Overcoming our Own Stereotyping and Prejudices

As Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons, we’re always internally on guard for how we may be received by any given stranger at any given time. We think to ourselves ‘will they treat us with respect?’ and, at times, ‘are we going to be in some type of danger or difficult situation if this person knows that I am LGBT?’ It’s a process of analysis that we go through a good percentage of the time in our lives when meeting new people or being in new environments. This mental and emotional evaluation tactic that we use to navigate and, at times, survive through life can leads us to develop our own prejudices and stereotypes. The blog post ‘Homo’s Odyssey’ from the ‘Dads & Families’ section of the blog The Good Men Project, provides us with an example of one such time.

William Lucas Walker and his partner, Kelly, were were taking a road trip with their kids when their minivan broke down. Walker describes his first impressions of the tow truck driver:

When our Triple-A savior finally arrived on the scene, I could have jumped for joy. Instead, I froze. The white knight who showed up for our rescue turned out to be a physical composite of every high school bully I ever suffered: a tattooed skinhead-type, complete with soul-deadening stare and missing front tooth.

Mr. Walker and his hubby expected that they were encountering someone who wouldn’t approve of two gay dads raising kids; especially after they learned their tow truck driver had six kids who were all named after folks in the Bible, but as they made their way from stranded to the auto-shop the men were in for a surprise:

…he looked at Kelly and me and said, “So… did you guys get married when y’all had that little window a few years back, before the Prop 8 thing?”

We said that we did. “That’s good,” he said. “My mom did, too,” he said. “She called up me and my brother and sister and told us, ‘Me and Maggie’s gonna have a wedding. You got a week and a half to figure out a way to get here.’”

From there on out, this man I was so sure I had pegged continued to upend my preconceived notions. When he learned we live in Hollywood, he told us that as a teenager he’d been bused in from the suburbs, commuting 20 hours a week to attend the Hollywood High magnet program in theater arts. Theater arts?

“Yep, it was great. For P.E. we took dance. Spent English readin’ Shakespeare. Instead of shop, we built sets for musicals. I loved it.”

We, as LGBT people, want and expect that people should have an open mind and attitude toward us. It is an expectation that we don’t always hold ourselves to. We often make judgements about people based on perceived anti-gay bias. How a person looks is often the case. The more from the country you look or if you are in religious garments, the more we are likely to judge you as being anti-gay. This can also come from what a person says. ‘Church’,’God’ and ‘Bible’ are among three words we hear which can pull up our defenses. ‘Values’ and ‘family’ are others as we are often excluded from those two particular definitions. I am subject to this perception prejudice myself, but I try to keep an open mind. My attitude is I give you my trust willingly. It up to you to decide if you break it. Once you do, it’s very difficult to repair.

That defensive feeling that we get upon encountering strangers or new situations is one that comes from the instinct to survive. It is honed to help remove us from dangerous situations. LGBT people have honed that instinct for much the same reason. There are still dangerous situations for LGBT persons in this country and around the word. But when we are in a situation where we are safe, let us try to remember to keep our own minds open. Sometimes our perceptions are mis-perceptions, and like the Walker family, we get a pleasant surprise.

Read the rest of William and Kelly’s story

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