Several years ago, I stumbled across a “welcome” mat that said “Leave” instead of the traditional greeting. Just for fun, I bought it and placed it at our front door. However, I soon moved it to the back door because I couldn’t bear the message it would give our guests. It even bothered me that the postal worker might feel slighted when dropping off packages.

Photo Credit: KitchenAgenda.com

Working in a legal aid organization this summer has made me consider how our clients feel when they walk in the door. Do they feel welcome, or is the “leave” mat at our door?

One of the first things our clients face when arriving at the office is a slew of forms that need to be filled out. For those that don’t fall into the “norms” of gender identity and sexual orientation, these forms often reflect society’s traditional viewpoint. For example, if the only option for gender is Male or Female, does the client answer what it says on their birth certificate even if it may not reflect their identity?

Consider this video by The Chronicle of Higher Education that details the problems faced by students entering a classroom:

Unfortunately, the classroom is just an exemplar of the wider problem.

I believe education is the way to solve many of society’s ills, and one way to learn is by asking questions. However, confronting a stranger may not be the best way to get answers about these issues. Rude is still rude, even if well-intentioned. Jackson Bird gives a great TED talk on this:

I am far from an expert in this area, although I have friends from various areas of the gender identity spectrum. Quite often, even they don’t agree in some areas. My goal then is to provide resources to help others gain at least a better understanding.

Life is hard enough for our clients. Shouldn’t our mission to help them begin when they walk in the door?

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