Allyship is an evolving journey . . .
During my hospital chaplaincy residency in the late eighties, the AIDS epidemic and the transmission of AIDS were a topic of daily conversation. On my assigned unit, a wonderful man who was the son of a conversation pastor became very dear to my heart. I watched him decline over a two month stay. As AIDS robbed him of movement and he began to lose his voice, he asked me to contact his father. His dad did visit. However, by the time he arrived, Bob could no longer speak. What I witnessed as that remorseful father entered the room of his dying son has never left me. I watched father who had judged and turned his back on his son because he was gay, fall over him, weep, and beg for forgiveness. Bob’s kind blue eyes filled with love and grace as he nodded his head. Holy ground - I was on standing holy ground that day.
When the AIDS quilt came to Dallas that year, I painted a panel for Bob. He lives on in my heart when I think of redemption and grace. I did not know it at the time, but Bob is a very influential person on my journey toward being an intentional ally.
In 1993 I gathered with my straight Boston clergy team to attend a conference on being a straight ally. “Straight ally” was not the term that we knew at the time. We were beginning to talk about the Open and Affirming process and were clear that we needed to understand more. The time was incredibly enlightening. The leaders gave us room to ask questions and begin understanding the spectrum of sexual orientation. By 1999 Milton and I had the amazing gift of supporting our foster daughter as she came out. After school that day, we celebrated with a rainbow cake. Thankfully she attended a school in which a group called Spectrum (gay-straight alliance) validated each person and orientation.
There is an organization that has been around since the 1970’s. Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and Allies (PFLAG) offer these simple reminders about being a straight ally:
- Be open. Talk about having gay friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances. When you talk about them, don’t omit the fact that they’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).
- Ask questions. Especially when you aren’t sure about the acronyms, terminology, or words to use when talking about your gay friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances.
- Become informed. Learn about the realities, challenges and issues affecting the lives of LGBT people through websites, books, documentaries, and educational materials.
- Speak up. When you hear derogatory slurs or joke, like “that’s so gay,” say something – and don’t tell them yourself.
- Help your kids. Teach them about all different kinds of families. Be mindful of the day-to-day messages that they are receiving about gay and transgender people and issues in school, from friends, the web, and on TV.
- Reconsider your membership. There are many organizations that overtly discriminate against the LGBT community. Be sure to let them know why you are leaving or not joining in the first place.
- Think about where you spend. Support gay, lesbian, bi, and/or transgender-owned and friendly businesses that have policies in place to ensure equal treatment for all.
- Challenge those around you. Encourage your social club, workplace, or faith community to consider inclusive policies that protect the LGBT community from discrimination.
- Get loud. Write letters to the editor of your newspaper to comment as a straight ally on why you support respectful and equal treatment for LGBT people.
- Become an advocate. Call, write, e-mail, or visit public policy makers and let them know that as a straight person who votes, you support laws that extend equal rights and protections to all people.
The resources are plentiful. Google, read, talk to other straight folks about being an ally. As Pride month ends, may we pray for those in the LGBTQ community and all working to be allies. May we follow the teachings of Jesus - love our neighbors as ourselves - and as one of Sunday school children said, “And really mean it!”