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August 18th, 2005

I attended an all-day class today called, "Diversity & Inclusive Leadership." It was held at the rec center, and there were about 25 participants. Most of them were from WebSphere Development, and most of them young. The instructor's name was "Mish."

As usual in these kind of classes, I thought about at what point I would "out" myself, as my goal is always for it to be matter-of-fact in the course of a normal conversation, in the same way that straight people out themselves on a daily basis. "My boyfriend and I did..." "My wife and I..."

I had a possible "opening" during the first exercise we did, but chose not to, as I thought there might be some advantage, especially in a diversity class, to stay "in the closet" until later in the day. As much as I can be or stay in the closet.

We counted off, "1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2..." All the 1's went to the easel in one corner of the room, all the 2's to another, etc. There were six people in our group.

We each had to answer the two questions, "Articulate a time in your life when you realized you were different from other people in some way," and "Select one word that describes the way it made you feel."

I talked about moving from Massachusetts to North Carolina in the 7th grade, with my "Boston accent," and how my Geography teacher called on me all the time in class. At first it was flattering but after a while it got old, and I finally asked her after class one day, "Why do you call on me so much?" She replied, "I just love to hear you talk." Mrs. Respass - an old Southern, black lady.

The word I used to describe how it made me feel was, initially, "special," but after a while, "frustrated."

Mish looked at the list of words on each of the easels, and circled one. I can't remember all four of them, but two of them were "foreign" and "hollow." He then went around the room asking us to each say our name, where we worked, and where we were from. "Then, if your 'feeling' is circled on the easel, please share your story with the entire class."

This class was very hands-on and interactive. The second activity we did was to split the class in half, and then each half choose one "actor" to play a role in a scenario. The scenario involved two people who were about to have business meeting about a project they had to work together on, but to which each were coming into with a lot of "baggage."

This was to demonstrate the concept of "frame of reference," which we learned right before the activity -- both visible frames of reference and invisible frames of reference.

The next concept we learned about was "insiders" and "outsiders" and the activity for that one was to again break up into four groups, each at an easel, where we answered these two questions, "In which work situations are you an 'insider' and in which an 'outsider'?" and "Who in your organization are 'insiders' and 'outsiders'?"

I had brought along a few copies of my Will & Ned's Excellent Adventure poster, and went up to Mish at the beginning of the lunch break, once the room had cleared out. "Hi Mish. I'm a gay employee, and as usual in these kind of classes, I am trying to decide when to come out." I explained to him my preference for it just being a natural part of the conversation, and asked him if there was going to be an "opening" in the afternoon part of the class that he thought might work."

"As a matter of fact," he said, "One of the first things we're going to do after lunch is to look at four scenarios, one of which is, "You have been assigned to a team with an out gay employee. What barriers might this person experience, and what kind of coaching would you give him or her, if they asked for some?"

"Perfect," I said.

"I'll tell you how this works and what typically happens in this class. It's always the same two questions, and the other three scenarios are going to be:
  • You are managing a software development laboratory with a lot of employees of the Islam faith.

  • You are on an all-male team, with a female boss.

  • You are on a team with a team member who is over 55 years of age, or has over 25 years with the company.
I will have these scenarios already written on the flip charts, one on each easel, and I'll ask everyone to read all four scenarios, and then go to the corner of the one they'd like to respond to. But, once there are six people in one corner, it becomes 'full,' and you have to choose another. Always, the corner with the 'gay question' is the last to be filled, typically by the people who take so long to decide that the other three corners fill up."

"Interesting," I said. "Okay, during lunch, I'll think about whether it would be a better learning experience for the class if I join that group, or purposefully not participate in that group. One other thing, have you seen this poster?"

I showed him Will & Ned, and he said, "Are you that John Martin?"

He smiled and ruffled through his handouts, pulling out 25 copies of Will & Ned, which were to be given out at the end of that next exercise we were going to do.

"I can't believe I'm finally getting to meet you!" He was rather excited, and I was rather flattered. "This poster has been such a great learning tool for us, and every time I come to RTP for a business trip, I say to myself, 'I'm going to have to make an effort to stop by and meet the creator of it, and thank him.' And, voila, here you are!"

After lunch, we did indeed do that aforementioned activity, and we did indeed populate the "gay corner" last. I chose the "mature team member" scenario in which to participate, and, ironically, during which I "outed myself" in another way.

Our group again consisted of six people, and they were all younger employees. The talk got to be about, "Well this is only our perception of old people; we don't really know if these are their issues. It would be nice if we had someone in the group who actually has 25 years with the company."

"I've been here 25 years," I said. I wish you could have seen the face of the young girl scribing for our group. Her bottom lip was resting on her breast.

After each group finished their work, we reconvened as a class, and talked about what each of the group had discussed and learned. I didn't explicitly state that I was gay during this discussion, but the points I raised and comments that I made, I thought, made it obvious.

At the end of the discussion Mish said, "So one of the main points of this exercise was to show the energy that is involved in overcoming the barriers that the people in these situation face. And what we have here," he said as he began distributing my poster, "Is a poster created by a gay IBM employee, and it's one of the best illustrations I've seen of that point. It's a poster called 'Will & Ned's Excellent Adventure,' and it was created by none other than our very own John Martin." There. Officially outed.

As an aside, for those of you who think it's obvious that I'm gay from the moment I open my mouth, this was not a class full of sight- or hearing-impaired people. We did have a long discussion about People with Disabilities in the class, though.

The final concept for the day, which was followed by an activity of course, was to learn about a tool to use to have "Difficult Conversations." This involves a five-step process, which mostly seeks to have a difficult conversation with someone, but by carefully eliminating the emotional element of it, which is usually the thing that, in the worst case, keeps them from happening at all, and in the best of cases, often digress into a shouting match or hurt feelings. But I digress...

These are the five steps:
  1. State what you observed.

  2. State how it made you feel.

  3. State how you interpret what you observed.

  4. State why this is important to you.

  5. Ask for a commitment to change.
This most important thing in this method is to leave out all judgment. For step two, feelings are generally one-word things like, "angry," "hurt," "embarrassed," "frustrated," etc. They are not phrases that begin with "like" or "as," such as "like an idiot." That involves judgment.

You want to have a "difficult conversation" with a teammate about an inappropriate joke s/he told at lunch the other day.

Bad example:
  1. You told an inappropriate joke the other day at lunch. (Involves judgment.)

  2. It made me feel like I wanted to slap you. (Does not express a feeling.)

  3. To me, it sounds as if you're prejudiced against people who are like the people in that joke. (Involves judgment.)

  4. This is important to me because IBM has a policy ensuring that we all work in an environment that is free from harassment.

  5. I would you like you to stop telling jokes. (Not SMART - specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and timely.)
Good example:
  1. You told the joke about the three guys on an airplane at lunch the other day.

  2. Hearing it made me feel embarrassed.

  3. To me, that joke marginalizes people who are like the people in that joke.

  4. This is important to me because IBM has a policy ensuring that we all work in an environment that is free from harassment.

  5. I am asking, that in the future at work, you not tell jokes that might marginalize people.
We broke into four groups again, and chose one of two scenarios against which to apply this technique.

Mish then said that they are aware that this technique takes practice. It doesn't always go as planned. Sometimes after you do step one, the person interjects and derails, and saying, "Wait, I have four more steps to complete," isn't going to go over too well.

Their experience (the class teachers) has been that people like to practice this technique at home, in their personal lives, until they get comfortable with it, and then start using it at work when difficult conversations are necessary. It's applicable to life in general.



The first night of classes for the Winter semester was hectic, and then frustrating.

It started off with my walking into my 7:30 class at about 7:15, to a greeting of, "Where were you for 515?"

"What do you mean? I'm here for 515," I said.

"515 was at 6:00. This is 507."

"Oh shit. I can't have missed that class; I'm going to miss it all next week. I've got to talk to Dr. Katz."

E-Ching said, "Well, he's teaching this class, too. He should be here shortly."

I walked out in the hall, and then up the stairs looking for him. I ran into him in the stairwell. I introduced myself, and told him that I had signed up for 515, but thought it was at 7:30. I said, "Do you remember seeing my name on the roster for 515?"

"No," he said, "but let's look at the rosters when we get to the room."

So, in the room, in front of the whole class, he looks at the roster for 515. "Nope, you're not on it. Let's check this one. Yes. Here you are; you're on the roster for this class." He shook his head, "And the other's full."

"What is this class?" I asked.

He said, "It's Writing for the Health and Environmental Sciences."

I said, "Well, that doesn't sound too bad. I guess I'll just take this class." Everyone in the room laughed as I took my seat.

He went through the syllabus, and as these graduate courses tend to do, by the end I was thinking, "This is a hell of a lot of work." I was thinking, "Thank god I dropped down to taking only one course."

After class I went up to Dr. Katz, and said, "I'm going to have to take 2 of my 3 excused absences next week. I'm going to be on a cruise. I was just wondering what I should do for the assignment due next week."

He shook his head, and it was obvious that he didn't think this vacation was a good move on my part. He said, "Let's look at what's due next week."

There was a 2-3 minute oral presentation due on Tuesday, which basically consisted of us introducing ourselves to the class -- our educational and/or professional backgrounds, our goals and interests.

I asked, "Would you like me to have someone in the class read mine? I'm going to write it up before I leave, and I've already asked someone in the class if they would read it for me."

He thought about it for a few seconds, and then said, "You can just post it to the class listserve."

"Great," I said.

"Let's look at the next week. Oh. This one. This is going to be due shortly after you get back. How are you going to get that done?"

"It's not due until the Thursday class of that week. I'll just have to get it done as soon as I get back."

"That's not much time at all," he continued.

"Look," I said, "I'm not going to get all dramatic about this. My parents are at the end of their lives, and I'm going on this cruise next week with them, my sister, my uncle, aunt, and cousin, and that's that." I said it firmly like it was end of discussion. "I'll get that assignment done the best I can. It may not be my best work, but it'll get done. And overall, if I end up with a B or B- in this class, then so be it."

He turned the page of the syllabus yet again, and pointed to a line in it that said something like, "You cannot pass this course without completing every assignment."

"I said I'm going to complete it -- that it might not be my best work, but I'm going to complete it."

I was rather pissed, or probably more so, disgusted at this point, and said, "Thanks" as I walked away.

"Okay, see you, John. Enjoy your trip. You're doing the right thing."

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