We should stand taller and prouder in the face of homophobia and know it has nothing to do with us

Jenny Block
A friend of mine — I’ll call him Thomas — was just fired from a large, prominent Dallas corporation for being gay. He was told that the people he worked with were uncomfortable with him being gay. They. Were. Uncomfortable.

It’s ridiculous and unacceptable — and totally legal in Texas to discharge someone based on sexual orientation. Which is why as awful as it is that it happened, it’s also an excellent reminder that everything and nothing is changing.

I think what’s the most sickening is that this isn’t about him. It’s about the people around him. They were uncomfortable. How and why, I don’t know. Clearly some sort of self-loathing must be at work there.

Perhaps he reminds them of how they don’t live authentically. Or he reminds them that they are gay and closeted. Or maybe he just reminds them that not everyone is like them, not everyone fits into their mold or vision of a one man and one woman, heterosexual, monogamous, one-size-fits-all, march-to-the-beat-of-just-one-drummer way of life.

All I know is that it was about them, not about him. Even his manager said so. Though the paperwork will look like his job was eliminated, it was he who was eliminated, his existence that was erased because it didn’t fit into the tidy universe of the homophobes with whom he worked.

And as if things couldn’t get any worse, the whole experience has left him not angry, not empowered, not on the path to retribution. Instead, it has left him sad and ashamed. He’s edited his resume to erase anything that might hint of him being gay.

Of course, even if your gaydar is woefully on the blink, you would no doubt know he’s gay the moment you meet him. Though I understand the urge to straight-wash yourself in the face of such discrimination, it undermines us all. We are who we are.

And that’s the part that I had hoped we were all learning by now.

It’s a reminder to me not to take anything for granted and that while I long to see the best in people, I have to remind myself there are still plenty of people out there mired in self-loathing and fear who will do anything to remain in their hate-filled bubbles.

It’s a reminder to me that people can be thoughtless. When Thomas was fired, it couldn’t have been any more personal. The message was “there’s something inherently wrong with you. You are broken, bad, unacceptable.” The person who fired him forgot to be a human being.

It’s a reminder to me that “passing” bugs me sometimes. It protects me, yes. But I feel guilty and ashamed and wrongfully privileged because of that. It’s a “you-can’t-win-for-losing” situation. If you wear who you are on your sleeve, you can get punished for it. If who you are isn’t readily apparent, you suffer as well. How can it be that the playground bullying still plagues our adult lives, but now with dire consequences?

I don’t know how I would respond if I was fired for being gay. So it’s unfair for me to say how Thomas should or shouldn’t respond. I will say, however, that I do know how I would like to respond. I’d like to use it as a tool, a weapon even. I’d like to stomp around and yell and make an example of the people who hide behind the law to do the wrong thing.

I’d like to stand taller, prouder, knowing that what happened had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the person who fired me and the company that supported the decision. I’d like to make an example of the wrongdoers, and I’d like to be an example of how we can shame those behaving shamefully.

I recently attended a panel on the Olivia Leadership and Equality Cruise on which Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier were sitting. Perry said something that keeps ringing in my ears as I write this: “We don’t know when our day will come. And this was ours.”

We don’t know when our day will come, the day when we have the chance to say, “No more.” But when it does, and it will, I hope to have the chance to use it for change, to use it for good, to use it to protect people like Thomas, people who were failed by the system and who felt powerless and betrayed as a result, to use it to move us forward to a place where hate and fear no longer reign.

Jenny Block is a Dallas-based writer and Lambda Literary Award winner for her memoir ‘Open’.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 11, 2014.