LA GRANGE – From close friends to grandchildren, Sue Sitton and Donna Broz both have loved ones who are part of the LGBTQ community. As allies, they often are searching for ways to become more supportive. They want to be helpful, not harmful. They want to be encouraging, not annoying. They want to be empathetic, not sympathetic or pitiful.
“I have tried to find any forum that will educate me, get me more into doing the right things,” said Sitton, 70, of Downers Grove.
For Broz, it’s about doing the work to stay conscious. The 67-year-old from Broadview shared that she remembers to practice and address members of her family by their personal pronouns, a challenge at first that “kind of threw me off.”
“I have no granddaughters [or] grandsons,” Broz said. “It’s my grandkids, my grandchildren.”
Those distinctions, though small, are important. Using preferred names and pronouns gave Broz the chance to “be more welcoming and accepting and supporting of whatever vision they have of themselves.”
At the “10 Ways to Be More LGBTQ-Friendly” event, Sitton and Broz were among a small group of adults who attended a presentation held in partnership with the public libraries in La Grange and La Grange Park. Led by Katie Slivovsky, exhibit development director at the Chicago Children’s Museum, the June 10 event focused on inclusivity.
With the Children’s Museum, Slivovsky talked about her work to build awareness, create a safe space and celebrate all people, both colleagues and visitors. She helped form the LGBTQ Access and Inclusion Committee, and together, they began International Family Equality Day in early May to send a message: All families are welcome.
“Why are we doing all of this?” Slivovsky asked. “Why is it so important?”
The answer is simple. Citing the Children Museum’s mission, the organization is “devoted to improving the lives of children, and it’s simply what’s best for kids,” she said.
In doing so, Slivovsky shared that she is not a member of the LGBTQ community. She, too, is an ally who cares about social justice and human rights. She reminded her audience that this event – understanding all of it – was and is just one stop on their journey.
“Let’s expect some imperfection in our questions and in our answers,” Slivovsky said as she set the tone for her guests. “We’re just kind of exploring and learning.”
Slivovsky asked her audience to think about the Children Museum’s statement and think about their own co-workers, students, friends and family. Beyond that, she urged them to recognize the differences between intent and impact.
Like Broz, Slivovsky shared that calling people by their preferred pronouns and names is a sign of respect.
“Think about your first name right now and what you like to be called,” she said, noting that her birth name is Catherine but she goes by Katie.
“Is there anyone here that would insist on calling me Catherine?” Slivovsky said. “And, if you did, it’s kind of a jerk move.”
Beyond that, she emphasized that in a school system – where young students are entering their formative years – there are teachers “that refuse to call those youth by their correct name and pronoun” and the after-effect could be devastating, one that could be deemed an “aggressive, hateful act.”
For educators or anyone working with children, Slivovsky said a good tip to break the habit of addressing any group “as boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen” is to instead choose to call them friends, students, visitors, guests or whatever else seems fitting.
“It’s really about not making assumptions and guessing at people’s gender,” she said.
One thing to keep in mind, Slivovsky added, is that if you misgender someone, apologize, move on and address them correctly the next time. She advised to avoid making it a big deal, but “it’s on us to make room.”
Aside from that, Slivovsky said other forms of inclusion could be placing a rainbow pride flag sticker on an entrance door, offering gender neutral bathrooms or deciding to work alongside members of the LGBTQ community.
No matter how small or big the act is, there’s potential to leave a lasting imprint.
“I had a rainbow heart on my front door at my house because I wanted every teenager that came to my house to be with my kids to know that this was a safe place,” Slivovsky said.
As the evening closed and the group dispersed, Broz and Sitton took time to reflect. They stopped by a table in the back of the room to make some buttons. One had a rainbow flag, while another had a message scrolled across: “love, peace, pride.”
“When we are resistant to something or we don’t act upon something, when we don’t go to support somebody, it’s because there’s a fear of some sort,” Sitton said. “Because you don’t know enough or that somehow, you will hurt and not help.
“Just get out there, and go to one seminar that will help you grow, find those things out.”