June is Pride Month, which celebrates contributions that LGBTQ people have made to society and the world. Over the years I’ve heard many people verbally comment in puzzlement, “What’s the point of that?” Even across all social media platforms, complaints about gay pride events or observances are still very common, especially in June.
Why is this? They’re not recruiting people. They aren’t asking you to become part of the acronym. Homosexuality has existed as long as people have walked the earth. If it bothers you, that’s OK. You don’t have to like everything about everybody in the world. If you feel you have a religious basis to be against it, that’s OK too. Hopefully your religion also tells you to “love one another” and you can use that as a basis to at least not have hatred in your heart towards other people based on their sexual orientation.
As my kids got old enough to understand issues regarding sexuality, relationships and gender, I never hid my opinion from them. There’s a lyric in a song by Luke Bryan that says it well, I think: “You love who you love, ain’t nothing you should ever be ashamed of.” I’m pretty conservative in some ways, but not with regard to this topic.
Yet, I think my kids were surprised to learn that since high school I’ve had friends at different places in the LGBTQ community. I’ve never been friends or not friends with anyone based on their intimate relationship preferences. A person’s sexual preferences don’t make that person good, bad, worthy, unworthy, a friend or a person I’d rather not know. You can be straight or LGBTQ and still be a great person. You can be straight or LGBTQ and still be a terrible person. Sexual identity and preference is an aspect of a person, not the sum total of that person.
With regard to Pride Month and LGBTQ-related issues, you’ve probably heard the word Ally being used. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, as does the concept of allyship. What does “being an ally” and allyship actually look like?
Being an ‘ally’ and allyship
Generally speaking, an ally refers to someone outside of a particular, somehow oppressed and challenged group of people who acts in support of that group. In this blog post, I’m referring to the LGBTQ movement, but the terminology also applies to racial and other injustice.
Allyship is a process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability, between allies and those they seek to support and empower.
An ally has to have the sentiment that equality, justice, dignity and respect are owed to all, no matter their background, because they are human beings, and as such, they deserve those basic, important human rights. To display allyship, you need to somehow move those sentiments out into the world.
Be intentional as an ally
Think about what types of overt action you can take. Maybe you can educate others or share useful information. By a book written by a author who is part of the LGBTQ community, or artwork by a queer artist. Looking for some other ideas? Walk in a Pride march, shop at businesses that display supportive signs or flyers, or donate to an LGBTQ activist group. Post something supportive on your social media. Even something as simple as wearing a t-shirt or a bracelet in support of LGBTQ is a simple yet effective way to show that you’re an ally and someone who is supportive of LGBTQ people.
When you hear or see intolerance and cruelty against any group, it’s tempting to just stay quiet and out of focus. It’s one of the major reasons that bullies get away with their bad actions. Nobody wants to shift the focus onto themselves.
If you’re really an ally, you shouldn’t be in the shadows. I understand you may be concerned about losing your own supporters, and I’m not saying that everybody has to pick up a bullhorn and shout their support from the rooftops. But it’s not unreasonable to say you shouldn’t let that concern make you mute all the time. I’m not saying you have to work to persuade people to change their attitudes or opinions, but is it really asking too much for you to speak up and say that everybody deserves to be treated as equals, or at the very least, treated with civility and respect?
There are an assortment of federal and state laws in place to help prevent unfair and discriminatory business practices. There’s an old saying about how you can’t legislate morality, and that’s true. But fair business practices most certainly are legislated. There’s an extremely well-known national fast-food chain who is founder is famously not a LGBTQ supporter. Yet, his company is also known for not discriminate in their hiring practices, and for being very generous compensation and benefits for company employees. I know some people refuse to visit those restaurants because of the owner’s personal views. I have several LGBTQ friends in more than one state who are big fans of the chain’s food. In conversation, when I brought up the topic, each basically told me that they didn’t care what the man’s personal opinions were as long as his company kept treating LGBTQ employees well.
You don’t need to be an activist or have a soapbox to stand upon in order to speak up when somebody does or says something in your presence that warrants a reaction. You don’t need to have a speech prepared or be a professional orator.
If somebody makes a rude or insensitive remark, a biased or unkind joke, a comment disparaging somebody’s sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, please don’t be silent. In those situations, silence is the equivalent of approval and agreement. You don’t have to make an impassioned speech if that’s not your style, what is simple comment pointing out that what was said was inappropriate or unkind can be surprisingly powerful. Don’t feel uncomfortable doing the right thing; those who are saying mean and offensive comments should be uncomfortable.
I am not one of those people who goes around being offended by everything. Some people are seemingly offended by just about everything, and that gets ridiculous. Trust your instincts. It’s usually clear when somebody is being judgmental, mean or rude to a degree beyond what can be ignored. People certainly do have a right to voice their opinions, to make bad jokes, to be insensitive. You also have a right to point out if you think they’ve gone too far.
Allyship is both internal and external
Some people, brands and businesses do an incredible job putting on a show of allyship, but it’s basically a façade. Internal policies, procedures and corporate culture must work in sync to make work environments that are fair and respectful of everyone.
Being an ally doesn’t necessarily mean you fully understand what it feels like to be in the situation of the other person. It means you’re taking on the struggle as your own in whatever way you can. Empathy and compassion can change the world.