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Diversity and representation in LibraryLand

On an earlier post, Dorothea (who gets another woohoo from me for her rockin’ post, Getting past Cro-1337non Man) mentioned the question of diversity by suggesting that more GLBT librarians should be invited/included in library presentations.

LibraryLand does not have a shortage of GLBT librarians; it has always attracted men comfortable working in feminized professions and women who were not counting on a man for their livelihood… up and down the echelons of LibraryLand, even at ALA and all major periodicals. The problem is somewhat different, and complex.

First, we lack GLBT visibility–a visibility unavoidable to women or persons of color, a situation almost unique to the GLBT experience (though read Clarence Major’s Come By Here for a wonderful biography of his mother, who passed as white), and explains why more than one gay person has wished for all GLBT folk to be lavender, just for a day. We’re here, we’re queer–now can we go back to discussing OpenURL?

As noted earlier, ALA may have had one openly gay division president. The GLBT Roundtable may or may not get its own Councilor, when the latest Bylaws change comes into effect, but otherwise shares one official voice on Council with eleven other ALA units. There are GLBT members of Council, and some GLBT members have played key, and respected, roles; but there’s no “lavender Monday” equivalent to “bow tie Tuesday.” I also notice that when the book awards get announced, ALA gives the big-screen attention to the Caldecott and Newbery… but tooting the horn for the Stonewall Book Awards is left up to GLBTRT.

Second, and related, we lack GLBT clout. Can you imagine a library that discriminated against women or people of color running a job ad in a library magazine? But libraries that discriminate against GLBT librarians can and do run job ads–discrimination that can range from refusal to hire or likeliness to fire GLBT librarians, to subtle on-the-job discrimination, to simply not offering the separate-but-equal domestic partner benefits GLBT couples should be entitled to.

Naturally, those of us seeking employment often will take jobs at institutions that discriminate; we often have little choice. (I’ve done it several times, and I’ll probably do it again. Bravo to you if your life makes it easier to avoid these jobs.) Some of my brothers and sisters take jobs that require them to stay fairly deeply closeted. A lucky few have it all–the benefits, the equal treatment, the luxury (so deserved by all) not to have to worry about it, just to be themselves. Yet still–we’re all so quiet about real discrimination happening under our noses.

This is not “j’accuse”; the overhead of GLBT living is pretty intense to begin with without taking on new battles. Being a GLBT librarian–or just being GLBT in the first place–requires constant processing of the situation. Am I “out” enough? Are people assuming I’m straight? Do I need to say anything? Is this a moment when I should not say anything at all? (Our standard, and fairly common, family joke is that when we’re driving through conservative parts of the country we pass as “sisters.”)

You never know when the next test will come. At a vendor dinner not too long ago I found myself answering the question about what my “husband” does (the vendor guessed Stanford professor, for what that’s worth) by explaining what my “partner” does. The dinner was just a tiny bit awkward at that point, but they pretended not to be surprised and I pretended not to notice that they were surprised, and the meal ended up with lots of laughter and even a little work accomplished. But I went home tired.

Now on that layer additional overhead of male-intensive technology-related library work and the challenge of women therein. Rational or not, fair or not, questions bubble up. Am I reinforcing the stereotype of the truck-drivin’, wrench-turnin’ lesbo? Do I do a disservice to the straight ladies trying to get ahead by providing more ammo for the co-workers who will accuse them of being gay (and kudos to GeekChic for replying, “And what if I were…?”). Am I being treated fairly? Can I just relax and be myself?

The questions pile up, usually without answers… not just at work, but in so many environments. I don’t have answers here, just observations from life I wanted to share. I’m not griping; life is good, and I don’t have the agonizing choices facing some of my colleagues who are in jobs they love but can’t be honest about their lives. But the answer to whether you should include GLBT librarians in your presentations/panels/dog-n-pony-shows is not what you might expect: you already have been; you just don’t know it. That is the real problem.

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13 Comments

  1. I made an entry at Union Librarian blog Workers Out!: Making the Difference, an international conference of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) union members.
    If you go to the website for the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights being held in Montreal AT THIS VERY MOMENT you will see the possibility of a world that can exist where intolerance and religious bigotry are gone like vapor.
    Any U.S. librarians at this major event?
    We need a report.

    Saturday, July 29, 2006 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  2. Karen-

    Bow Tie Tuesday (my creation and an attempt to have some fun….and this year had more women than men wearing the bow ties) happened only because I opened my big mouth. You want Lavendar Monday….come back to Council and make it happen. And/or get some of the current Councilors to propose it. I am game, even if it means that I have to buy some clothing in a color I do not normally wear!

    Saturday, July 29, 2006 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
  3. kgs wrote:

    Bow-tie Tuesday is a delightful tradition.

    The operative phrase right now is “after we sell the condo.” Until then we will be living in the delightful world of bridge loans and double mortgages, and though our condo is a great place–I would say it’s one of a kind, but since it’s one of three units, that’s not quite correct (though it’s the only one with a wood-burning stove and a few other things)–the market has slowed.

    Of course, after we sell the condo, I may have other obstacles… but you know I’ll end up on Council again!

    Saturday, July 29, 2006 at 6:36 pm | Permalink
  4. An excellent post, Karen; confirmed some ideas I had and raised other questions.

    May I have a dance, if we should fetch up on the same conference-reception floor sometime? I warn you I’m a horrible dancer, though — you should probably refuse on that basis alone.

    Sunday, July 30, 2006 at 6:17 am | Permalink
  5. kgs wrote:

    I am a horrible, horrible dancer. Plus, I am a married woman…

    Sunday, July 30, 2006 at 7:44 am | Permalink
  6. Well, so’m I; what’s that matter? It’s just a bitty ol’ dance… ;)

    Sunday, July 30, 2006 at 10:09 am | Permalink
  7. GeekChic wrote:

    Karen – Thanks for your kudos… not sure how derserving I am of kudos… but thanks. The thing that really irritates me about my experiences are that people think it is somehow “strange” for a woman to like tech, be good at it, and get along just fine with the men that surround her (heaven forfend – as Dorothea would say).

    Even more annoying is the fact that the term “gay” is being used as a negative label. What I’m really saying when I ask “And what if I were… ?” is “Why is that a bad thing?” and “What exactly is wrong with being gay?” I’ve never really heard a good answer to these questions… I doubt I ever will.

    Monday, July 31, 2006 at 7:02 pm | Permalink
  8. Fiona (infoaddict) wrote:

    GeekChic sez “The thing that really irritates me about my experiences are that people think it is somehow “strange” for a woman to like tech, be good at it, and get along just fine with the men that surround her “.

    I actively solicit the “strange” tag, on the assumption that this will cause less angst when existing in this nasty little small-minded world of ours :). What _then_ annoys me is when people think I’m normal :). I’m normal for a technocyncratic (portmanteau of “idiosycnratic tech-centric ;) ) and that’s the way I like it ;).

    Embracing the perceived negatives means I can greet ANY attempts at negativity with a querying “So?” or enthusiastic “Cool!”, depending on a lot of things at the time. Stops everyone in their tracks and makes ‘em leave me nicely alone or be more friendly, depending on THEIR attitudes. The neutrality of the comments, too, means that people aren’t actually any the wiser about whatever it was they were trying to put me down about – and on the whole, it’s generally not their business.

    It works with subtle or snarky comments about sexuality, home life, fashionableness (er??), geekiness/nerdiness or otherwise, and practically anything else that I think isn’t someone else’s business in the first place. Which sexuality/homelife, frankly, isn’t (IMHO).

    If someone gets their world-view twisted because of their assumptions about someone else, I do think that’s their problem. I may be too blithe about changing jobs but if things are then subsequently denied because of that other person’s twisted brain, finding a workplace that doesn’t have those inbuilt attitudes may well work better than trying to fight the prevailing view.

    Particularly if you can leave that bigoted workplace somewhat in the lurch and have them realise your skills were actually relevant …

    (Note: these comments apply to biases concerning the compatability of women+tech, or tech+management, just as much as they apply to sanity+gender).

    Just aim to upset someone’s worldview once a day; that solves most questions about which fight to tackle ;)

    Monday, July 31, 2006 at 8:21 pm | Permalink
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    I’m going through these questions right now. I’ve decided that I’m going to invite my boyfriend to the library’s annual Thanksgiving luncheon–as my boyfriend. So I’m going to effectively out myself in the one part of my life that I’m not out in a few months. I’m in the Deep South, and sometimes I wonder about reactions I may receive. I’m a little nervous, but mostly I’m excited about not having to have folks assume I’m *whatever*. But unfortunately, the pre-show has me feeling weird…

    I told two coworkers about my plan: one a gay-friendly female, and the other a gay male. The female asked why I was doing it, since most everyone has a clue anyway. I responded that if they already knew, it won’t be a big deal. The male said that I should keep my work and private life seperate.

    I understand his point of view (especially since he has seen people get fired here for being gay in other departments, years ago), but it’s hard for me to keep work and private life seperate, since I see others talking about husbands, wives, children, etc., and knowing that I have to “hide” the love that I experience every day.

    All that to say, no matter what happens, I’m coming out. I may get fired, harassed, beat up, or killed–after all, that stuff all still happens here. But what I won’t do is live in the closet anymore. Folks can accept me or not, but I’d rather flip burgers for minimum wage and be myself than be a tenured professor who lives in fear.

    Thursday, August 3, 2006 at 6:25 am | Permalink
  10. kgs wrote:

    You deserve a big hug, and credit for what you are doing. I hope the outcome is that it turns out to be not such a big deal at all… that people are either so wrapped up in their own world that they don’t notice or care, or that they are happy to meet your boyfriend. And that some people thaw out a little once they meet him and see that he is a big reason you are happy in life. (I am assuming that other spouses/partners go to this luncheon, too.)

    To paraphrase Andrew Marvell, The closet’s a fine and private place/But none, I think, do there embrace. It is hard to hear people sharing every single blessed detail of their personal lives and then keep yours bottled up. People who live with heterosexual privilege cannot imagine the immense amount of energy expended on the struggle to decide what and when to share. The male co-worker who talked about keeping work and private life separate probably doesn’t think twice about casually discussing his own family at work. Either that, or he’s worried for you, which is all right.

    Is this something you can discuss with your boss or some other co-workers in advance?

    Thursday, August 3, 2006 at 7:51 am | Permalink
  11. kgs wrote:

    Fiona, I think there’s more to it than being “blithe” about changing jobs. People have families, mortgages, obligations, church lives, friends, and so forth. They may even treasure their job, even though they encounter prejudice. They may want to change their workplace, stone by stone. Change takes work, commitment, willingness to stick it out.

    I’m long past the point where upsetting world-views felt all that fun. Mostly I want to live my life, do my job, have friends and colleagues, grow my roses, and talk about last night’s episode of America’s Got Talent without editing every word that comes out of my mouth.

    Thursday, August 3, 2006 at 8:05 am | Permalink
  12. Geri wrote:

    The defintion of work vs. private life should not be different for someone just because they’re GLBT I don’t want to hear about the intimate details of ANY co-worker’s sex life at work….that’s private. I do want to know about what’s and who’s important in their lives. Being GLBT or a foster parent or Muslim or an atheist or ____ is part of who someone is. Cram your politics or your religion or pictures of your children or your fondess for polka down my throat at work…that’s different. Tell me about your life and your interests and discuss it with me and be interested in my life and interests is part of being human.
    How on earth can we tout librarians as “freedom fighters” if we don’t first start with ourselves, our organziations and apply to our everyday lives. It’s a very sad thing that this is an issue (and I know it is…I’ve seen it in action) in library land where we pride ourselves on our inclusiveness.

    Thursday, August 3, 2006 at 9:11 am | Permalink
  13. Anonymous wrote:

    Thanks KG. It’s good to know that there are folks out there who support my decision (I was beginning to wonder!). I’m hoping and praying for absolute boredom–that folks just don’t care, the same way that they don’t care about each other’s heterosexual orientation. I certainly don’t want to shock people, or discuss my sex life, but my boyfriend is such a big part of my life, I’d just like to say “my boyfriend ___” instead of “my friend ___” which still feels like a lie. One that, like you said, I have to expend a lot of energy to keep in place. Since all husbands/wives/partners are welcomed to this one event, it seems like the place to make the introduction with the least amount of fuss. I don’t think I should discuss it with anyone beforehand–to do so would appear to me to be seeking special treatment or attention. Like I said, I hope it goes over with a round of yawns instead of applause or grumbles.

    And thanks AGAIN for your kind words. They help more than you know.

    Thursday, August 3, 2006 at 9:44 am | Permalink

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