As some of you may know, about a year ago, I moved to a new job in a new city, new state, new everything. When you are the newbie, there is the inevitable expectation of getting to know each other with lots of questions, at times personal questions or a little of both, personal and professional questions which you might also have about your new colleagues. As an openly gay man with several other minority identities, I’m familiar with the never-ending and exhausting feelings of having to come out and navigating these dynamics at work. So, before moving to Tucson and the University of Arizona’s College of Law, I decided for the first time ever, to be open and explicit from the get go and share myself as who I am during the interview process. I had very important and honest conversations with Teresa Miguel-Stearns, Director of the Law Library; Marc Miller, Dean of the College of Law; and Andrea Romero, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs. And I’m SO glad I did. Their reactions and feedback were everything I expected and more. These conversations helped me understand the environments they were leading and eventually set the stage to meet my colleagues and the rest of the university system. They were taking bold and active steps to meaningfully include diversity, equity and inclusion within the institution, struggling with challenges along the way and upfront about the work that still needed to be done.
Thinking back on my experience and talking to other friends about theirs, I want to share a few ways in which we can all celebrate Pride every day in an impactful way for our LGBTQ+ colleagues. I will highlight at least three ways in which supervisors and directors can enact real changes. When you are in a position of power, your actions and words carry a significant weight in the workplace. However, we can all make a difference too. Therefore, I want to mention at least one thing we can all do for our LGBTQ+ colleagues and ourselves as well. Finally, I will finish the post with a word of advice to all the beautiful LGBTQ+ people reading this.
If workplaces believe that it’s important to celebrate and integrate LGBTQ+ colleagues, the text needs to reflect that as well. By text, I mean HR policies, work guidelines, mission statement, values, strategic plan, workflows, etc. These texts are incredibly important because they set the stage and ensure a welcoming, transparent and accountable system and structure from the initial hiring to the day to day work environment. As a law librarian, I understand the importance of having your rights and considerations clearly stated in the text for all employees to see and abide by. However, this is just the first step.
Once you have your text in place, it’s important for supervisors, managers and directors, anyone in a place of authority to live these values on a regular basis. As the head of a unit, group, department, institution, the example of your actions speak louder than any words you could have written or uttered anywhere else. Either explicitly or tacitly, your team looks up to you for a confirmation of a particular behavior or action in the workplace. These subtle and nonverbal cues carry a massive amount of influence when it comes to establishing an understanding of what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
And then, despite your well documented policies and guidelines as well as commendable behavior, something happens: a misunderstanding between colleagues, an unfortunate exchange of words with a public patron or students, a pattern of micro-aggressions comes to light, a revelation of a major violation of core values or work policies, etc. Something happens that puts to the test the values that we explicitly mentioned in our policies as well as those we claim to live by. And when this inevitable test comes, I want to invite everyone in a position of authority to truly derive from the core values of diversity, equity and inclusion and to listen, to be fair and to make decisions. It is at that specific moment when things matter the most. The worst thing that can happen to an LGBTQ+ person is not to work for a homophobic boss or institution. At least with them, you know where you stand and what to watch out for. The worst thing that can happen to an LGBTQ+ person is to work for an institution dedicated to spending more resources on how to combine their logo with the rainbow flag in time for Pride month than to listen and to provide real solutions for LGBTQ+ colleagues when they need them the most.
The previous three thoughts were directed more to people in positions of authority and power within our institutions. However, the reality is that we can all choose to be a part of the solution. Every single colleague can have a significant impact in ensuring that we all work in a fair, equitable, safe and respectful environment. As librarians, this might sound too obvious, but it needs to be said. If there is something you don’t know about, or know little of, be it a group of people, experiences, background, etc., it is your full responsibility to educate yourself. The newly hired or newly openly LGBTQ+ colleague has ZERO responsibility to help you understand something, share with you more (personal) information, put together a Pride slideshow or educate anyone on anything. Just like you, this person was hired to do a specific job. Educating you, which at times it translates into making you feel comfortable about your own ignorance and shortcomings, is NOT part of their job responsibilities.
I wish we all did this on a regular basis. For example, this is something I have found myself doing now, while working in a university occupying the homelands of the Tohono O’odham and the Pueblo Yaqui nations. What does that mean for me? What happened before and continues to happen? How does it affect peoples’ realities today? Where do I sit in that dynamic, trauma and what can I do? This is the work of educating myself that I strive to do, and that I’m doing currently. No indigenous person, whether a colleague or not, has the responsibility to teach me anything. My ignorance is my personal challenge and I need to take full responsibility for it.
Last but certainly not least, I want to end this post with a message to all the beautiful LGBTQ+ people reading this. You deserve it all. Your joy, your pain, your laugh, your tears are all part of your pride. Experience this Pride month in any way that is valuable and real to you. Do not let other people define you. Being your full self at work is incredibly important and you do not need to settle for less. It’s simply not worth it. Know that you’re not alone, even when you think you are. There are lots of great organizations out there doing fantastic work. I’d hardly consider myself as someone who knows all the answers, but if I can help and direct you to smarter people, please feel free to reach out.
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.