The Perils of 'Passing' as a Goal

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November 2, 2010


A safe haven of invisibility rarely if ever exists for LGBT people. Prizing invisibility causes damage in and of itself, and subsequent incomplete or "failed" invisibility becomes a frank invitation for oppression.

An illustrative example: In 1996, Lambda Legal won the first case in the nation holding that the U.S. Constitution requires school officials to give gay students protection equal to what they give heterosexual students. Our client in that case, Jamie Nabozny, had been mock-raped in the classroom, urinated upon by his peers, and had made multiple suicide attempts. Rather than intervene, school officials told him he brought it on himself because others could tell he was gay. He didn't "pass." He failed the invisibility test, and was blamed for failing.

When I spoke of school harassment and teen suicides at a Lambda Legal event a few weeks ago, an older gentleman came to speak to me afterward. He thanked me for our work, and told me how he had survived as a youth in school. He said, "I just made myself invisible." He was quiet, withdrawn, wallpaper. Was he to be considered our success story?

Read Deputy Legal Director Hayley Gorenberg's complete blog entry on the Huffington Post.