Picture this: University of Michigan February 7th to 16th, 2001 Visibility Week a marvelous celebration of the wonderful diversity of this great university.
As this year”s annual Visibility Week, a time of celebration of and for the University”s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community is upon us, I”d like to reflect on what this week and this community mean to me. This week presents us with a special opportunity to support each other and celebrate our humanity. Our society does not make it easy for LGBT individuals to move through this world with dignity and respect intact. There are subtle and not-so-subtle messages of hatred and heterosexism bombarding us constantly. Yet, throughout our history, in times even worse than these, LGBT people have managed to be strong and to live lives of dignity and integrity in spite of the obstacles. I am fortunate every day to work with LGBT individuals, especially students, who stand tall and proud and visible, ever-claiming their rightful place at this university and in this world. These are the people I will celebrate and highlight this week.
I call on you, the entire university community, to celebrate with me. Some will say, “but, this is incompatible with my religion.” But, is it really? All religions with which I am familiar support love and respect for humankind, with which I equate justice, peace and equality. It seems to me completely plausible that one could hold personal beliefs that run counter to homosexuality or gender variance, yet still support the civil rights of those who are different. I certainly disagree with the religious interpretations of many, yet I support their rights to hold those beliefs and their right not to be discriminated against for holding such views.
Some will say, “but it”s not natural.” We don”t really know with certainty if homosexuality or gender variance is innate. However, this point is moot. The treatment and celebration of people”s humanity must not be based on intellectual or even biological opinion. The sub-human treatment of anyone, regardless of nature or nurture, must be of concern to us all. I return to my religion analogy. Religion, for most of us, is ultimately a choice. We should not be discriminated against because of our choice of partner or gender presentation any more than for our choice of religion. Both should be protected civil rights. And, indeed, if these qualities are innate, we should be judged not by the nature of our sexuality or gender, but rather by the content of our character.
Finally, as an African-American gay man, I”d like especially to call on fellow people of color to support the LGBT community. My experiences with other people of color in the University of Michigan community have been extremely positive, perhaps because, we, as people of color, have a deep and abiding understanding of oppression and the importance of visibility to our liberation. While visibility is costly, it is absolutely necessary in order for us to be heard and to claim our space. No oppressed group has ever achieved freedom through silence, for it does not protect. It is only by being visible and, dare I say, forthright, that justice for minorities has ever been attained.
So, I call on all of my fellow Michigan staff, faculty and students to join me in celebrating this beautiful community and to commit to do your part to help make this a safer and more hate-free campus for everyone, including our LGBT members. This week is for us all: Rich, poor, gay, disabled, able-bodied, indigenous, Arab, Asian/Pacific American, international, blue-eyed, brown-eyed, Christian, Jew, Muslim, pagan, black, white, Latina/o, bisexual, transgendered, gender transgressive, all of us. Let”s celebrate it! Happy Visibility Week to all.
Director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs