Last night, I watched a Real Momentum short documentary called Out on the Job. A brief description, lifted from the Logo website:
Mateisha is a hairstylist who’s in the closet at her salon. She’s worried her religious boss, Antoinette, is about to discover her secret. Mateisha wants to come out before she’s found out. But will she keep her job when she tells the truth? Laurel thought she had her dream job – she built a successful small business shooting action photos at a ski resort in gay-friendly Asheville, North Carolina. But when the resort’s owner saw Laurel’s wedding announcement in the newspaper, she got fired. Now she’s a reluctant activist against discrimination. But the local Christian right is organizing against Laurel. Can she rise to the challenge in a job she never signed up for? Scott has just become the first out male police officer in the history of Montana. But increased visibility is bringing him increased hostility – in the form of anonymous threats. Now he’s thinking about quitting the only job he’s ever loved. Can Scott protect his community without putting his family at risk?
I thought the documentary actually tied in really well with the discussion we had in class last night, based around an essay written by Deborah Gray White called “History Full of Ironies,” which is about the changing perception of black female leaders throughout history. White argues that black women, in the past, were considered leaders when they broke of out social stereotypes and achieved something beyond everyday expectation because they were fighting for the greater good of all black females. She suggests that black women now have the luxury of choosing to achieve for their own self-satisfaction and realization, or choosing to achieve for the greater good.
The class fell quickly into a discussion about these choices, and their related issues: do you sacrifice yourself for the good of the community you represent? Do you represent a community purposely, or just by virtue of your appearance and personal history? Is it selfish to choose to work for yourself with no desire to affect the community at large? Is it even possible? What kind of social identities can / do you choose for yourself, and in what circumstances?
Donna and I have long discussed the idea of social responsibility to the gay community vs. familial responsibility – as much as I would like to get out there with groups like Act Up, raising my voice and trying to change things, I realize that I have a greater responsibility to a five-year-old boy named Jacob – I can’t very well raise a child from a jail cell after being arrested for disturbing the peace, can I? And I think the three people in the documentary were facing those same issues: Scott, the Montana police officer, raises a son with his partner who is developmentally disabled. While I agree that it’s important for Scott to raise awareness in the larger community about GLBT people, I understand his struggle: does he keep working to raise awareness, or does he think about the safety of his family?
I imagine this is something that, as I dive further into the studies at Rutgers, I will continue to struggle with. And I’m not sure there every is A Right Answer. There are probably many Right Answers, and mine is likely very different from yours, or hers, or his.