I’ve had many moments over time but given that this is #Pride month, I thought I would share one of my “lollipop moments.”
Lollipop moments are instances, interactions, and connections that change our lives forever. They are moments that are frozen in time for us for they transform a part of ourselves into a different being. These moments give our lives different meaning in terms of who we are and how we work to enhance the lives of others. You never know when it’s going to happen which is the beauty of it but when it does it is awesome because when you reflect upon the moment, you smile and give thanks. I’ve had many moments over time but given that this is #Pride month, I thought I would share one of my “lollipop moments.”
Several years ago, a group of students at the college I was working at, became concerned about the fact that bathrooms, where feasible, had not been changed from single-sex to gender-neutral facilities. This was most evident in one of the buildings on the campus where there were bathrooms located on the first and fourth floors only and this was largely due to the age of the building and there have been some financial limitations over the time. Energy became focused on the fourth floor because there were some faculty members who were resistant to the idea of “neutralizing” the bathrooms.
It all came to a head late spring when, after students put up “neutral” signs on the bathroom a faculty member would tear down the sign. As a result, the student group planned days of protest on the fourth floor by having a “sit-in” while passing out educational fliers, speaking with staff/faculty in their offices and really putting together a well thought out plan of activism in support of transgender students.
All was going well, and in fact, so well because Physical Plant came in and put gender neutral signs on the bathrooms on the 4th Floor! As my daughter used to shout at women's b-ball games, when she was small, every time a basket was made, "VICTORY MOMMY!" The students, staff, and faculty involved all felt legitimized and proud that their efforts had made a difference. But alas, about two hours later, the signs were removed. Someone from Physical Plant had mistakenly put the signs up because they used an old work order that had “not been cancelled.”
The students found out and showed up in the dean’s office to try to understand why. I, along with my colleagues, spent several hours with faculty, staff and about 40 students discussing the issue. At this point a decision had been made to build another bathroom in the building that would be gender-neutral for students. Hooray! I said to myself. A solution found….problem averted! This was presented to the students during the meeting and it was found to be unacceptable. I’m like “what…?’ To myself. In my mind this resolved the issue for everyone! I mean it meant I also did not have to deal with this problem anymore…right? And the students get a gender neutral bathroom. And then, in a very small tear-choked voice, one student said, “I feel like I‘m being relegated to this one bathroom and I will not use it.”
And then, in a very small tear-choked voice, one student said, “I feel like I‘m being relegated to this one bathroom and I will not use it.”
This one sentence changed everything for me in terms of how I began to rethink what it means to live in a world as not simply being “male or female.” It made me recognize that from their lived experience, the "male" and "female" signs on bathrooms confront these individuals on a daily level with choices they actually cannot make -- experiencing a lack of belonging and acceptance behind either door.
This one sentence changed everything for me in terms of how I began to rethink what it means to live in a world as not simply being “male or female.” It made me recognize that from their lived experience, the "male" and "female" signs on bathrooms confront these individuals on a daily level with choices they actually cannot make -- experiencing a lack of belonging and acceptance behind either door. That day I heard poignant testimonies about students not being able to go to the bathroom all day because their classes were not in places where they felt comfortable or safe.
Having been exposed to Jim Crow and the many issues from my parents that conveyed "white only" and "black only" bathrooms, I appreciate the visceral way that bathrooms come to represent issues of deep cultural context especially in the context of my own cultural experience with Jim Crow. I recalled the book The Help (Kathryn Stockett) where one of the characters, Hilly Holbrook tries to push through a “sanitation initiative” so that all the white homeowners have a separate bathroom (outside, like an outhouse) for their African American maids/domestics. I remember the deep pain in the eyes of Abilene, Minnie and the other maids as this issue was progressing throughout the story. While this was a fictitious story, what happened was very real and rang true with what was happening on my very own campus.
The students who were transgendered, were being “relegated” to having to use a separate bathroom because some folks on the fourth floor were uncomfortable and their bigoted behavior significantly hurt students and the rest of the campus community. And so did my own behavior as the solution of building a $20,000 bathroom that would be “gender inclusive” was offensive. It was offensive because it created a construct that made transgender students feel alien to others. "Separate is not equal!" they said and it does have a familiar ring to me because this is what Jim Crow was all about.
As leaders, we will have the same affect or influence on our peers, as this one student did with me. What might seem to be rather small or unimportant to you is life-changing for someone else. What you do and what you say matters. It is these moments that transform others to make better decisions because they have been enlightened. Because of these “lollipop moments” you and those that you influence will always perform at a higher level, be more productive, and achieve greater results because of your transforming experience.
That lone voice of expressing how they felt was a powerful voice…one that continues to resonate with me today. My “lollipop moment” made all the difference in how I think about gender. I don’t look at bathrooms the same way, I’m more cognizant of how I use language around gender, and when I use the word “inclusive” I’m no longer defining gender to be about male and female. I thought at the time I was an “ally.” I was not not a good one because I still didn’t get it.
I often wonder about the student who gave me my moment. I don’t know where they are in life. I hope they are happy, healthy and safe although many communities dictate otherwise in this anti-LGBTQI injustice that is being served whether via legislation or hostile human behavior. They helped me to recognize not everyone wants to be “either or” and that was a huge mind shift for me. There are a lot of people who define themselves as non-binary and are fighting for that right to define themselves as they choose.
Thank you to our anchor blogger - the one and only Dr. Jocelyn Briddell for her leadership in bringing content to world that challenges us as leaders. #fierceshero.