You know, one of the most humiliating and infuriating experiences I have ever had in this vein went something like this:
I was assistant teaching in the year after college, and the other teacher I was working with was a man who clearly had some very strong sterotypes in his brain about people (which is odd, considering he was a male bodybuilder jock-person who was teaching elementary school, so I'm sure he'd run into some himself). In any event, though my sexual orientation had never come up in conversation (hello, work isn't the place for it), he assumed that I was gay. I tend not to argue or say otherwise when people make assumptions like that about me, I figure it's their problem.
One day, in a classroom (Montessori) where one NEVER yells across the room, I was on the far end of the classroom giving an English lesson when he yells, "Heather, can you come over here and tell these kids what a dyke is?"
He is sitting with a group of fourth graders when he asks me this. I stop my lesson and am livid, and turn around and look at him incredulously.
He shouts it AGAIN.
I walk over softly and lean down and say, "What did you ask me?"
Again, loudly, he tells me to explain what a dyke is. I just look at him.
Then, with a big, crappy grin, he points to a map and tells me to explain what a "dike" is.
Steaming, I explain it to the children in geographical terms as he's trying to keep from laughing. before I walked back to my lesson, I said, softly, but loud enough that the prinicipal walking by could hear, that since I did him the favor of explaining what a "dike" was, perhaps he might want to now explain to the children what sexual harassment is.
Really, it was awful, but unfortunately typical, and it doesn't stop in school, unfortunately.
But you know, these things take time, and sometimes, you have to allow people to not be okay with something. Before I went home that day, I pulled him aside and asked if he did need to know what a dyke was, if he felt he needed to know what my sexual orientation was, and that if he had any questions about it, I would be happy to explain things to him or furnish him with some reading matter on the topic. I also mentioned to him that while I personally understood some people do have some inherent bigotry about the matter, I wasn't going to tolerate it at work, especially since he had never even taken the time to ask if I was lesbian or not, which I felt was patently disrespectful. You know, that problem stopped right there. It never came up again, and in truth, he was much better with me for the rest of the year.
These things take time, and it's hard for something to change quickly when it's new, and as far as acceptance of things that in some cultures were taboo, that change usually takes several generations, and a lot of patience.
For instance, Sexy just posted that she feels homosexuality isn't "right," and I think it's okay she feels that way, and the best way to help someone like that is to acknowledge it's okay they feel that way, but then put the burden back on them. Ask them to look at WHY they feel that way. More times than not, asking questions like that make most people realize that they don't know why, and they begin to grow.
Feeling any one group of people are wrong or immoral for being anything that they cannot change -- their race, their social status, their nationality, their age, their sexual orinetation, their body shape, etc. -- is bigotry, and bigotry is serious business, and it is never "right," because it isn't humane. But it exists, it's out there, and the only way to combat it in my experience is with tolerance, with kindness and with educating people who are bigoted, even if they are forced to behave as if they are not.
Editor and Founder, Scarleteen
"If you're a bird, be an early early bird --
But if you're a worm, sleep late." - Shel Silverstein