Happy Straight Ally Appreciation week! Confused about how to celebrate? Time to come out of the closet (relatively speaking) and come out as an ally.
I came out as an ally to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community a little over a year ago. I say this because while I’ve considered myself to be a supporter of the LGBTQ community for most of my life, coming right out and saying it is a different matter. But the true meaning of being an ally is something far more complicated than simply supporting people, friends, family; it is a quest for a broader understanding outside of the accepted norm of what the human experience can be.
At the beginning of my sophomore year, a queer friend of mine shared a story with me that prompted my decision to become a more vocal advocate of LGBTQ issues. They had been participating in diversity leadership training, and in a room of about 150 Colgate students, no one chose to identify themselves as an ally. My friend knew a sizeable amount of people in the room, and was shocked at the fact that people he thought were supporters, chose to remain silent.
We postulated as to why this might have been the case – perhaps people didn’t know what being an LGBTQ ally meant, or were afraid of the stigma that might be associated with being identified as one. But the feeling of being alone and not accepted by our student body that my friend experienced resonated with me and motivated me to end my own inaction.
After joining Advocates, Colgate’s gay-straight alliance, I soon realized how few “out” allies our campus has; the majority of members were queer. I also learned quickly how little I knew about LGBTQ issues, I was hardly familiarized with what the letters in the acronym stood for. I started to grapple with what being an ally truly meant; could it be as simple as having a gay best friend? Or does it mean staging a hunger strike until the entire campus has gender-neutral bathrooms?
The conclusion I’ve come to, and I’m far from fully defining what being an ally means to me, is that similar to the LGBTQ community, there is a spectrum for allies as well. Wherever someone may fall between the extremes, the key ingredient to being a true ally is having the willingness to accept, understand and advocate. To accept that not everyone may have the same views as you, attempt to understand where they might be coming from and when necessary advocate for them to do the same in turn.
Although my initial decision to become a vocal ally was to show my friends within the rainbow community that I support them, since then I’ve internalized it and made it part of who I am. I accept that not everybody is going to be as passionate about being an ally as I am, and I understand that sometimes it is difficult to be vocal about it. But it is likely that you, either knowingly or unknowingly, are connected to someone who identifies within the LGBTQ community, and I can only hope that more people take the ally pledge. We should let our friends know that they are not alone in their fight for equality.