Q&A: Etiquette for Gays, Lesbians and Their Straight Friends

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Gay marriage is a critical issue, but are there gay people who aren’t interested in marriage, who think that it’s a straight construct they don’t need?

Absolutely. And I think every gay couple now is being asked, ‘When are you going to get married?’ For those who are straight and dating, ‘When are you going to get married?’ [is] a little bit of a pressure on [them] too. Not everybody who’s gay wants to get married. But just about everybody who’s gay wants the right to get married. And there is a difference there.

Should people feel an obligation to come out at work?

No. In fact, the first thing you should do when you’re thinking about coming out at work is to understand the law in your state, because in three-quarters of U.S. states, you can be fired simply for being gay. So in this economy, you want to make sure you’re going to hold onto your job.

And then you also want to understand the policies of the specific company and the attitudes. The most progressive companies have elements in their HR policies about sexual orientation and gender identity, and benefits for partners.

Anyone who’s coming out at work [should] be professional about it. It’s still a workplace. One of the easiest ways to do it if you’re partnered is to put a photo up of your beloved and then let people ask you questions: ‘Who is that?’ and then talk about it that way.

Otherwise, just integrate your day-to-day life into your work life: ‘Oh I went with some friends this weekend to Fire Island and it was Ron, Robert and Juan.’ People catch on. You don’t have to shout it out to let it out.

Is it O.K. to ask a lesbian mother who the father of her child is?

Not really. One, lets say it’s a young child and the mother hasn’t talked to her child about how he or she even came into the world. You as a parent want to have that conversation with your kid before anyone else has information about that. And secondly, that’s really not anyone else’s business. There are lots of things in the world that we’re curious about. Holding back is also a good thing sometimes.

What should people do when they encounter extreme rudeness from others who do not accept gays and lesbians?

That’s a really important question. I have to tell you a little story. My dad, who used to teach at NYU and [who was] also a journalist here in the city, was once with some of his friends when someone told an antigay joke. He has two children who are gay — myself and my sister — and he said in the moment, ‘I don’t think that’s very funny.’ That was exactly the right thing for him and others to do.

You don’t want to humiliate anyone; you don’t want to be aggressive. But to be silent is read as to be in agreement. I think whenever anyone makes any kind of joke about a group, we should say something: ‘That’s not so funny’ or ‘I find that offensive.’

People say, ‘Well, you’re making the jokester uncomfortable. Isn’t that bad manners?’ Believe me, the other people who are listening are uncomfortable too. So you’re probably making nine out of 10 more comfortable by just drawing a line like that, and saying something.

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