My story is not about me but about friends I worked with a couple of years ago. I work at IKEA which tries to foster an environment of diversity and respect. So back then, the director of the call center, Elaine, set up a series of meetings about respect and diversity.
In one of the exercises she pulled out six Post-Its and wrote names of groups like Italians, Muslim, etc. Of course, one of the groups was gays. She then asked the assembled people to write the first thing that came to mind when she mentioned each group.
The result was not surprising. Italians got Wops and Mafia. Muslims got terrorists. And gays got faggot, going to hell and disgusting. For me, I was not surprised. I’ve heard it all before and I know I work with people who are people, not paragons of virtue. What was surprising came afterward.
When I, Sam and Isabelle got back to our area, the two women were stunned. Yes, Sam is a woman, it is short for Stamtia. They looked at me and asked me why I wasn’t bothered or angry or raging about what my co-workers had written. I looked at them and shrugged.
“Welcome to my world,” I told them. Honestly, I was taken aback by their reaction. They were angry, they had no idea what I go through every day. I looked at them and told them I had been more than once called a faggot on Ste. Catherine Street, here in Montreal, Canada. Or times I was worried that I would be attacked because of my sexuality. Their disbelief increased. “But there must be something you can do?” one of them asked. Again, I shrugged. “I’ll keep muddling along.”
For a short while, there was a thundering silence in our area of the call center. Sam and Isabelle were taking in a lot of new information. And in the quiet of that discussion, two people saw more than many have seen. I saw the change in them. And through them, many more will see, over time.