This past week has been a roller coaster ride for the LGBT* non-profit community. This past week World Vision announced that they were going to immediately recognize the same sex marriages of their gay and lesbian workers. They were quoted as saying
“It’s been heartbreaking to watch this issue rip through the church. It’s tearing churches apart, tearing denominations apart, tearing Christian colleges apart, and even tearing families apart. Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We’ve got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity.”
World Vision is one of the largest faith driven organizations in the world, working in almost 100 countries. This move wasn’t an endorsement, but it certainly had the potential of creating positive waves in the aid / relief community. Unfortunately World Vision backed out of this decision from overwhelming pressure and bullying from the political evangelical community. I probably should have seen this coming;I didn’t have dreams of grandeur. I didn’t think an acknowledgement of same-sex marriages would lead to every faith-based group to reevaluate their perception of the LGBT* community.
This could have been beyond huge. For too long Christian (and secular) organizations in the non-profit sector ignored or separated themselves from acknowledging the LGBT* individuals in their workforce. Challenging that separation through open acknowledgement would force people to at least look at their understanding of what it means for a queer person who is working toward similar goals. This could have been a time where Christian non-profits to look at itself, its staff, and its volunteers; World Vision had the chance to say that LGBT* workers are just as impactful as their straight counterparts, and should have equal footing.
Instead, we are shown that with enough negative pressure, positive change can be reversed. What could have been a great leap forward towards equality in the non-profit sector has become another example of discrimination and homophobia. World Vision’s mission is to “[work] with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice”. They had a chance to fix an injustice within their own organization. I hope someday that revisit this, and I hope that organizations while acknowledge that LGBT* aid workers fight poverty and hunger, work for quality education, and advocate for those who do not have a voice.
As a diverse community, we need to focus on WHY we are doing what we’re doing. That is our commonality – what unites us toward making the world a better, happier, and brighter place.
Culture isn’t real- at least what most of us think of when we hear the word culture. The “homophobic culture” of a country (i.e. Russia) is not the entire country. Saying that there is only one culture in a country or geographic area is ridiculous. Yes, there are features that are unique to specific countries, but saying there is only one homogeneous American culture would negate the differences that the North, South, East , West, and Midwest are proud of.
I think it is getting better, but a large amount of the aid/non-profit/government workers still treat countries and regions as having one collective mindset. Going into City A with locked in expectations is counter productive to whatever your mission is.
Assuming that a group of people in any aid/non-profit/government situation has nothing to offer will also decrease the chance of your program making the most positive impact. We are not the true experts, and utilizing every resource, even if it’s not an obvious one, is crucial.
I do need to remind myself of these things quite often: every time I travel, give a workshop or work with volunteers. Assuming that a person, group of people, or entire country hates who I am closes me off from creating the most positive impact.
I’m not saying that every gay humanitarian should tattoo the word “Queer” on their forehead, but putting every Russian, Ugandan, or American in the same homophobic box discredits the diversity of opinions that exist in humanity’s spectrum.
When going into a new location, we need to remind ourselves that politics and political agendas are not people.
And it’s not why we do the work we do. It’s the people.
When I voiced my concern to a colleague about being gay and traveling abroad, I was basically told I shouldn’t make everything about my sexuality. I really struggled with this… was I applying my international work and travel through an unnecessary queer lens?
Luckily one of my mentors in all things LGBT ( and one of the loveliest woman I know, hands down) guided me to the crux of the issue- it wasn’t about applying my lesbian-ness all over the place; the true issue is that I am afraid of stripping my identity in order to be successful at my job and in my long term career.
When I think about identity, my head honestly starts to spin. I only came out 5 years ago. My queer circle hasn’t expanded much in those years, the large majority of my friends are heterosexual. Do I “act” and “look” more gay than 5 years ago? Probably. Some ‘friends’ have given me crap for it, but I see nothing wrong with buying into different identities and changing how you want to present your identity. If I never changed, I’d still be wearing Hot Topic shirts and thinking that Dashboard Confessional got their lyrics from my diary.
People change, identities change. I really hope that I’m not the same kind of gay 10 years from now. Everyone grows, everyone evolves (cue Pokemon reference..?)
My identity never comes into question in my domestic work, and luckily hasn’t caused conflict or disturbance internationally. I know everyone has their “work” self, their “family” self, etc. But straight people get to be straight in all of these scenarios if they choose to.
I don’t want to tattoo ‘Lesbian’ on my forehead , but at the same time, I don’t want to worry about if my hair looks too gay, if I shouldn’t wear plaid of my marriage equality ring. Or purposely not talk about my amazing girlfriend.
I am a gay woman. Yes I have other identities, but this one is pretty central to who I am. Because I want it be, and at least for now, that works.