Learning to Be a Minority
Being disabled, queer or a convert to a minority religion (Paganism in my case) means you typically do not have an upbringing that prepares you to live your life as a member of a minority group, the judgment of how to balance who you are with the broader society’s norms, when to hide for survival when possible and when to come out of the closet. In college, I began learning how to be a minority.
I know there are some mentoring programs for women and Black, Latino, Native American youth and young adults in both high school, college and professional settings. We need more of these programs as they are very key in the success of under-represented groups in various industries. I’d love to see more of such programs in disabled and queer communities. The difficulty is making this available at a younger age, when it is most needed. We have to deal with possible opposition from parents, and paranoia about gay/lesbian/bi/trans adults “corrupting youth”. The GLBT communities have often shied away from youth work for those reasons. But this is really important. We need to find a way. There are more of us in social work, teaching and other professions, though it’s still often tricky and considered “unprofessional” to talk about one’s own experiences. I feel like the requirements of privacy and confidentiality, while I understand and respect them being in place, all too often have the result of isolating a student or client’s experiences. They are merely a number, a file, not a human being. They are not welcomed into a community when they discover their identity, if it’s a disabled identity or a queer one, but often told to hide it. Or they are pressured to come out when they aren’t ready, sometimes to a community that does not serve their needs.
I found the most stable community for finding good inspiring role models to be in the queer & bisexual communities. I joined Queer and Straight in Unity at my college. Now, I didn’t necessarily find that my peers were the best role models- many of them struggled with relationships, drama, and substance abuse issues. But I did find it particularly in some of the first gay and lesbian ministers to be ordained by the ELCA- Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (my college is ELCA affiliated) Jay Wiesner and Anita Hill, and their partners. These were people who had worked thru their personal issues before realizing their calling, often taking an indirect route to the ministry as they struggled with their sexuality. That didn’t necessarily inspire me to become a minister, ELCA or otherwise, but it did make me think about all the things that this earlier generation had gone thru, often alone. What they had done to pave the way for the next generation. All the obstacles they faced, that they did not allow to stop them.
In both the Pagan and adult autistic communities I often encountered a defeatist attitude. An attitude of hopeless poverty and social ostracizing. There were certain bright sparks of hope, people who didn’t let the bastards grind them down. There were others that seemed to fear success and integration into the mainstream, even blocking or undercutting people who tried to break through self-imposed ghetto walls. I encountered some of these same attitudes among queer communities, but fortunately I knew they were wrong. We were winning, the tides of public opinion were turning in our favor. There is still a lot to do, especially with making sure young people, elderly people, disabled, trans people, bisexuals of all genders, and queer/trans people of color are truly included by our communities and their needs are addressed and their voices heard. But overall, I have gained a great sense of empowerment from my activist participation in the queer/bi communities, and I hope to share that empowerment with my other communities.