I grew up in a small town where diversity was scarce, really scarce. I’m not sure how or when being inclusive of everyone became such a part of who I was but I remember as early as 11 being inclusive regardless of race or religion specifically in my very non-diverse town. I remember during the O.J. Simpson trial being young and not really understanding everything that was going on but the key takeaway for me was the race issue. That’s what I recall hearing from the adults around me. My guess is that it wasn’t a good time to be a minority in a predominately caucasian town, but to me, none of that mattered. I was friends with the kids who I enjoyed being around, I couldn’t have cared less about race. That’s the beautiful thing about kids. Kids are pure with good intentions until adults and outside influences corrupt who they are naturally. I didn’t have the lightbulb moment about being LGBT until I was 19 so in my younger days as a child LGBT wasn’t anything I consciously thought about. Race and class differences on the other hand were, even at the young age of 11.
I think I was raised in a household where differences were accepted, at least to my recollection. I had many oddball child moments that I’m sure made my parents say “hmmm…” Not to stereotype but when their 11 year old daughter is dressed up like Raphael from the Ninja Turtles (the red turtle) while all of her friends are dressed like Tiffany and some early 90’s NKOTB mega fans, it may have been a flag that their daughter might be a lesbian. (If we ever meet in person please ask me to share the getting stuck in the Ninja Turtle shell at a party – it’s priceless. Seriously, priceless.) It was also the flag that their daughter moved to the beat of her own drum, which is just as important to embrace.
In my small town, I lived in the western outskirts, the most remote area. We lived on a long dirt road and in the middle of the woods. Sometime when I was 8 or 9 two women moved in across the street. I only remember one of their names, Martha. They were probably in their late 30’s to early 40’s and they were very pleasant. They had an adorable Husky with big blue eyes that they walked through the neighborhood. Any time I talked to them or about them to my family I would just say “the ladies across the street.” They were our direct neighbors across the way. The neighbors where my baseballs would land dangerously close to the windows of their home and cars.
As a young child I had no idea that these two women were a couple. All I knew is that they were nice neighbors who had a cute dog. I was an innocent child. I think we can learn a lot from children about being accepting of people or ideas that are not part of our everyday encounters. I think now that my wife and I are “the ladies across the street…” for many young neighborhood children. And I hope that when they are older and realize that we were a couple, they will remember us for being nice neighbors (although they might say with the obnoxiously loud cat instead of cute dog.)
Think about what role you are playing in the lives of those around you. Is it a positive one? Or is there some work to be done? The idea of having good LGBT and allied role models has come up on the blog before. Click here to read my earlier post. Whether we are consciously thinking about it or not we are role models for someone else. A little bit scary to think about I know, but something to be aware of. Do the LGBT community and your business proud and represent in the way that feels comfortable to you. Be authentic. Be genuine. Be a good role model. And hopefully the fruits of your labors will pay off in spades.