Recently, in recognition of Pride Month, Operations Director Christine McCallum-Randalls asked folks to share something they’ve done in the spirit of serving or learned about the LBGTQ community. We had some great stories about learning and growing, and wanted to share them.
Before I was a teetotaler, the gay bars were where it was at. I used to live in Johnson City, TN, which had a surprisingly high LGBTQ population for a semi-rural area in the mountains of East Tennessee. My friends and I—gay, straight, trans, lesbian, etc.—were happy to support a gay business, especially one in an area where prejudice was very real. Gay bars were a great place to see my LGBTQ friends feel safe in a public space to be themselves and have fun. I’ve always felt safer in women’s and LGBTQ spaces, but my desire for safety was little compared to theirs. It was also a reminder that they couldn’t be themselves or let down their guard in a lot of places—restaurants, the grocery store, work—I could as a straight woman.
Due to all the work of the LGBTQ community, I’ve definitely experienced a mental shift over the past decade. I personally went from looking at LGBTQ as a “definition” (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans, Queer) to looking at LGBTQ as a group of individuals who are communicating their voice. It has completely deepened my perspective of what diversity means, which started out as “people who come from different backgrounds” and has morphed into the more active “creating a safe, inclusive environment for all.”
A few years ago, we were on an 8-hour road trip with an extended family member, who is known to enjoy a captive audience to air whatever his latest grievance. He was railing against non-cis folks choosing their own pronouns. Over the course of maybe 45 minutes, he had a lot to say (You know the arguments…), but I eventually said something to the effect of, “Some of the people you’re talking about are my friends, and the viewpoints you’re expressing are really harmful to them. To you it’s just something to have an opinion on, but to me, it’s real people that I care about a lot.” He seemed to internalize that a little bit and maybe reconsider.
Having family and friends over my lifetime that have identified as LGBTQ+, one thing that’s always been at the top of my mind is making it clear that you belong. I know that I can’t force a feeling of belonging—in a similar way, I can demonstrate trustworthiness, but whether I’m trusted is 100% up to the other person. I can do things to show I care, show I’m trying to be inclusive, try to nudge my communities’ norms.
At home, my kids are still young, but they’re learning about society and gender, and I’m teaching them to let people choose how they’d like to be addressed, nudging them towards inclusion and the idea of fluidity and when they say things about “girls and boys,” making sure our library trips find books with same-sex parents. I’m sure the nudges will become bigger conversations when my toddlers start to go to school. I also regularly donate to political campaigns that are running against congressional leaders that promote hostility and oppression—in reality my $10 isn’t going to do much, but the statement of support is important to me.
At Test Double I have a lot of conversations about BICEPS, and I love thinking about BICEPS as a tool to debug what’s currently threatened or at risk in a person’s environment. Belonging and Equity are two things I always listen for, as I feel a lot of responsibility for working to provide those things to everyone I support directly or through client projects. It’s also always top of mind in all of the internal systems work I do.
Growing up in a pretty diverse environment, I have gone to Pride events in my hometown and a few other cities. I also try to support the LBGTQ+ people in my life by being open to each of their individual experiences. And that is what I focus on—the fact that each individual’s experience is different. I have come across many through the years who believe individuals identifying as LBGTQ+ think the same, feel the same, live the same, are the same, etc. I make sure to combat these stereotypes by not shying away from these conversations, and speaking to individuals about the importance of remembering everyone has a story specific to them, and their own individual emotions and feelings about what it means for them to be LBGTQ+ as well.
Although I remain active in various LGBTQ+ community events over the years, showing support by voting, donating, educating myself and others, it took me a while to realize that, personally for me, my strongest ability to make a direct impact was to be my authentic self. To start living the life I had always hoped for, but never felt safe, comfortable, or courageous enough to do for many years. I realized I had been trying to make it easier or less awkward for others (e.g. choosing to go along with it when people said something about my boyfriend or husband instead of politely correcting them and saying my girlfriend/partner/now wife). I realized that, although I had come out, I was still living in many ways as if I hadn’t, and carrying the burden of having to come out all over again in each conversation. And, at that time, I hadn’t realized the opportunity I have, and responsibility, to use my voice in a way to help amplify and support others.
Being true to myself—believing and showing that it’s ok to be me—hopefully is my small way of helping someone else out there be even a tiny step less scared about their own journey. I am so grateful that at Test Double, right from the start, I personally never hesitated on whether I could be authentically me. I recognize this is part of my privilege and is not the situation for everyone; however, it’s my hope and commitment to our people that we consistently put forth the effort, empathy, respect, and learning/unlearning/relearning to be an inclusive environment where all of our individual differences are seen as additive and celebrated. It’s our diversity that makes us better together!
My group of friends in high school included a friend who came out. Most teachers were awesome and supportive, but the principal was super not. We went as a group to prom—dinner, group photo with our dates, hanging out, etc. One of the teachers saw the principal being cold, and glaring at our friend and her date when we arrived. She made a point to very vocally welcome them warmly by name. That really helped me understand how being an ally can be really powerful.
When I worked at a theatre, one of our former resident actors (an audience favorite known for playing a popular male character every year) was returning while transitioning. One of the leaders made arrangements for V to feel comfortable with accommodations (dressing room, restroom, etc.), and (with permission) let long-time staff who had worked with V know ahead of time. She popped into the brand new admin offices and I greeted her, “You probably don’t remember me, but I was an intern when you were here before.” I gave her a tour and helped her find the office she needed. V really appreciated staff being welcoming, and actively supporting her through what was a stressful situation—returning to a place where she was well known by both employees and audience members, while also going through her transition. I learned how much the little things matter in feeling safe and welcome.