, I could tell that many of us were alert and cautious when attempting to speak about what we read and interpret the art. There was hesitation in using terminology which describes such very personal factors of identity for fear of saying the wrong thing, and the awareness that these stories did not belong to many us was heightened. It felt like the questions which I was forming were manifesting in some form or another for many of us.
I appreciate the prompt that last week’s topic gave me to think about these questions, and I think that they can be applied to other civil rights conversations. I don’t know if there will ever be a simple answer to any of them, but I hope that these questions themselves can help to provoke discussion, as well as better shape the way in which I approach speaking about other activist issues.