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Mister Manners


Steven Petrow started writing etiquette advice after he noticed his friends kept getting it from him for free. Eventually, he compiled his top-notch words of wisdom into the 1995 book, The Essential Book of Gay Manners and Etiquette, which he's since parlayed into a syndicated column.

But since Petrow's book came out 15 years ago, a lot in the LGBT universe has changed. There are now a handful of states and countries where same-sex couples can marry, and a lot more couples are adopting or having children. With the evolution of laws and society comes the evolution of situations in which etiquette must be considered. Now, Petrow is in the works of writing a new book as he fields questions on his website from curious gays on topics ranging from how to properly write wedding invitations for same-sex couples to tactful civil disobedience.

The Advocate caught up with Petrow, who says the best advice he was ever given was by a friend who told him to have a plan to come out.

The Advocate: Let's say you're in an interview for your absolute dream job interview. You've been more or less dreaming about working at this place all your life. But what do you do if the person conducting the interview says something homophobic or transphobic. What should you do or say?
Steven Petrow: I think the first question you want to ask yourself is, "Do I want to work there?" Environment is really important to all of us. It's a very difficult situation to challenge, when you're in an economy like we're in now. I think the next thing to do is, if you have a debriefing with somebody else, you might want to say, "I was kind of puzzled by this remark," and then relay it. You don't have to do it in an angry or aggressive way. Just say, "I was a little concerned by the comments." Then, try to see if they will do a little homework on your behalf. That may be a way to bring some light to a situation. Sometimes people make homophobic or transphobic comments and they're not even aware, so they may even learn from it.

As a last resort, you may want to report the company to the appropriate local or state authorities. In most places, there are no workplace protections for LGBT people, but that doesn't mean we can't speak up. Of course the down side of this action is: You probably won't get the job. But did you still want it.

Is there room for being polite when you're in the middle of an activist event like a protest?
I think there's a time and a place for anger and outrage. What I think you want to always attempt to do is keep communication open, so that the volume of motion or words doesn't' camouflage what you're trying to say, because that becomes counterproductive. Having strong passions and beliefs is a great thing. One should argue them. You don't want to cross the line where it seems that you're threatening, or that you come back and you look at what you said the next day, and think, "That really crossed the line." I think we all have to try to understand where our lines are. Go up to them, but don't transgress them.

I think Constance McMillen [the Mississippi high school senior whose senior prom was canceled by school officials] handled her situation so perfectly. She knew she was morally right. She went to the top school officials to make her case. And when she was turned away, she did the next right thing by going to the ACLU. No matter what happens, she will not regret one thing. And, because of her good manners she's educated all of us on another form of LGBT discrimination.

You're walking into your supermarket, and there's someone trying to get donations for your state LGBT group. How do you turn them down if you don't have any cash?
I urge giving back, whether that's with time or money, whenever possible. I think that makes for a strong community, and for happier people. But there are times when you can't afford to give, or you disagree. A polite "no, thanks" is sufficient. Acknowledge the person, because they're there. They're making an ask. To not acknowledge them is rude, but just a simple "Not today, no thank you" is fine," and hopefully, they will let you go at that point, too.

What is the best way to deal when you're caught having to remember someone's name and you are drawing a total blank?
There are a couple of good tactics for this. If you have a mutual friend in the room, ask him or her for a little help. If you're stuck in the conversation, stall a little bit, and hope your memory comes back. But, if push comes to shove, it's better to say," Gee, I'm sorry, your name has slipped my mind. I know we've met before." It's better to do that, rather than try to fake it, because you're much more likely to make a mistake.

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