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Readers Experiences

This is what people are saying about life for LGBTI people in FINLAND...
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Hanna K. Rantala (user currently living in FINLAND) posted for gay lesbian transgender bisexual intersex straight readers on 17/04/2013 tagged with at the work place, human rights, laws and leadership , sexual orientation
Making Our Struggles Visible: Advances in LGBTI rights demand courage and solidarity

These weeks of early spring 2013 gay rights have made the headlines in newspapers across the globe. Equal marriage bill is being debated in United States, Brazil, Colombia and Finland.
12 countries have granted the equal right to marry to same-sex couples after Uruguay's decision to legalise same-sex marriage. Earlier this week the French national assembly approved "Marriage to all" bill increasing expectations of equal marriage.

At the dawn of a brighter future, I was reminded of the importance of providing media coverage to these advances; for worldwide the battle for equality is nowhere near to be finished. LGBTI rights are a question of survival and a pending human rights issue. I will share you a story which happened to me this late March in 2013. The event took place on diplomatic grounds in Finland, hence, beyond the reach of local anti-discrimination measures.

I had written a solid application for a job, and was soon called for a round of interviews. I made it to the last stage. At first it seemed very promising. I was being congratulated for an excellent application, my broad experience and language skills. Soon the awkward question popped up: "Are you married?" I answered simply "No, I am not." This led my high-ranking interviewer onto the follow-up: 螯覚 you have a boyfriend?The seemingly obvious response "Yes, I am in a relationship" did not occur at that instant. Instead, I opted for the gender-neutral choice "Yes, I have a life partner." My interviewer got slightly confused. After confusing the pronouns him/her in his speech, he looked at me and said: "So, you do have a boyfriend or what?" Feeling puzzled about what my relationship actually had to do with the position in question, I decided to be frank and not lie about who I am. He had, in fact, asked me a straight-forward question and deserved an honest response: "I have a girlfriend", I said.

From there on, my interview turned into an odd quiz about [my] sexual orientation. Despite my ongoing efforts to steer the conversation back into the topic, my experience and professional strengths, I found myself with no resorts. Over the next 45 minutes, I was directed with questions that ranged from the age in which I had discovered my orientation (if I knew what was meant with it) to the citizenship and life interests of my girlfriend, and further along to whether I had preferred female or male teachers, if I got along with people regardless their gender, if I held grudge against some women, and which one of us two was the dominating one in the relationship.

My interviewer kept on assuring me that my sexual orientation was not a decisive factor. Yet, in the midst of it, I was never given the chance to defend myself for the job. Somehow, my private life had become the factor that defined me as a professional. I could have interrupted him. But I knew that this was a well-educated bigot who was not going to offer me the job. Instead, this was my chance to set some miss-guided presumptions straight.

This experience forced me to ask myself a question, pondered by many others before me: where should we draw the limit between acting professional and being political? How far can we go in respecting our privacy? Can we actually afford to stay quiet?

I am someone who considers private life private. I firmly believe that our personal lives should have no bearing over how we are perceived as professionals. That it is no concern of our employer's with whom we share our lives. I also think that office hours are office hours, and that personal issues are best left outside. However, we are social beings and sooner or later one of your colleagues will want to know a bit more about you. Then if an acquaintance assumes you straight, is it alright for us to stay quiet?

Recent evidence in United States shows that people seem more willing to support equal right to marriage if they know personally someone who is gay. I know this. Still, I am ashamed to confess that I have confided in separating the private from the public and hidden behind my deceiving appearance as a straight woman. Twice have I found myself cornered up and closeted at work. This has made me feel like a liar and a cheat. It has really made me question my values and beliefs, for I know that the advances in LGBTI rights have come about because ordinary people have had the courage to stand up and fight. I know that if we want to improve our status as equal, worthy and capable citizens and professionals, we must make our lives and battles visible. We must turn the private into public.

In contrast to the 12 countries with equal right to marriage, a third of the countries world-wide consider homosexuality a crime. In nine countries it is punishable by death. Many others have approved anti-discrimination measures to varying degree. No matter which end of the spectrum, there are no guarantees that we are not discriminated against.

My story is not unique. Around the world people are killed, attacked, harassed, bullied and many are at risk of losing their work because of their sexual orientation or gender. The denial of equal rights and the lack of effective anti-discrimination measures threaten the lives and livelihoods of many people like me. Being outspoken probably cost me the job. Paradoxically, it made me more determined to make my life count. I was reminded that LGBTI rights are human rights. They are a global issue. And that advances towards equality can be achieved only through tremendous acts of courage and solidarity.
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