One of my current ESL students likes to discuss current events. He’s been asking me to explain why there is such a divide between Blacks and Whites in St. Louis (new word this week: W.A.S.P.) , and why there is so much anger towards gays in the USA. We’ve had some interesting discussions.
This week I was reminded of my own brush with LGBT discrimination. Several years ago, I got a job as an administrative assistant for a local non-profit. It was a religious organization that was a coalition of local churches, and they did outreach to help people who were having a hard time. They had a food bank and other means of assisting people in the area.
I will pause to state that I am not gay. I’m straight. But I had had a medical issue and subsequently decided to cut my long hair – which had been down to my waist for years – into a super short bob. It was almost like the ‘Dorothy Hamil’ cut that was popular back in the 70s. Cute, not Butch.
So, I’m doing my new job, meeting all the volunteers, learning the procedures. Everything seems to be great. Until after a month or so, when the Director called me into her office for a chat. She sat me down and told me, “I don’t know if you are, or if you aren’t, but we don’t talk about it at work”.
I had absolutely NO idea what she was talking about, but she seemed to think I should. I asked her if she could explain, but she again said, “I don’t know if you are, or if you aren’t, but we don’t talk about it at work”, while looking at me meaningfully. “Do you understand?”
Not wanting to appear like an idiot, since she obviously expected me to know what the BLEEP she was talking about, I said ‘yes’.
But I was clueless.
When I went home that night, I called my friend who had helped me get the job and told her the story.
“She thinks you’re gay!” she said.
During this time, I had been spending a lot of time with my best friend M., who uses a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury. She had recently had further surgery on her back and although she was no longer on bed rest, she had to wear a body brace while healing, which limited her ability to get around. I would go to her house after work and help her cook dinner. Then we would watch Melrose Place and make fun of the silly plot. We made a difficult time fun.
It seems that I had mentioned this at work and referred to M. as my girl friend — the way a little girl calls her friends who are girls – ‘girl friends’. I have friends who are male and female, but my close female friends are my girl friends in my mind.
The Director had apparently overheard me talking about my ‘girlfriend’, assumed it was romantic, and imagined that with my short hair, I must be a lesbian. And because it was a religious organization, she believed it was therefore inappropriate for me to discuss my sexuality.
Unfortunately for me, we didn’t figure this out until after I was fired a few weeks later.
And while employment laws protect actual lesbians, it doesn’t help people who are erroneously perceived to be lesbians.