University of Georgia
Terry College of Business
Class Found Out 'What Lesbians Do'
Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander
The Athens Observer
December 8, 1994
I recently had the occasion to talk to a graduate class in social work about gay and lesbian issues. Laudably, the professor realized that these students are going out into a world in which their work would bring them into contact with all types of people, and the more they knew about the various kinds they might have the occasion to assist, the better they could deliver services to them.
I squeezed the class into my crowded schedule because I understood that as unfortunate as it might be, I might be one of the only sources of information that any of the students may have. I understand the importance of countering the misinformation they have probably received up until now and placing the issue in the proper perspective for them to be able to address it in their professional (or personal, if the occasion arises) lives.
So I went to the class and spoke with the students and had a wonderful time doing so. I made it clear that from the start that I wasn't there to change their minds about gays and lesbians. I was simply sharing information, and what they did with it was up to them. All I did was talk about the wonderful mundanities of life.
I shared with them the story of a friend of mine who teaches at a university in Florida. As a part of their cinematic arts program, the university's programming committee was scheduled to show a film called "What Lesbians Do." The response of the community was swift and fierce.
Incensed citizens who had never before set foot on campus showed up to protest the screening of the movie. Before it was even shown, they were out in force speaking about how ridiculous it was to show the film, and how state funds were being used for immoral, and, they were sure, illegal, purposes. The protesters refused to go to the movie, feeling it contemptible and heinous.
Well, those who went in for a "thrill" were sorely disappointed. The protesters were sorely embarrassed. The movie, "What Lesbians Do" was composed solely of shots of them knitting, rocking in their rocking chairs, tending to their plants, playing with their cats, doing their jobs, visiting their parents, eating at restaurants, playing with their children, talking to their significant other, etc. Sound familiar? It should. It's the usual stuff life is made of. There was little difference in their everyday lives and those of differing affinity orientations. Surprise!
It was clear from the expressions on the faces of some of the students in the class Ispoke to that they clearly had a problem wth the idea of anyone's affinity orientation being different from their own. No problem. They're entitled. They can feel however they want to feel personally about the issue. But this was not simply a personal matter. I had not been invited to their class to deal with their personal opinions. I was there to provide insight into a "group" (though we are not a monolith) they may know little or nothing about, to whom they may have the provide services during their professional lives. What did they need to know about that? How were they to handle their own personal feelings when they conflicted with their professional duties? How could they provide professional services to someone whom they thought of as an "immoral" person?
Two things: One is that it is important for them to know and understand that the ideas they may have about who gays and lesbians are may be composed entirely of misconceptions rampant in our society about them. Thinking of us only in sexual terms is simply silly. That's the truth, pure and simple.
Sex does not any more define who we are in our everyday lives than it does for anyone else. What has sex got to do with feeding the kids, paying bills, doing a good job at work, reading your favorite book, raking the leaves, spending time with your family, worrying about taxes, politics, or what to cook for dinner, or any of the other things that occupy us during the day? And that stuff that occupies us is what life is about, sensationalized media depictions notwithstanding.
The second thing is that their clients are there to have them provide their professional services. They are not there to be judged, any more than they would feel entitled to judge anyone else who came to receive their services and may be different from them.
A few days later I got the nicest card imaginable from the student who invited me to the class. I had to leave before the two hour class was over, but he said he was sorry that I was not able to stay. He said that students loved my talk and discussed it a great deal after I left. He said that students who had given no indication they would speak, did so, and were quite moved. I think it was scary for them to see that something could be so different from what they had always thought. I'm just glad to have been able to help them in their pursuit of professionalism. Treating everyone with dignity and respect has to be the cornerstone of whatever services they deliver. Gays and lesbians should be no exception. Somehow, with this goup, I get the feeling it won't be.
Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander, Esq. is an associate professor of Employment and Business Law at UGA's Terry College of Business, and founding partner in BJD Consulting, Diversity Consultants.
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Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander