Whenever a story is published about some horribly racist, or sexist, or homophobic law or outrageously bigoted action by a government official in certain parts of the country (usually, but not always, a southern state), some a**hole will ask, “Why would you even want to live in __________?”
Similarly, when a story is making the rounds about someone being fired or expelled because they are gay/lesbian/bi/et cetera, the same a**holes will ask, “Why would you want to work for someone who felt that way?”
But when a teacher at a conservative religious school gets fired for being gay, or a student at a conservative religious school is expelled for the same reason, it takes an uber-a**hole to ask, “Why should I feel sorry for them?”
I’d like to deal with each question:
Why would you want to live there? Despite how mobile our society has become, our geographic location is seldom a matter of pure, unadulterated choice. We don’t get to choose where we are born or grow up, to begin with. Not all young adults have the means to pull up stakes and move to wherever they want. There is a constellation of complex social and economic reasons for why we live where we do.
It is easier to land a job with a company where you know someone who is already employed there or has been employed there, for instance. And particularly when you’re just starting out, who you know is largely going to be determined by proximity. You know people because you have lived near them. It’s just easier to get jobs in the area where you already live.
People usually have relatives to whom they feel obligations, as well. Census data shows that the majority of adults in the U.S. live within 30 miles of one their parents, for example. (Interesting side note: if a person’s parents are divorced, 80 percent of the time the parent who is geographically closest is the mother.) Sometimes it isn’t just a feeling of an obligation. There is an extremely strong correlation between how anti-gay a state’s laws and social climate are, and the likelihood that a gay or lesbian person married someone of the opposite sex while relatively young, had children, then came out to themselves and their community and got divorced. In many cases, the only way to maintain custody or visitation rights is to remain in the state.
Not to mention that every place has beautiful places, and at least some wonderful people. So often the reasons a gay person lives in a state that doesn’t have gay-friendly laws are quite valid, if not optimal.
Why would you want to work for someone like that? No matter how good the economy is, we often end up in jobs that are less than our dream job. Sometimes you take the job that is offered, and hope things work out. Sometimes you start out with a very tolerant, professional boss, but because of promotions, re-orgs, transfers, and the like, you suddenly find yourself reporting to the jerk who keeps making fag jokes. And it isn’t always one’s boss that is the problem. A hostile co-worker can create situations that lead to you getting the blame, et cetera.
And most of these situations don’t come from those obvious situations. I’ve written before about a past co-worker who made a big stink because I had a single picture of my late husband tucked on a part of my desk where most people couldn’t even see it. None of my conversations or interactions with him ever gave me the slightest clue that he felt that way.
I suspect a lot of these people were in a similar situation.
And except when I was working in a very tiny office, I have never been the only non-heterosexual person working there. And I’ve seen plenty of examples of gay employees in one department being free to be open about the gender of their partners, et cetera, when people reporting to a different set of managers quickly learn that if they don’t keep “that stuff” to themselves, there will be problems.
Finding another job takes time and energy a person may not have, even when they know the employer is not accepting. And if you aren’t a well-connected person socially both within your industry and community, finding a new job is not a matter of simply picking somewhere to apply, sitting back, and waiting for the offer letter. Depending on how specialized your skill set is, finding a comparable job, that pays enough to meet your current financial obligations and provides the benefits you need, can be more difficult.
And no matter how much research you do in advance, there is no guarantee that the new employer won’t have a similar issue with your sexuality under some circumstances in the future.
Why should I feel sorry for them? They should have known what would happen! So a lesbian is a teacher at a conservative religious school. See everything I said about about jobs. Then add in the following factors: when she began her career, had she even come out to herself, yet? Are there as many jobs in her specific field of teaching at secular schools? Does her church have a fairly large population of congregants who are far more supportive of gay rights than the leadership? How did all of that contribute to her feeling about how safe it was to admit who she is?
The one that really ticks me off is blaming the student at a conservative Christian college for not knowing what would happen. First, they’re college age, and by definition not experienced enough to be sure how people might handle their coming out. It’s also even more likely that she hadn’t even admitted to herself at the time she first enrolled at the school that she wasn’t straight. Second, maybe a Christian school was the only option that her parents would support. There are so many reasons that we pick which college to apply to, and getting accepted is not under our control.
The process of coming out, more specifically, coming to terms with your identity when you aren’t heterosexual, and then reaching the point of sharing that understanding, isn’t a simple issue of weighing all the pros and cons, checking one’s calendar, and thinking about how this announcement will affect your other plans. There is usually an incredible amount of frustration, fear, and weariness boiling up inside the mind of the closeted person like steam in an overheated pressure cooker.
The need to stop lying about who you are overwhelms the fear, let alone any caution someone has about what effect the truth might have on one’s next performance review. And being raised in (and working in) a deeply religious community makes all that pressure even worse.
Maybe the question these critics ought to be answering is, “Why don’t you have enough empathy to realize your questions are backwards?”