Positive Space

Today I had to share a “success” with a management training group I’m going through. We all have to do it; it’s interesting and quite informative to hear what we’re all going through. As part of the training we’re supposed to share “challenges” and “successes” from work and life. I’m sure it’s more than just seeing the different experiences that are coming together in the program: it’s learning to interact and consider alternate perspectives in facing problems. Although I’ve had a number of successes lately at work, I chose to talk about “Positive Space” (PS).

I work with the Ontario government’s Pride Network (OPN): an employee network that is intended to support and connect staff members who are self-identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). I’m on their exec committee and chair of their Speaker’s Bureau, so I coordinate presentations and speak across the province. We started a program several years ago called the Positive Space Campaign, in which we train Champions (PSC) to talk about issues to anyone who’s interested, and to keep their office or cubicle as a “space” where heteronormativity is held at bay (Canadian Government Executive, 2012). I was trained as one fairly early in the program, and we’ve now had over 600 people trained. Although I’ve done a number of presentations at m branch and talked to anyone who’s curious, my particular building has remained mostly LGBT-free. I’m the only “out” person I know of.

A few weeks before Christmas, I suggested to our director that I do a presentation about the Champions; I’d just discovered a new Slide Deck and thought it was quite effective. He have me time in the managers’ meeting, and I did my ½ hour presentation. They were supposed to take it back to their staff, but I’m not sure many of them did. Because we have to few “out” LGBT people in our area, it’s not seen as a high priority. But a few of them must have done so, and a groundswell started in one of the units.

Before Christmas, it turned out that over a dozen people were interested; this was enough interest that the organizers of the program felt justified in doing a personal presentation. Usually reserved for higher administrative types, we had 13 people go through the 2-hour session on a Friday morning early in January. This not only multiplied the numbers in my building significantly, but it doubled the number of PSCs in my ministry. And I think the trainers rather enjoyed it: my building (also called “the lab”) is filled with scientists, so we had a different perspective on some of the points. I think this was the first time some of the questions had been asked.

Although this was all good, it was not so much what I described as my “success”. It was through this training session, and through the visibility of the Champions throughout my building, that a number of people came to me and asked questions. It was the first time most of them realized that they didn’t have to be LGBT in order to be a Champion. Anyone is welcome: almost all of the 13 trained on that Saturday morning were straight. In several of the conversations I had, I think that for the first time people got a true sense of what diversity really means. It is not so much recognizing the value and strength in others, since that tends to segregate and emphasize that all of us are different. Rather, the true value in diversity is recognizing the value and strength in us all, beginning with those like me, and emphasizing the common bonds. That is what binds us together and shows us that we are all inter-dependent.

 

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