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Heterosexual privilege

June 1, 2009

This term Carleton’s Gender and Sexuality Center and Northfield’s PFLAG, hosted a panel in which people from Carleton/Olaf/Northfield joined together to discuss what it means to be an LGBT member of this community. Although the night was powerful in many ways, one story in particular struck me and made me want to recommit myself to the process of being an ally.

A staff member at Carleton told the story of when her partner had some sort of accident while outside and injured herself pretty badly. An ambulance was called and she was taken to the hospital. When driving to the hospital herself, the woman found herself worrying about whether or not she would be allowed into the room to see her partner. Luckily, everything was fine, but this is a very real concern for same-sex couples. In a Human Rights Campaign study of 166 hospitals they found that only 75 percent had policies to protect their patients from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and not all of these were properly enforced. The article includes some advice for couples like always keeping marriage certificates and legal documents handy, and pretending your partner is your brother or sister.

As someone who has spent a lot of time in the hospital with a loved one, this story hit me really hard. The idea that your love and value to someone can be denied because it’s not in one set vision is really upsetting. When we speak about LGBT rights its not just about marriage, although this is important to many people. Can you imagine getting to the hospital and being told you don’t “qualify” as a loved one or have to prove, even in this situation of stress and grief, that your love matters? Heteronormative power structures play our in every area of our lives, not in just one defined scope of sexual practices and marriage.

While I think of sexuality as fluid and any justice movements for the LGBT community as beneficial to everyone in the ways it allows us to express our own sexualities, I do think it’s important for those of us who identify as straight to acknowledge our privileges. The emergency room is just one example, and the GSC has a whole list of heterosexual privileges here, if you want some help getting started. Some of the ones most important to me:

I don’t have to hide my sexuality in certain situations for personal safety.

I am never asked to speak for all the people of my sexuality.

I can be sure I will not be denied insurance, employment, or credit due to my sexuality.

I can reference my sexuality to someone without fear of negative consequences

I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared because of my sexuality.

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