Much progress and five decades later, we gays still hear clueless comments, even from well-intentioned allies. Thus, here’s a set of guidelines of what not to say, or do.
Don’t assume your gay or lesbian friends only hang out with queers.
“Am I your only straight friend?” asked a lunch companion with whom I reconnected after many years. What was she thinking?
Don’t ask same-sex couples which person plays which gender role.
Some heterosexuals apply a traditional marriage view to same-sex relationships. When Pete Buttigieg, the married gay mayor of South Bend announced his 2020 presidential bid, a colleague wondered which one was the husband. Give queers credit for not falling for stereotypical roles.
Don’t assume a gay or lesbian person knows every other queer.
My cousin, Jeff, told me that when a co-worker heard he is gay, she asked whether he knew her sister’s friend, Steve, a gay man in Chicago. Jeff, who lives in New Jersey, snapped: “Sure, Steve from Chicago. I met him at one of our gay conventions.”
Don’t feel you have to prove you’re unprejudiced.
A lesbian friend described a well-meaning straight colleague who often felt the need to mention something LGBTQ-related whenever they bump into each other, like “Oh, I just went to a gay wedding.”
Don’t assume we are experts on trans people.
When a family member transitioned from male to female, my mother and my sister peppered me with questions. They thought I had answers because I’m gay. I was no expert, but I’ve learned a lot since.
Don’t guess about what to expect at same-sex weddings.
My therapist was on a hiking trip with a companion who knows she’s gay. The other woman confided she’d been anxious about going to a lesbian wedding, “but it was very tasteful.”
Don’t tell people it is brave to be out.
A married colleague, who identifies as a queer femme, hates it when people tell her it’s “brave” for her to be out, as if she had a choice. Do we choose to be short or tall?
Don’t use the phrase “people in your lifestyle.”
My former student, once a big activist with Act-Up, can’t stand that expression. “It’s not a lifestyle,” she insists, “It’s my life.”
Don’t assume your gay or lesbian friend needs fixing up with your one gay friend or relative.
A writer living in Manhattan said he frequently hears “Oh, you’re gay. You should meet my neighbor’s uncle. He’s gay, too. ”
Don’t decide you know someone’s pronouns unless they tell you.
As an older gay woman, I’m still flummoxed during introductions at LGBTQ meetings. The words come naturally to the younger folks, but I’m getting used to it.
“Hi, I’m Kate and my pronouns are she/her/hers.”
Do not call the grammar police if someone tells you his or her pronouns are they, them, theirs. Respect and use their choice.