Is Straight Privilege A Thing?

IMG_4948I had the privilege of spending the last few days sitting in a room of folks gathered at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  This group engaged voices of those who support LGBTQ equality efforts in the church and in society at large. It was a wonderful conversation, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to listen, learn, contribute, and elevate the concerns of conservatively-minded Christians who weren’t present in that space.

These trips always leave me hopeful, inspired, sad, and longing – so longing – for God to break into these conversations in greater ways than he has so far. I’m longing for LGBTQ folks to be treated better, for Christians to repent for the terrible things we’ve done in the name of Christ, and for all the many good-hearted, thoughtful, conservatively-minded Christians to rise above the current awful fray of homophobic, angry bigots being heralded as the “Christian” voice. 

We all have so much room to grow. There’s too much dismissing and not enough listening. Too much eye-rolling and not enough eye-contact. It is so easy to talk about the “other” as if they’re not in the room. LGBTQ folks who have grown up in the church know this better than anyone, I think.  As I process the conversations I had at Union, I realize I become more aware of my straight privilege daily. After spending eight years listening, learning, and apologizing, you’d think I’d have a firm grasp of my privilege – but it still operates daily for me.

Hear me. I love the LGBTQ and same-sex attracted folks I worked with. I don’t count them as less than me in any way. The relationships I see them have with God, the ways they hold to their faith and to their churches when it costs them so much, the ways I see them reach out to others and care for the poor, marginalized, downcast around them, and yes, even the ways they love and serve their same (or even opposite) gender spouses – it challenges me. It humbles me. It blesses me. They have been my friends through highs and lows, my mentors, my encouragers, my haven at times when others have cast me aside. I am indebted to them in a dramatic and un-repayable way.

But this week, I was reminded that my straight privilege still runs amuck.  Yvette Flunder put it best, “You might not have created or even contributed to the system of oppression that keeps me and my people down, but you have benefited from it. And for benefiting from our oppression, you must repent.”

It was like a kick in my gut. She’s right. We have benefited.  And we must repent. But how? How can we ever begin to make things right for the wrongs that have been done in the name of Christ? I think it starts with naming it – naming the ways that we are privileged, recognizing it, and building our empathy for situations we can never understand. There are probably thousands of ways my straight privilege benefits me, and all straight Christians, daily. I’m offering ten of them here and hoping the rest of you will help me build the list.

1. I don’t ever have to introduce my spouse as my roommate when I’m in my church, just so people don’t catch on that we are married.
2. I don’t have to hide the fact that I’m heterosexual because I’m worried that if someone finds out I’ll lose my job. Or my landlord will kick me out. Or the job I’m applying for won’t hire me.
3. I haven’t lost years of my adolescence and adulthood to tear-stained prayers begging God to make me gay instead of straight, or spending countless hours in a “therapist’s” office who has only made me hate myself more.
4. No one has tried to cast a demon out of me for being straight.
5. No one has told me I have to use the men’s bathroom or I could be arrested.
6. No one – not one person – has ever called me an abomination or told me I’m going to hell.
7. No one has held up signs that say my existence is contributing to the downfall of our entire society.
8. No one has suspected me of being a pedophile because I’m attracted to men.
9. No one has told me I can’t adopt children because I might force them to be straight.
10. No pastor has ever told me that they want to learn more about how to love straight people, but only talked to LGBTQ people about it.

Just ten reasons, of many.  And I am so very sorry, for enjoying these privileges for so many years without feeling the need to care about those who suffer in ways I can’t imagine. I hope to grow and do better in the days to come.  Add to the list below in the comments to help any of us who are straight and privileged to learn how we can recognize it better.

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