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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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