Last night I finished one of the most challenging and rewarding classes, “Disrupting Privilege through Anti-Oppressive Practice,” of my academic career. It is difficult to describe, but the gist of anti-oppressive practice is this:
Privileges means I have something valuable based on my belonging to a group that is perceived (generally) as normal or better. Privilege affords me unearned advantages, as I receive it based not my action or inaction. Having privilege does not determine my life completely, but it does mean that whatever positive traits or abilities I possess will be noticed and accepted more readily. In contrast, people experience oppression, because they belong to groups perceived as abnormal, inadequate, or morally deficient. Oppressed individuals experience marginalization, which excludes them from social, political, religious, and relational benefits afforded to privileged groups. In order to bring my whole self to my work, I must be aware of how my personal privileges restrict me from authentic relationships with individuals who belong to marginalized groups.
Over the ten weeks, the 21 of us developed a community of sorts, pushing beyond comfort and challenging one another to disrupt privilege. Even though I have many forms of privilege, I dug deep into my heterosexual privilege, considering how being straight advantaged me over gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people. It was hhaarrdd, and, at multiple points through the course, I stared straight into my own resistance, wanting to stay in the comfort of my privilege and run away from the unjust reality of how LGBQ experience the world. Instead of a paper or a project, each of us discussed what it was like to take this class and what we learned. I share it here not to teach you but to challenge and hold myself accountable to the commitment I have made to be a better ally and a more just and compassionate person. If you have questions or thoughts, I’d love to talk with you. Thanks for reading:
When I started the social work program in the fall, the illusion of social justice work being sexy unraveled quickly, as I became aware of the dynamics of privilege and oppression. I knew I had privilege but didn’t internalize it as anything more than a concept. Ten weeks ago, I said (and believed) things like, “Privilege keeps me from being fully human” but knew authenticity in this work required more depth, introspection, and action, so taking this class seemed like a good place to begin.
In order to move forward as an ally, I needed to go backward into the origins of my straight privilege, which meant admitting that my past included homophobia and shame. Instead, I wanted to start in the present, as my progressive, social-justice oriented self, doing, saying, and standing up for the right thing.
In one of the early weeks, our caucus facilitator asked us to think about when we learned what it meant to be gay. Something about this question resonated with me. As I thought about how and what I learned about LGBQ people growing up, I heard homophobic messages and bigoted stereotypes. I saw anti-gay protests initiated by other Christians. I heard a thousand, small cuts undermining the legitimacy and intimacy of LGB relationships. The guilt and shame I wanted so badly to avoid surfaced, forcing me to sit with it.
Later that week an advocacy group approached my undergraduate university to facilitate a conversation about the political and religious oppression LGBTQ people experience, and the administration denied the group access to the campus. Several students posted articles about it on Facebook without questioning the administration’s decision. Discussing it with students reiterated my anger, guilt, and shame, and I realized that, regardless of how differently I thought about LGBQ individuals and advocated for their rights, others in my faith community believe differently at the expense and oppression of LGBQ people, and I was inextricably aligned to these people.
Reading and listening to reactions to campus situation and the recent legislative decision to kill the civil unions bill impressed the great need for me, as someone who is aware of my straight privilege and an ally to the LGB community, to be an advocate first to those in my own faith community. Now I understand that dialoguing with people about the marginalization of LGBQ people in faith communities (and society at large) is an opportunity afforded to me because of my straight and Christian privilege. More than a discussion about values, opinions, and theological interpretations, I view this work as helping others like me think through the same question, discovering the origins of their beliefs about LGBQ people, discerning the real messages, and reframing perspectives based in the grace and compassion central to our shared faith.
I benefit from the religious exclusion and oppression of LGB people. I am straight, and this means I have privilege.