I'm Used To It, Already!

| 27 Comments

Today in my office's kitchen I saw an official company poster advertising upcoming Gay Pride Month activities, which struck me as utterly inappropriate. My feelings have nothing to do with whether or not I believe homosexuality is right or wrong, but rather my belief that what goes on in the bedroom between two consenting adults is their own damn business. I don't view a poster advocating Gay Pride Month as any different from one endorsing S & M month, Bestiality Month, or Menage a Trois Month. None are appropriate for the workplace.

Perhaps my issue is more with the whole "Gay Pride" thing. It's one thing to fight in the political arena for rights commensurate with those for married couples. It's another to thrust your sexuality into my microwaved Stagg chili. One could argue that our culture parades heterosexuality in front of us practically 24-7, and there's certainly some truth there. But that doesn't make it any more right than the presence of a Christmas tree at city hall just because the vast majority of town is uncircumcised. I'm comfortable with a reasoned debate and political action surrounding the issue of gay rights. I'm comfortable with people, gay or straight, showing discreet affection for each other (public face-sucking is gauche no matter how hot I may think you are). I'm not comfortable with what seems like a corporate endorsement for what I believe is a private, personal matter.

I recognize the difficulty of separating the political from the personal. The poster in question has a positive and affirming tone with no baby oil in sight, and advertises community outreach events. But I don't feel it's appropriate for my company to invite me to "Join us in celebrating Gay Pride Month." Call it "Gay Rights Awareness Month" and we're in business. Semantics? Tell that to the sanitation engineers.

27 Comments

"It's another to thrust your sexuality into my microwaved Stagg chili."

[David Letterman] And I think we all know how painful that can be. [/DL]

I would tend to view this as a minor transgression. Gay people live with the prejudice that homosexuality is something to be ashamed of. Otherwise there would be no need for a closet in which to hide.

The poster in your office is your employer's attack of that prejudice (F-YOU TO IGNORANCE). Even if everything you write is true, I'd give your employer some kudos in that regard.

(Menage a Trois Month ... interesting...)

Wow, I got beat by 2 minutes.

And then I went backwards in time! Awesome!

I don't want to come off as Mr. Sensitive PC Guy here, but I've gotta say: this post really bugged me, Peter. I'm going to try to describe the reasons for my reaction in a way that makes sense without making you out to be some kind of bigot, or me Mr. Wounded Bleeding-Heart, since I don't think either of us are those things. But it bothered me enough that I'd really like you (and others) to understand why it might offend. So here goes:

The implication of what you've written, or maybe the way you've written it, is gay people = gay sex. Lines like "thrust your sexuality into my microwaved Stagg chili," "no baby oil in sight," and the comparison with bestiality, etc. makes it sound like for you, Gay Pride means Anal Sex Pride. (In fact, the bestiality bit reminded me of Sen. Rick Santorum's infamous interview in which he said that if the Supreme Court doesn't interfere with adults having consensual sex, then it can't interfere with 1ncest* and pedophilia (among other things) and compares homosexuality to "man on child, man on dog" -- comments that have been widely denounced and gotten him into no small bit of trouble.)

Now, I know you, so I am pretty sure that's not what you meant. But it sure sounds like it from a straight (excuse the pun) reading of the text. So, just to be clear: Gay Pride is pride in the gay culture, the pride of standing up for people being who they are without fear of retribution, the pride of loving who you love in the face of sometimes overwhelming odds; not pride in specific sexual acts or even sex at all.

Another thought that struck me: Would you be upset about other "Pride" months for groups who have had to face discrimination and found their cultures marginalized? Black Pride? Italian Pride? Jewish Pride?

Perhaps the analogies aren't perfect now, but lets go back 50, 60 years when it was perfectly legal to not hire someone or to kick someone out of your publicly funded organization because they were Black or Jewish, as it is for gays today. How then would you feel about a "Pride" month, or an employer who supported it? And how would you feel about someone who told people that a sign promoting "Jewish Pride Month" was like "thrusting their cut penises into my chili," and might as well be "Satan-Worshipping Pride Month" or "Suicide Cult Pride Month"?

Understand: I'm not just asking these questions rhetorically. It's entirely possible that you'd be just as annoyed with Jewish Pride Month as with Gay Pride Month, though I don't think your annoyance would come off quite so harshly. And I recognize that you're trying to make some distinction between "Pride" and "Rights Awareness." But I think the value of this effort is the support for a pride in yourself and who you are, regardless of politics, especially during a time when admitting who you are can mean the loss of your job, your children or even your life.

And, yeah, maybe making a few peope uncomfortable as a reminder of this isn't such a bad side-effect, either.

[*comment filter required these changes]

Would you feel the same about a poster for Black Pride Month?

"this post really bugged me, Peter"

it really bugged me too. when i first read it i couldn't come up with a polite response. dug, thanks for writing what i was feeling.

It's utterly disingenuous to say "Gay Pride" has nothing to do with sexual acts. That's the hot-button aspect of the political issue. Whether you talk about it or not, the subtext of any discussion of homosexuality has got to include the notion of how those feelings get consummated. People aren't arrested for loving people of the same sex, they're arrested for having sex with them. And in my opinion, that's between you and your partner. I don't want to know what you do in your bedroom, I don't think it should be the subject of a national debate, nor should it be evoked by a poster in my lunchroom.

My references to bestiality, S&M, and swingers were to point out that there are other sexual practices that have subcultures built around them, are commonly misunderstood, and would also be inappropriate to discuss in the workplace. I don't see how homosexuality is a special case.

"...Gay pride is the pride of standing up for people being who they are without fear of retribution, the pride of loving who you love in the face of sometimes overwhelming odds..." I'm all for that. And that may certainly be a theme of Gay Pride. But I find it specious of you to phrase those affirming aphorisms in such generic terms. You've removed the "Gay" from "Gay Pride", which of course removes the controversy. It's not "Be Yourself Month," no matter how much you'd like to couch it in those terms.

Let's try this another way. Whether you're gay or not is none of my-- or anyone else's-- business. By advocating Gay Pride Month, I feel my company is pushing a political/social agenda on its employees, which I think is wholly inappropriate-- regardless of how I feel about the issue.

your company has been pro gay issues/policies from before you started working there, so i don't understand why you're surprised by this. further, after their recent blunder in that area i am sure they are being extra careful to be supportive.

And you completely avoided part of the argument... would you be against "jewish Pride" or "black pride" posters? How about "female pride"? Does the line stop at the bedroom for you? That seems to be what you are saying in one spot, but then in another you talked about xmas trees, which obviously are not a bedroom issue.

Many thanks to Dug for voicing things so well. While I would not claim that taking pride in being gay has "nothing to do with sexual acts," I find it far more disingenuous to regard being gay as only or even mostly about doing certain sexual acts. The phrase "sexual orientation" is more than just an euphemism. Whom one finds oneself attracted to and the types of texts, songs, and stimuli one responds to (or picks up on) have a profound impact on how one interprets and understands the world. I know many people who identity themselves as gay (or lesbian--a group normally included within "Gay Pride" marches and celebrations) who have never actually performed the aforementioned sexual acts or who are not sexually active. That does not change the fact that they find members of the same sex attractive and this affects how they interpret (and importantly, how they write, produce, and act in) books, songs, movies, and television shows. The gay perspective involves a set of values and assumptions about life that are different from those of the majority. Look back over the rhetoric deployed against marriage and adoption by gays and lesbians and you will find that the "hot button issues" have far more to do with this set of values than with sexual practices.

I believe this is why so many of us immediately associate the notion of being gay with being a member of other groups who have faced discrimination because of their different perspectives on the world due to their race (blacks), religion (Jews), or ethnicity (the whole immigrant thing).

"Look back over the rhetoric deployed against marriage and adoption by gays and lesbians and you will find that the "hot button issues" have far more to do with this set of values than with sexual practices."

I know you're not that naive. Rhetoric is one thing, the truth is another. And the truth is that a huge chunk of America feels either a) threatened by homosexuality, not wanting to appear "sissy" to their cro-magnon friends and unsure of how to handle even non-sexual affection between men, or b) morally indignant at the idea of two men or two women copulating, because the Bible says it's wrong, which is a convenient excuse to cover the more simple truth that the idea disgusts them. Any discussions about values are a smokescreen for these core truths.

Analogies to Jewish Pride or Black Pride miss the mark. Being Jewish or being Black is not controversial today. A poster supporting employees in celebrating their heritage makes no political statement.

It would be one thing for my company to put up a poster outlining its position on benefits for gay and lesbian employees. It's quite another for them to advocate a stance on a political and personal issue.

>I'm not comfortable with what seems like a corporate endorsement for what I believe is a private, personal matter...I feel my company is pushing a political/social agenda on its employees...to advocate a stance on a political and personal issue.

What exactly do you feel your company is endorsing/pushing/advocating? Do you think it is endorsing/pushing/advocating gay sex? If so, then I can understand how you feel, and I agree it would have been inappropriate, except I dont think that's what "gay pride" means. As the term is commonly used, it is more about rights and tolerance and non-discrimination, or at least that's how I understand it.

"Analogies to Jewish Pride or Black Pride miss the mark. Being Jewish or being Black is not controversial today."

You must live in a different world than I do, because where I live people care more about the color of your skin and your religion than they do about whether you are gay or not. Well, maybe they don't care more, but they sure do talk about it more.

As with most things a very large part of the issue is whether or not it actually is controversial. Some people couldn't care less, others find it (whatever "it" might be) offensive and others think that you should have an open mind.

If "it" bothers you in the first place, you will be bothered by a poster - if "it" doesn't bother you, you won't care.

As for this:

"b) morally indignant at the idea of two men or two women copulating, because the Bible says it's wrong, which is a convenient excuse to cover the more simple truth that the idea disgusts them. Any discussions about values are a smokescreen for these core truths."

I don't think I can agree - I think that, in the majority of the cases you have it backwards. Those that are disgusted by it are only feeling that way because they were brought up with religious views (or parents / friends) telling them that it was wrong. Not everyone of course, but a big chunk of them.

And by the way, I am all for public face-sucking.

Some specific points first:

People aren't arrested for loving people of the same sex, they're arrested for having sex with them.

Actually, they can't be arrested for either, at least not since Lawrence and Garner v. Texas. But they can certainly be tossed out of their job, told by a court that they can't raise their own children, or beaten and killed for loving someone of the same sex -- whether or not they've had sex with that person or ever had sex at all. You get kicked out of the army for identifying as gay; peope get beaten up in public areas for holding hands or just "looking" gay; gay teens with no sexual experience whatsoever are routinely attacked by their peers. To insist that persecution for being gay requires a gay sex act is simply ludicrous.

It's utterly disingenuous to say "Gay Pride" has nothing to do with sexual acts.

If you'll read thru my post, you'll see that I didn't say that. What I said, and what others here have articulated more politely, is that Gay Pride is not the same as Anal Sex Pride, any more than Jewish Pride is the same as Not-Believing-In-Jesus Pride. Yes, most (but not all) gay people have gay sex. No, this does not define them as people or as a culture.

Analogies to Jewish Pride or Black Pride miss the mark. Being Jewish or being Black is not controversial today. A poster supporting employees in celebrating their heritage makes no political statement.

First, what antkam said. Second, what larry said. Third, what is this? Homer Simpson playground rules? "And most importantly: Never ever open your mouth unless you're absolutely sure everyone already agrees with you." Please.

But whatever...

What really bothers me about this whole thing, and why I'm even bothering to post again is this:

My references to bestiality, S&M, and swingers were to point out that there are other sexual practices that have subcultures built around them, are commonly misunderstood, and would also be inappropriate to discuss in the workplace. I don't see how homosexuality is a special case.

Your initial post bothered me mostly because you conflated consensual sex between loving adults and bestiality, but - as I said - I didn't think you really meant it. I thought it was a rhetorical device gone too far. Your follow-up comments, however, say otherwise.

Let me put it this way: If a friend or relative of yours were to come out to you and let you know he or she were gay, would your response be, "No problem with me, I know this other guy who f*cks sheep!" If that's the case, then I don't know what to say; I guess I'm just disappointed. If that's not what you'd say, then I would suggest an apology or retraction, because that's exactly what you've said here to anyone who cares to read StaticZombie.

There's a difference between putting something deliberately provocative and intended to offend in your lunchroom, and quite possibly the company is better off trying to keep such things out. But you're taking offense at something that was never intended to be offensive, and in fact is not offensive to most of the employees.

Moreover, the equation of "gay" with "gay sex" is just bizarre to me. I think others have said it better, but I couldn't possibly disagree more with your assertion that being a homosexual is primarily about who you have sex with, any more than marriage is primarily about who you have sex with. Sure, it's (usually) a part of the package, but it's not by any stretch the whole thing.

If someone emails a marriage announcement to their group, do you think, "How dare that person rub my nose in their private sex life. Bleah!"

No, you don't, because marriage is about significantly more than sex, and so is being gay.

If someone put up a sign saying "Big Gay Sex Festival! Massive Orgy! One night only!" then I think you'd have a point about it being tasteless and inappropriate. A Gay Pride poster is about taking pride in being who you are.

So, I came a bit late to the party, but I still want to jump in on this. I think Peter is completely in the right. I have been to the parade once before, at the request of my mother, who made a misguided attempt to broaden the horizons of my sister and me.

There's a difference between unity, accepting others, and peace and love and all that, and thrusting one's agenda and the agenda of their group. I think Gay Pride time does the latter rather than the former. I have as much love for gay people as I do for everyone else, I don't need a parade or poster to make me more tolerant. It makes me mad that I was forced to be part of an event that I didn't want to.

Whether MSFT meant to or not, their having a poster on the walls endorses that position. Ask the office manager if it's OK to put up an "OK to be straight, single and not looking" poster, and see how far you get. I bet you get laughed at. That poster has no place in the office.

A latecomer to the party as well, but a few things to add�

Semantics first. The concept of �Pride� is something of a throwback to the 70�s. Then, it was common to talk about Black Pride, or Latino Pride. A lot of it came about from ethnic groups who were rebelling against the assumption that they should want to assimilate (the melting pot). Most of the rest of the groups that used the term have moved on to other things. It seems to have stuck with the GLBT (yep, the whole gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered community, to give it its proper due). There�s a reason for this, I think. It goes along with my personal distinction for being gay vs. being homosexual. One is born homosexual, whereas it takes a concrete positive step to come out as gay. That step is what differentiates GLBT folks from some of the others who have at one point embraced X kind of �Pride�. That step is what is being celebrated. (I personally have a hard time with "Proud to be an American" bumper stickers. Why be "proud" about something that was, in most cases, a literal accident of birth?)

As for your employer � Support matters to the gay community. Stonewall, and the early Pride Parades, were expressions of us affirming each other in our choice to come out. As time went by, and straight members of society realized that they could show support as well, it was done individually at first, then institutionally. And yes, Microsoft is an institution, and that support matters. It�s why there was such a brouhaha when they wavered early this year.

I know you were trying to keep your comments neutral, but you really blew it from the start with your title. The implication is that you think you get to decide when enough is enough. The arrogance underlying the assumption that you get to make that decisiion is what is most aggravating and surprising coming from you. You�re blatantly exploiting a privilege you have in society (being straight) to set limits on others. Although I�ve never personally felt overt prejudice from you in this regard, and don�t think this whole thing was intended as such, it does demonstrate such at a more insidious level.

I've gone out of my way to not make the discussion about my personal views about homosexuality, because that's not the point.

Dug, to respond to your last statement, I believe it's clear that I've said nothing of the kind. I'm making no value judgment whatsoever about bestiality, S&M, fetishism, voyeurism, monogamy, wife-swapping, homosexuality, heterosexuality, or any other practices or subcultures with a sexual component. I'm saying that none of them are appropriate subjects for a company to make a social statement about. That's the only issue at hand here.

A statement of policy regarding the rights and benefits accorded to same-sex partners, on the other hand, is completely appropriate.

If you're taking umbrage at "homsexuality" and "bestiality" being placed in the same sentence, that's an axe you can grind on your own.

Mark: I have no idea what you're getting at with your "enough is enough" comment. Enough of what? As for "blatantly exploiting a privilege you have in society (being straight) to set limits on others," being straight is a privilege, now? As in, something that can be taken away? You've completely lost me. And I'm not setting any limits on anyone-- I don't see where I implied otherwise. I'm all in favor of people being who they are, right up until they get into my face about it. Eat meat or don't, but don't make a federal case over it. Believe in God or don't, but don't ring my doorbell at 8AM on the weekend to try to save my soul. Love whomever you love, but don't demand my approval (you don't need it).

Maybe it comes down to this: for someone who's gay, being gay may be an extremely important aspect of their self-identity.

But I don't care.

I don't care if you're gay or straight. It might be vitally important to you, but it's insignificant to me. I don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican. I don't care if you're from Wisconsin or Minnesota. I don't care if you're pro-life or pro-choice. Any of these things could be an enormously defining aspect of who you believe yourself to be. But I don't care. I don't care WHAT you are. I care about WHO you are. Are you kind or mean? Are you funny or dull? Are you smart? Are you creative? Are you passionate? Blah blah blah blah blah. I'm not going to treat you differently if you're gay or straight. It doesn't change my opinion of you as a human being. But the implication of Gay Pride is that I, as a straight man, am keeping the gay man down. And I resent that. Particularly when it's coming from a freaking poster in my lunchroom.

i don't understand how you can say you care about who a person is and say that you don't care about many of the facets that make that person who they are. i don't understand how you can be interested in whether or not a person is passionate but not what they are passionate about.

Peter -- Sorry it feels as if we are cornering you here, but I really wanna understand (as opposed to convince). What is the "gay agenda" that you think that your company's gay pride poster is advocating? I can imagine several possibilities but none of them make complete sense yet:

A) You think the poster is saying "gays should have rights too." But this cant be what you're thinking because you would have no objection in this case.

B) You think the poster is saying "gay sex is OK." In that case I can see why you might object, but I think that's not what is commonly meant by gay pride. So are we talking about a misunderstanding here?

C) You think the poster is saying "gays [or: people who engage in gay sex] are OK." I still dont see why you might object since the subject are the people, and it's pretty much the law that they are OK, and indeed it is the common breaking of the law (i.e. the discriminations) that the poster would be rallying against in this interpretation.

D) Same as C) above, but in addition you feel that making a statement that "gays are OK" is redundant (hence your title), and the fact that discrimination exists still does not justify a public statement of support.

Perhaps a shorter way to ask my question would be: you said there is a difference between a "gay pride" poster, and a poster about gay rights. What, to you, is the difference?

To Dug -- I dont think Peter equated or conflated bestiality with homosexuality. He pointed out some aspects they have in common, which is perhaps intentionally controversial (and not PC), but lots of things share common aspects and yet are not logically equivalent (murder, death penalty, working for a defense contractor, etc). He also proclaimed his opinion that both should not be discussed at work, and we can agree or disagree with that. But he never said they were equal, or both OK, or both immoral, etc.

To everyone -- I propose 2 thought experiments: First, imagine we're not talking about a "gay pride" poster, but instead a "gun pride" poster, in support of gun owners. Second, imagine we are talking about a "gay pride" poster, but in an imaginary world where there is no discrimination against gays. Do you think such posters in the lunchroom would still be appropriate, or would it be inappropriate then?

Although I cant quite explain, I feel such posters would be less appropriate in a workplace lunchroom. And perhaps that's getting closer to why Peter objects to the gay pride poster even in this world...?

Well, Pete, correct me if I'm wrong, but is there someplace else where these posters are allowed? In most workplaces the lunchroom is the only place where you can put any kind of posters that aren't about the company or their products. Is the placement just a matter of "hell, there isn't anywhere else we can put this damn thing" or was someone trying to ruin your lunch? I think the answer to this one matters to some of the questions being raised here.

Dana - I don't think Pete was saying he doesn't care what friends of his think about things. I think he was saying that when he first meets someone (or when he isn't meeting them at all) he doesn't care one way or the other about them. I'm with him on that one - I don't care what color you are, what music you like, etc... not until we start talking and we might end up trying to find out if we have anything in common, if we want to do something together, etc... sure, then it matters, but even then, only if we are trying to form some kind of relationship. If we're just two people working together, waving or saying hello to each other each day, I don't need to know about your personal life.

Pete - so, you don't think any posters that are pro or con anything belong in the lunch room? No anti-war, no pro choice, no save the animals, no support our troops, no Jesus is great, no save the engagered DoDo bird?

larry - i wasn't talking about the coworker that you politely nod at but never speak to. i used peter's own situation where he said he wanted to get to know someone. i don't see how you can get to know who someone is without finding out all the stuff he doesn't want to know about.

Peter, I see you making 4 arguments here for why the poster is not a Good Thing in your company's kitchen:

1. You don't want sexuality thrust at you while you make food
2. You don't like the semantics of Gay Pride and prefers Gay Rights Awareness
3. You think corporate endorsements of private matters is wrong
4. You think posters should never address private sexual habits

Lots of these responses key in on one or maybe two of the reasons and then make it out to be a bigger issue than perhaps it is.

Personally, I agree with you entirely on #3. A business is responsible first and foremost to its shareholders � and I dunno any shareholders who would want their companies coming down on one side or the other of any social issue� gay rights, abortion, gun control, death penalty, etc.

I don't care if you're gay or straight. It might be vitally important to you, but it's insignificant to me. I don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican. I don't care if you're from Wisconsin or Minnesota. I don't care if you're pro-life or pro-choice. Any of these things could be an enormously defining aspect of who you believe yourself to be. But I don't care. I don't care WHAT you are. I care about WHO you are. Are you kind or mean? Are you funny or dull? Are you smart? Are you creative? Are you passionate? Blah blah blah blah blah. I'm not going to treat you differently if you're gay or straight. It doesn't change my opinion of you as a human being. But the implication of Gay Pride is that I, as a straight man, am keeping the gay man down. And I resent that. Particularly when it's coming from a freaking poster in my lunchroom.

There's not caring and there's working for change. You can afford the luxury of not caring because [I'm guessing] you've never had to struggle against the normative structures of society and have enjoyed a life of relative ease with regards to race, class, and gender (read: white, middle class, heterosexual). You've never had a problem being seen or heard.

The point of any such "pride" events is visibility and validation. There doesn't need to be a heterosexual pride event because that is the norm.

You're a creative guy Peter. As a creative exercise in fiction, write a piece for yourself imagining that you are in the shoes of a homosexual. Think about all of the messages that you are bombarded with in the course of a typical day that don't validate or represent who you are. These can be hard to see when you are not the minority.

If the exercise is successful, you will understand the position of someone who might feel it's appropriate or even necessary to create things like pride events, and yes, to advertise such events *right in your lunchroom* (oh my). It's about being seen and heard.

Lastly, as much as *you* would like to make sexuality a non-issue, there are millions who work to make it an issue and prevent those two people who love each other (and whom you claim to support) from receiving equal benefits and privileges in our social order.

At one time in this country, citizens sat at lunch counters in establishments labeled as "white only" to increase visibility and raise awareness. Now you have to suffer a poster in a lunchroom. Excuse me if I don't sympathize with your plight. Your indignance reveals your ignorance.

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