The Toxic Closet

When it comes to the ‘closet’ construction, I don’t think my straight friends and peers get the whole picture, especially in reference to the non-profit sector. I mean, how could they really? My heterosexual friends have described the closet as simply ‘not coming out’,  ‘just not mentioning your girlfriend’, or ‘ not mentioning anything gay’. When I have tried to explain the emotionally complexity I felt, I have been met with blank faces. Honestly, I thought that I was starting to over-extrapolate how terrible I felt being in the closet, especially when working with my organization.

And honestly, I would be lost within that inner conflict if it weren’t for my mentor extraordinaire. When we were discussing my trip abroad, she said:

“I don’t think straight people understand how toxic the closet it.”

As far as I have researched (and please correct me if I’m wrong), there really isn’t any data on the workings of LGBT* aid/development/non-profit workers. What does being in the closet mean for different people? How does the LGBT*humanitarian interact with donors, constituents or volunteers when they know they can’t be out? What are the safe spaces, abroad and domestic?

Is there even a way to study these questions if we are all stuck in the closet?

The closet doesn’t just hide us from people who may hurt us, it also prevents us from making valuable personal connections. I can think of one LGBT* colleague who works in general non-profit sector, but they aren’t out in their work. I’m sure I know more, but if I don’t share that I’m a lesbian, I’m just another person they have to hide their sexuality from.

The closet is toxic for many reasons, but for me one of the worst aspects has been the lack of queer humanitarians in my life. There are many out and proud individuals working within LGBT* non-profits, and that’s fantastic. But I would love to have someone in education development to talk to who’s  traveled to county X,Y, and Z, and we could swap stories, and the best practices within non-friendly environments (domestic and internationally).

I know that putting on my non-profit ‘hat’ also means that I have creep back in the closet, but maybe if I knew who was stuck in the closet with me….. I don’t know…. maybe it would be less toxic.

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