A White girl’s guide to: Straight privilege

Photo courtesy of Brittany Wells and Marley Bangert | Staff Writer Brittany Wells continues her series by taking a critical look at heterosexual privilege.

This installment of “A White Girl’s Guide to Privilege” explores my experience as a privileged person examining heterosexual privilege.

When Tracey DuEst, the associate director of Institutional Diversity & Inclusion, first came out at University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1992, she said, “I have to tell you something really difficult and if you don’t want to be my friend or won’t love me, I’ll understand.” Now when parents at her children’s schools ask, “Are you Trey and Tera’s mom?” she smiles and says “I’m one of them.”

The privileges inherited through heterosexuality include not needing to come out and an assumption that the open expression of their romantic and sexual preferences will not incite backlash, but they don’t stop there. According to a recent U.S. study, 9 million homosexual Americans continually come out to co-workers, friends and even strangers every day. At times, one’s homosexuality is invisible, but at other times, it is impossible to hide. Coming out is a personal choice and a lifelong process that can be unnerving and exhausting.

“I wouldn’t feel like I could be my authentic self otherwise. The process of coming out never ends,” DuEst said. “It’s a constant vulnerable decision … no matter how comfortable you are. Sometimes it’s an assessment of if it’s safe or not.”

Coming out is significant for those who aren’t heterosexual, because it acknowledges ownership of oneself in a world that may not love all of you. When highlighting what makes anyone who they are, it is essential to identify what makes them unique. DuEst mentioned an activity she sometimes facilitates, called “Name Five Things,” in which the participants write down five qualities essential to who they are. She then asks them to cross one off, and then another and then another. Many of the participants become upset, sad and even angry that they are asked to do this, saying, “How can I cross off any of these! They are all equally essential to who I am!” In the same way when we ask students, faculty, staff or friends and family to leave a piece of themselves at the door, we may as well ask them to not even bother entering.

A 2013 Pew Research Center survey discovered that “21 percent of LGBT respondents had been treated unfairly by an employer in hiring, pay, or promotions.” DuEst hasn’t felt she’s been part of that 21 percent.

She said that since beginning her work at Xavier in September of 2016, she has yet to experience discrimination. However, she recognizes that this isn’t true for everyone.
“Because of my position (of privilege) on campus I feel safe being who I am…I don’t experience what some students, faculty and staff experience…I want people on campus to be more understanding and educated about what it is like to be LGBTQIA+ on a Jesuit Catholic campus … there has been a lot of progress, but there is room for growth. I’m hoping I can use my position and my voice to help other LGBTQIA+ students, staff and faculty feel comfortable being all of who they are.”

DuEst is fulfilling her mission to “get comfortable being uncomfortable” by being on a committee to help carry out Xavier’s five-year Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan.
Heterosexual privilege is a sticky topic for many who view homosexuality as sin or who feel sex in general should be private, often as a result of the stigma around sexuality or their religious beliefs. Stigmas stops genuine interaction, vulnerable communication and individuals within marginalized groups from being openly proud of their entire identity.

Recognizing our own privilege isn’t about shame or guilt, both of which are unproductive and are common reactions that many privileged people fall back on to avoid “getting comfortable being uncomfortable.” It’s about setting aside our egos to understand the perspectives of others. I am proud to attend a school with faculty and staff so dedicated to the holistic celebration of all of its students.

Questions straight people are afraid to ask

Question: What does LGBTQIA+ stand for, and why do they keep adding letters?

Author’s takeaway: LGBT, or LGBTQ, is an umbrella term sometimes used to reference, in short, a wide variety of sexual, gender, and romantic identities. I personally use LGBTQIA+ to intentionally include the Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual members of the community. The community has reclaimed the term queer in recent years, but I also like the idea of including those questioning their identity, as they are in one of the hardest parts of their journey. Xavier’s five-year Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan states, “LGBTQIA+ refers to a large group of people who represent and express a diverse range of gender identities and sexual identities that exist outside of the male-female binary. They can define themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual.” The reason new letters are sometimes added is because as new perspectives and identities join the conversation, adding the first letter of their identity helps to promote inclusion. Eventually the + got put on the end because after a while, any acronym can begin to sound like you’re reading off of a spoon of alphabet soup. I think stopping at LGBT (or even adding a + for good measure) is generally acceptable in most circumstances. What is far more important than memorizing the letters is learning to understand and celebrate the people who proudly sport the letters themselves.

Further resources on the topic can be found at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

Learn more about this subject:

Additionally, Xavier LGBTQ Alliance meetings welcome respectful students of all sexual, romantic and gender backgrounds.

Brittany Wells is a first-year Montessori education major and staff writer for the Newswire from Cincinnati.