Monday, January 26, 2009

Discrimination and Activism at Kid's Exchange

Last week the Triangle Families Yahoo group (for gay parents and their kids, friends, and allies in the Triangle area) was abuzz -- a lesbian couple was discriminated against at "Kids Exchange," a local children's consignment sale at the NC State Fairground.

The incident was particularly pointed in that one of the women was a volunteer at Kids Exchange.

Basically, if you volunteer then you and your spouse get to go to an early sale before the general public can shop. Kathy was a volunteer, but when she showed up with her partner, Amanda, she was initially turned away.

Another volunteer let them in, but then when they tried to check out, they were told they wouldn't be allowed back in again. Insult added to injury!

Now, obviously this is a terrible thing -- being discriminated against is horrible as we all know -- but three great things came out of it.

First, Amanda would not just sit idly by and take it. She went after this injustice, posting on a bunch of local newsgroups. More importantly, she asked people to contact Kids Exchange and gave them the contact info. And lots of people did.

Second, enough of a hullabaloo was created that the News & Observer covered it.

Finally, and best of all, the organizers were responsive. They stated that the purpose of the decade-old policy was not to discriminate against gay couples, and they are polling their volunteers to see if folks want to change the policy to limit shopping just to the volunteer or allow the volunteer to bring in one person of their choosing (spouse, partner, whatever).

Now, the situation isn't settled, and there's definitely still some education that can be done regarding discussing gay families in an appropriate manner, as well as generally being civil in the debate, i.e., there've been some missteps on both "sides" of the issue.

(I put "sides" in quotes because I honestly believe that basically everyone involved is a person of goodwill. Sure, a couple of the volunteers were definitely bigoted, but the organizers of the event do not seem to be, and everyone seems to agree on the positive purpose both of the event itself and the special benefit for volunteers.)

This entire situation is a microcosm not only of prejudice, but also of activism. These problems exist in all aspects of our life, but the ways to solve them are there, too. It all comes down to visibility and communication.

Never let prejudice go unaddressed. Talk to the person. Talk to their boss. Talk to their organization. Talk to your friends -- have them do the above. Talk to the press -- have them report on the above. Even if you don't get immediate results, everything you do is an investment towards understanding, normalization, and equality.

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