This post was taken from a Facebook note written by Michael Bell, the principal of brand consulting firm The Modern Brand.
I will be the first to admit that until about the age of 22, I led a fairly sheltered life. From private school K-12 education to private college education at Samford, I’ve been surrounded by people who are just like me for most of my life. But after college, I was thrown into the deep end of the diversity pool when I decided to go into advertising. Those of you in advertising know what I’m talking about, but for the uninitiated, advertising agencies tend to be melting pots. Agencies encourage individuality and creativity and thus draw a good number of “alternative” individuals.
At first it was a bit shocking to my sheltered existence. After coming out of Samford where everyone looked like me, acted like me, and had similar life experiences to me, agency life was a huge eye opener. Suddenly I was surrounded by people with tattoos and piercings, people who grew up painting graffiti on trains, and–the real point of this story–people who were gay. I don’t know the official statistics, but there are a large number of openly gay individuals who work in advertising. It may very well be that it’s just more apparent in ad agencies because agency culture is generally more accepting than that of other, more conservative professions.
I had never known an openly gay person before I got my first job in advertising. In fact, I remember calling my dad after my first day and saying, “I think my boss is gay.” Looking back, I’m ashamed of myself for my closed-minded, sheltered view of the world, but it was all I knew at the time. As I became more comfortable with myself and with the world beyond Samford and private school, I learned not only acceptance but openness. And now I am very proud to say that most of my best friends are gay. I love them with all of my heart for who they are as people. I don’t see them as gay anymore, just as wonderful human beings who I feel very privileged just to have in my life.
And that’s where this story really begins. As I’ve grown as a person over the last 10 years, my circle of friends has evolved with me. I would say the majority of my friends are as open-minded and accepting as I am, so I take for granted the fact that my gay friends still struggle for equality, acceptance, and basic human rights. I rarely encounter negative comments, actions, or homophobia of any kind, even though I live in the Deep South.
But yesterday I was surprised to see a very negative string of comments on my Facebook news feed about gay rights and marriage equality. All of these comments were made by one individual (who shall remain nameless) but it’s safe to assume that this wasn’t a close friend of mine. The comments were filled with hatred and derogatory terms that made me physically ill.
And as I read the comments, I realized again that I’ve been sheltered, but in a different way. I have spent the last several years around accepting, open individuals and I have removed myself from a world filled with bigotry and condemnation. Because of that, I’ve grossly underestimated the struggles that my friends must go through on a daily basis for being gay in Alabama. I have taken for granted their struggles and downplayed their plight in my mind. I’m ashamed that I have been so blind to the real challenges that they face on a daily basis.
Please don’t read the last paragraph as me trying to say that I fully understand the challenges that my gay friends have faced; I do not and I cannot. As a straight white male in the South who comes from an upper-middle class home, I have never had to endure discrimination or hatred of any kind, really. But after reading the comments yesterday, my mind has been opened to the fact that this level of hatred still exists.
The fight is far from over and my friends are struggling more than I ever realized. And because of that, my passion to protect them and stand by them has been renewed. So, to my friends and to any gay individuals who have faced this level of hatred, I apologize on behalf of close-minded people who have mistreated you and considered you less than equal. And I promise to be more aware of your struggles and to show you even more love to make up for the level of stupidity that you have to put up with on a daily basis.