Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

It Gets Better

By Kimberly Lord - 05.20.2011

While watching evening TV with my kids recently, I’ve come across a 90-second spot called It Gets Better sponsored by Google. It features a number of different pop culture celebrities and other not so well known people addressing the fact that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender gets better as you get older.  The call to action is stated on the project’s website . “Many LGBT youth can’t picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults.  They can’t imagine a future for themselves.  So let’s show them what our lives are like, let’s show them what the future may hold in store for them.”

The TV commercial spawned several conversations with my kids, niece and nephew about how being gay is in high school today is different than it was when I was in school twenty-plus years ago. Then I asked one of my dearest friends from high school, who has been with her partner for 17 years – “has it gotten better?”  Her response was so insightful I’m compelled to share it here:

I had no knowledge that living with a woman would be in my future when I was in high school, so I didn’t have the hard high school experience as many do.  I did struggle enormously with my new-found “identity” when I realized I might be gay.

It took me about ten years to come through that process and land where I am now, by which I mean, fully accepting of myself, happy, healthy and completely at ease with the world.  When I think of why it’s gotten better, there are two components: Society is more accepting and I am fully out.

Society is more accepting: While it’s certainly true that the fundamentalists continue to raise holy hell about the evils of homosexuality, for the most part it has gotten infinitely better in terms of people being more accepting of gay and lesbians than ever before. A defining moment for me was when Ellen came out publicly in 1997. I had just started my first corporate job and was out personally but very closeted professionally.  I couldn’t ever imagine being out at work.

Since then, we’ve seen infinitely more gay images (Will and Grace, Modern Family, every reality show has the requisite gay) and I think people are just more accepting that gay people exist and bring some value (even if you wouldn’t necessarily want to have your kid be one – we get that a lot) it’s just more accepted.

Additionally, a lot more people live “out” now than did in 1988 and I think as a result there is a whole generation of kids who’ve grown up with gay aunts and uncles (thinking of my own adult nieces/nephews) for whom being gay is really just not an issue.

My own neighborhood is a great testament to the tolerance and acceptance among many people. It’s not everywhere, but the parents in our neighborhood not only accept, but encourage interaction with their kids. I think those views are reflected in generational polls. So it really has gotten better since 1988 in terms of the acceptance among society at large.

I am fully out:  Without question, the number reason why my life has gotten better is that I am 100% out. It took about seven years to complete the process with friends and family. The slow and steady acceptance of the people I love and cherish most let me know I would be okay and that I would always have people who love me in my life.

When I think about the gay teens addressed in the “it gets better” videos, I think that we all want a sense of community in this life and to be loved and accepted for who we are.

When I was just beginning to explore the possibility of being gay, I literally grieved the life I wasn’t going to have – marriage, white picket fence, two kids, country club, dinner parties (yes, I thought I would not be able to have dinner parties like a “normal person” or attend family functions and holidays with my someday partner).

I was afraid I would never find anyone to love who was like me. As more and more of my friends and family openly accepted me and my partner, I began to see that I could have the life I always dreamed of.

The next step was tackling the issue at work. I was at a pharma company for four years and only told a few co-workers, and certainly never told any of my customers. When I moved to a different pharma in 2001, I made a decision to be “out.”

What I mean by that is, if anyone asked if I was married (which is the first question anyone asks in a professional setting) I would simply say, “No, but I have a partner, her name is Carrie and we’ve been together ten years.” I did that the first week and since then I estimate that I’ve come out at least 100 or more times at work and that’s always my answer.

I’ve learned that I need to say I have a partner and her name is Carrie vs. I have a partner, because when I say partner, most people assume I am talking about a business partner. I think this is because I don’t necessarily look the stereotype that most people have in mind.

There have been a few surprised looks along the way, but never any repercussions. It’s never held me back in any way and I’ve always been treated with respect. The reason I have to keep coming out is that people are so respectful that no one would ever dream of talking about it to someone else.

This will be the next great leap forward, when it is so accepted that no one would think a thing of saying to another co-worker “Oh, yes, that’s my colleague, she has a partner and they live in Charlotte.” It’s still considered scandalous, so I try to make people feel comfortable about sharing this information about me.

Being out in general is the most liberating thing and I ache for everyone that isn’t there yet. Living in the closet is a nightmare because of the energy it takes to live a lie. I don’t wave a pride flag around or purposely try to make people uncomfortable-but I will talk about Carrie the way others discuss their family life-it’s just a normal thing that people do.

I think “don’t ask, don’t tell” is the worst policy ever! But, I think it’s still the feeling among many in the professional world–it’s okay that you are gay, but we don’t really want to talk about it. And when people say they don’t want to talk about it, I think they mean they don’t want to hear about your sex life. News flash, no one wants to talk about anyone’s sex life at work.

I will say, I am very proud of the decision to be out at my current company, it was a risk, but one worth taking. I know without question that I have positively influenced the way some people view gays in the company.  In fact, other lesbian colleagues who have been at the company for more than ten years and never come out, are slowly starting to do so.

They’ve told me that they had the courage to do so, because they saw how people treated me regardless of being out. So wow, huh? Not a bad day at the office.  So that’s it – I’d say, it really does get better.

Readers – please add your voice to this story. Does it get better?

One Response so far

Ir is a model for ecxcellence executed by the most authentic person ( gay or straight).
Truth works.

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