I sat in the small white office, legs crossed, my heel taping a nervous rhythm through my sensible black flats. My palms were a little sweaty and my hair, that I’d spent an hour straightening, somehow managed to keep getting stuck in my lip gloss. On my lap was a smooth leather folder containing a meticulously edited resume, my birth certificate and a cover letter detailing my professionalism.
Next to me, a small TV played Fox News, muted with subtitles flashing across the screen. White letters cloaked in a black background spelled out that status of our country as I waited to be interviewed for my first job out of college.
I was prepared. I was able to answer each question without missing a beat. A smile was plastered on my face, my head nodding as I formulated each fine-tuned response. But one question threw me, one question made all the blood in my body flush to my cheeks and took the air out of my lungs.
The manager looked at me, pausing on the diamond ring on my left finger.
“So, where does your fiancé work?”
Insert a record scratch sound effect here, or the Blinking White Guy meme-dealer’s choice depending on how much time you spend online. This is something I wasn’t prepared for. This is something I didn’t know how to navigate in a professional setting, something that took all my confidence away.
I’d been engaged for about six months, yet answering this question would require me to reveal something about myself to a potential employer that I wasn’t sure I was ready for. It was a completely normal question for him to ask, I just knew I was about to give an answer he didn’t expect- an answer that could change his whole perspective about who I was.
“Um,” I said, staring at the grayish green worn-down carpet, “She’s an engineer.”
I know, divulging to an employer that you’re in a relationship with an engineer is a big deal. They’re going to know that your significant other is likely an analytical type-A and that they are really good at math. That’s a lot. Of course, I wasn’t nervous because Kelly is an engineer, I was nervous because I had basically just told my potential employer that I was in a same-sex relationship, and I wasn’t sure how he’d react. I braced myself, trying to be ready for any response.
My stomach was in knots, my already sweaty hands were even clammier and my cheeks were hot. Luckily, he didn’t bat an eye. Instead, he asked a few more polite questions before I changed the subject to something I could feel confident about again.
Maybe those feelings I was experiencing weren’t fair. Maybe they weren’t giving him enough credit. Maybe my visceral reaction to a normal question wasn’t even giving him a chance to be accepting or to show his actual perspective rather than what I perceived in my head.
But here’s the thing: I live in Indiana. Indiana is one of five states that needed to decide this year whether or not gay people would be covered under hate crime legislation. That means that every day I walk on eggshells. It means that anyone I talk to, anywhere I go, anything I do, my safety is not guaranteed. It means that in a state that I call my home, I am often afraid to be myself.
It’s been a year since I got the job. I’ve been lucky enough to be out of the closet in the workplace, to have my coworkers ask about my upcoming wedding and to know that my partnership will not impact my job in a negative way. But that could change with just a couple votes.
A couple votes could bar me from having the career I’ve worked for, because of my relationship.
A couple votes could remove any semblance of safety myself or my peers are able to feel in the workplace.
A couple of votes could stand between people like me being able to support themselves.
In 1962, Midwest historian, critic and novelist Walter Havinghurst wrote: “Whatever its origin, the name of Hoosier has had a lasting appeal for Indiana people and has acquired a quite enviable aura. For more than 100 years, it has continued to mean friendliness, neighborliness, an idyllic contentment with Indiana landscape and life.”
You cannot be a friend and you cannot be a neighbor if you choose to be content with the current political landscape in America or in Indiana. Even if you can’t personally empathize with your neighbor, I implore you to support them in this uncertain and scary time. I ask you to show people who differ from you true Hoosier Hospitality and support legislation on both state and federal levels that affords them the basic human right to love who they love and live freely with the same opportunities as everyone else.
And if you can’t, you’re on the wrong side of history. Unfortunately for everyone involved, I’m not Ellen. I can’t sit next to you laughing at a football game knowing during the next election you are going to favor laws that condemn who I am fundamentally and take rights away from me as if I am not made of the same flesh and blood you are.
Choosing to be visible is terrifying as a queer person. But it’s also important. We exist. We matter. And we will never stop fighting.
On my way to work, I stop at the gas station, placing my Coke Zero squarely on the counter. The cashier looks at me, pausing on the diamond ring on my left finger.
“You’re engaged, huh?” he smirks, “Lucky guy.”
I smile. “Yeah, she is.”