At The Broad Center, I recently had the opportunity to lead an LGBTQ+ workshop for our team members. The workshop focused on building general knowledge about LGBTQ+ identities and covered concepts such as gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality. My goal was to give foundational knowledge and define terminology of LGBTQ+ identities to help the team build shared language when engaging in conversations on LGBTQ+ issues.
To start, I had the team take a few minutes by themselves to write their answers to the following questions:
- What LGBTQ+ topics would you like to learn or know more about?
- What barriers keep you from engaging in conversations related to LGBTQ+ issues or identities?
At the end, I collected the sheets and what I found was not surprising: people were eager to learn, to understand, and to engage more about the topic. However, they were afraid of not knowing enough, they feared saying something wrong that could potentially offend someone, they were worried they will be perceived as ignorant, or even, doubted themselves on whether it was appropriate to engage with questions.
I understand and empathize with these sentiments as I have had similar concerns. I have realized that even though I myself identify as gay, there was a time in which I was afraid to engage in conversations related to LGBTQ+ identities outside of my own. And before then, I had to learn what being gay was. Each one of us, whether we identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community or not, must go through the same journey of learning what it means to be LGBTQ+.
I ended the meeting with the acknowledgement that learning may be a difficult process and one that might cause feelings of discomfort. I offered myself as a resource to learn more but with the caveat that we shouldn’t need to rely on LGBTQ+ members to do the teaching. Learning will require self-educating and strong self-accountability. There are going to be moments where we say something that offends someone or are afraid of being perceived as ignorant, however, recognizing those moments as learning opportunities is crucial. If you say something that offends another, acknowledge the impact of your words, make a promise to understand and learn from the experience, and most importantly empathize with the other person’s feelings. Finally, act on the intent and the commitment that you want to grow, but please don’t let those moments, nor the other fears, dissuade you from engaging and understanding.
The mission and the work that we do here at The Broad Center keeps in mind a student’s every need. By extension, understanding LGBTQ+ topics and issues is a critical part of our work. Our schools need LGBTQ+ leaders. They also need leaders who understand, and continue to seek to understand, LGBTQ+ issues and the impact on youth. We all need to elevate the voices of our students and that means committing to (and staying committed to) engaging in LGBTQ+ conversations. It is through this intentional engagement that we can continue the work of supporting LGBTQ+ communities.