We intuitively know that justice for everyone is the pathway to true peace. We still live with de-facto segregation and isolation from each other and experience this loss, pain and grief in both obvious and subtle yet profound ways. It is easier to see the effect of racism on a person of color than it is to see the cost to our humanity for white people.
Most of us belong to multiple groups and have more relative power in one than others. A white queer man can exercise power over women and people of color even as he can be discriminated against for being queer. Women of color and white women can support each other on issues of gender oppression but may not around racism. The call for intersectionality in social justice is to acknowledge the complexity of our lives.
In 1973, psychologist Dorothy Riddle developed a scale to measure homophobia ranging in four steps from repulsion, pity, and tolerance to acceptance, which she still considers homophobia. Acceptance can mask underlying fear, signal there is something we need to accept, and that “we” are the ones with the power to reject or accept. The next four steps are support, admiration, appreciation and nurturance. Her scale has been widely adapted, including for racism, so feel free to re-read this with that in mind.
- Support: People at this level may be uncomfortable themselves, but they are aware of the homophobic climate and the irrational unfairness, and work to safeguard the rights of lesbians and gays.
- Admiration: It is acknowledged that being lesbian/gay in our society takes strength. People at this level are willing to truly examine their homophobic attitudes, values, and behaviors.
- Appreciation: The diversity of people is considered valuable and lesbians/gays are seen as a valid part of that diversity. People on this level are willing to combat homophobia in themselves and others.
- Nurturance: Assumes that gay/lesbian people are indispensable in our society. People on this level view lesbians/gays with genuine affection and delight, and are willing to be their allies and advocates.
Homophobia and an insufficient effort to get to nurturance creates an obvious loss and pain to people who are LGBTQ2S+. Most people know it is wrong when a young queer person is rejected by their parents and kicked out of their home. Yet how many heterosexual people have noticed how a closeted colleague is fuzzy on details about what they did over the weekend and doesn’t stick around for water cooler talk. Or maybe they are defiantly out. A lack of ease can lead to the impression that this person is not really a team player and that impacts their success at work.
When we are always monitoring what we reveal, we are not fully ourselves and that is a loss to the one hiding and to the ones we hide from. In a heteronormative society, heterosexuals never have to consider the ongoing evaluation of whether it is safe to be authentic and out. Many LGBTQ2S+ people can “pass” for straight and that too comes at a cost of betraying ourselves and each other. In order to see that as a loss, people have to be closer to the appreciation and nurturance end of the scale.
It makes a huge difference that people get to know Anderson Cooper through a range of issues on CNN and also relate with and see his humanity as a gay father. This is a powerful way to overcome the dehumanization and stereotyping caused by homophobia.
We store the experiences of a lifetime in our nervous system. People who have been the object of social and racial injustice store that fear and danger in our bodies. My partner and I were deliberately almost run over by a car when leaving a gay bar in the 1980’s. I knew many gay men who had been beaten for being gay. People were fired. We lost custody of children. We were banned from seeing and making decisions about a sick partner because our relationships were not acknowledged and their family of origin could legally take over. Although recent gains, including gay marriage, have made it easier for many in western countries, that is not the case for everyone and certainly not worldwide.
Injustice is not ancient history. Matthew Shephard was beaten to death for being gay in 1998. George Floyd was brazenly murdered by a police officer in 2020. It is important to let in truth, to not dismiss reality, at the same time as we work skillfully with our own nervous system. Some down-regulating practices are here. We can support ourselves and others as we stay grounded on this path.
Neuroception is our unconscious perception of safety and threat. This is an inquiry we did last week in the Sunday class and we’ll continue on this theme in our Sunday community class this week. Take a few minutes to relax and sit with the questions below or watch the YouTube presentation and inquiry below.
Bring to mind a person who is “like you”. What do you feel in your body as you visualize that person & their relationship with you? Now bring to mind a person who is not “like you”. What do you feel in your body as you visualize that person & their relationship with you? Next bring to mind a person who is not “like you” in some aspects but who you know and trust. What do you feel in your body as you visualize that person & their relationship with you?
Imagine a close friend in a difficult circumstance that you can relate to even if you haven’t experienced it personally — divorce, being bullied at work, illness, betrayed by a friend, grieving a loss. Bring them close in your heart, notice and cultivate compassion and empathy for them.
Now bring to mind someone who is “not like you” and imagine them in the same circumstance. In what ways might they feel the same as your friend? Different from your friend? Bring them close in your heart, notice and cultivate compassion and empathy for them.
Connecting with a sense of safety has to be a felt experience. One way the public has become more tolerant of LGBTQ2S+ people is through getting to know us. As more people are out, everyone has more opportunity to get to know us on a personal level. People know Ellen through her talk show. We get to know a colleague at work. It occurs to us that the lifelong “roommate” of our great aunt was actually her lesbian partner. We need to get to know people to move into a felt experience of safety.
This Sunday in our community class we are going to take the inquiry into the steps of support, admiration, appreciation and nurturance. How can we personally develop trust with people who are “other”? How can we stay grounded and work together for social justice? I hope you can join us! Sunday 10AM Eastern Zoom 582 534 511 Passcode 469878 OR https://us02web.zoom.us/j/582534511?pwd=Nk1oeHlpVDlHQzJ6dFQ1aHozVDJkUT09