Guest Blog Post by Stephane Magloire Creative Director and LGBTQ+ Activist based in Vienna, Austria.
“My rule of thumb is: Ask openly. Expect criticism. Stay humble.” Stephane Magloire
During Pride Month, I was invited by the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens to facilitate an LGBTIQ+ awareness workshop. As a “G” member of the community, I applaud leaders who champion diversity within their companies and organizations. Since the Stonewall riots of 1969 in New York City, June has long been associated as a time of year to highlight, educate and celebrate how far the global human rights movement has come and its continued struggles along the way. However, I find it necessary in my workshop for participants — especially cisgender straight allies — to not only educate themselves about societal beliefs regarding LGBTIQ+ people, the way they live and confront pre-conditioned prejudices within oneself, but also cultivate empathy to better develop tools for how to create safer spaces for those who often feel targeted and/or marginalized.
Establishing a safe space from the beginning of the workshop allows LGBTIQ+ participants to bravely share their experiences in not only their personal lives but also the workplace without feeling singled out. For this to happen, I ask all heterosexual participants not to disclose their sexual identity within the group to avoid thoughts such as “Well, you didn’t say you were straight, so…” Highlighting that straight people normally have the privilege of expressing their sexual identity at any time without fear of repercussion and now creating a space where everyone is an assumed “other” establishes empathy within the group.
I encourage workshop participants to make mistakes. And because of this, I created an “Ouch!” (then educate) rule. If at any time during the training, you say or do something that is offensive, one can raise her/his/their hand and say, “Ouch!” and share why a comment or word has hurt their feelings. This practice resolves most issues immediately and further establishes trust within the group.
During the workshop, I encourage all participants to take risks. My thinking is: How do you know if you’re prejudice unless you… ask a “stupid” question or make an insensitive/triggering comment? Participation encourages active listening. As a group, we learn to become mindful of our unintentional micro-aggressions towards others who are different than us and learn to speak from our own experiences using “I feel…” or “I think…” rather than “People say…”
Throughout the workshop, it is important as a facilitator to gauge the emotional environment of the room. I carefully plan my exercises as part of an emotional marathon… “If you pace yourself, drink plenty of water and listen to your body, the experience will sometimes hurt but will only make you stronger in the end.”
Ice breakers are the best way to get a group’s energy up and make everyone comfortable through laughter and curiosity. I want the participants to think: “Although I have been working alongside you for xzy amount of months or years, how much do we really know about each other?” In a time of physical distancing and quarantine, name games and personal trivia are the best approach to begin scratching beneath the surface and learn something new about colleagues in your co-working space. Additional ice breakers after pauses between exercises are also a great way to cut emotional tension and re-focus the group.
Stereotypes are always a good place to start because it is something that affects us all regardless of assumed identities by us or perceived labels by others. I begin with a guided fantasy that gives workshop participants an opportunity to feel what it’s like to be ridiculed, excluded and discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, but with a twist… “What would it be like to live in a world where everyone is LGBTIQ+ and you are the ‘only’ straight person?” Our conditioning of most stereotypes can be attributed to early learning from interactions with family members, friends as well as the communities we grew up in. Understanding the challenges faced by your LGBTIQ+ colleagues, creates an awareness for how to better approach non-gender specific conversations about dating, expands your views outside of what is “normal” and invites LGBTIQ+ people in the group to speak their truth without fear of judgement or outing themselves.
This is Me
Living in a country like Austria, there is a long list of human rights granted to its citizens and legal residents in the LGBTIQ+ community; however, the cultural mindset still has a long way to go in embracing individuality and accepting what makes us unique. In this part of the workshop, we dive into the differences between tolerance and acceptance. Tolerance establishes an internal hive mind mentality, where one becomes afraid to show herself/himself/themselves as an “other.” A positive approach includes a challenge to the group, where they have to identify and share what makes them different and explore why these parts of us should be celebrated as much as what makes us the same. Note: Usually, this is where most participants come out of the closet, which further bonds the group.
There are three main type of losses that occur in our lives: those that are predictable (losses that we choose), random losses (losses that come from someone we love) and unpredictable (losses that come from strangers). Unfortunately, members of the LGBTIQ+ community do not have the privilege of expressing their love in today’s society, which in turn affect the people they love, the things they cherish, the ideals they value and the places they occupy. Some choices are predictable, but for most, they are random and unpredictable. This is the most emotionally dense part of the workshop because participants finally come to terms with what happens to LGBTIQ+ people as a cause of constant rejection from your environment and of yourself.
Be the Change
At this critical moment in our history, it is important to understand that our outward behavior shifts the dynamic of our respective communities and change begins with us. Gay is no longer an acceptable umbrella term, Queer is the voice of a new generation, people of color and transgender lives matter and for some who have the desire to be an ally, this information overload can be overwhelming whether you have an LGBTIQ+ family member, best friend, neighbor or work colleague. Being politically correct isn’t enough; you must be anti-homophobic… Where do I start?
My experience with the Ban Ki-moon Centre participants was a paralyzing fear of: What do I do when I see something happening? How do we make our co-working space speak our values without using words? At the end of the workshop, I like to think of this process as group healing. It is a time where the group can openly share their thoughts and experiences, and we as a group come together to create an action plan for how to not only create a safe space for LGBTIQ+ people but also be one too!It is my belief that there is no “right” approach for how to be an ally for anyone, regardless of how they express themselves, who they love or what they believe. However, my rule of thumb is: Ask openly. Expect criticism. Stay humble.