Over the last few weeks, I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, particularly online, for the various movements to stem the tide of GLBT-suicides and anti-GLBT bullying. From It Gets Better to Make It Better to Do Not Stand Idly By to Spirit Day, my Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds have been overwhelmed with friends, acquaintances, and strangers proclaiming their support.
In the past, I have generally been somewhat skeptical about these sorts of campaigns. What real impact do we make by proclaiming our support for something that most people who know us already assume we support?
But this time around, for me, it’s been difference. The recent string of gay teen suicides has really upset me. I’ve been involved in GLBT activism for years now, so the abhorrent statistics about GLBT teen suicides aren’t news to me. But the juxtaposition of these suicides against the news of the day — the battles around Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell, gay marriage, even the publication of gay wedding announcements!! — it was too much for me. It reminded me of the days in 2004 when we waited for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision about gay marriage. Although I felt the arc of history curving in the right direction, I had to stop reading the newspaper every morning. The pages were filled with quotes from the anti-marriage people filled with such hatred — how could I not take it personally?
What has sustained me through this current crisis has been the public support of so many friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Instead of taking the words of the haters personally, I have chosen to take the words of those expressing support personally.
Yesterday, I decided that I would do my part for Spirit Day. I don’t think I have ever in my life taken part in a “Wear X Color T-Shirt for Y Cause” — unless you count wearing a red t-shirt at Disneyland on Gay Day. But my officemate Liz, a proud straight-ally, made it pretty clear that she would be sporting purple duds today, and I wasn’t about to let her show me up. Not owning a purple shirt, I stopped at Marshall’s on the way to work to acquire one for the occasion. I’m glad I did. The number of my friends on Facebook and Twitter participating in Spirit Day was large, but the number of people I saw at work and around downtown Boston today wearing purple was small. Small enough that I doubt anyone not looking for purple shirts would even notice.
But I don’t think Spirit Day was a failure. Tonight we had an evening meeting with our lay advisory committee, and at least one member showed up wearing purple and made a comment about how we were both wearing purple for a reason. I have no idea if this particular volunteer is gay or straight (although I think he’s straight), or if he has a personal stake in GLBT equality or is just a mensch. But it felt good to have him acknowledge his participation. It felt good to know about one more ally out there.
One of the best side-effects of these awareness campaigns that I’ve noticed has been that many straight friends of mine are learning the term “ally” as it pertains to GLBT equality. Some of them have embraced the idea, while others have ridiculed it. To be honest, I used to think it was a little silly. Did straight people who were supportive of GLBT rights need a special title?
I’ve come to realize that being an ally means a lot more than being supportive. Real allies aren’t just supportive, they take action. They speak out. They make their support visible. They often volunteer and donate and organize others for the cause.
As I have come to appreciate the ways in which allies have rallied to my cause, I have also become more aware of ways in which I am an ally to others — and ways in which I can be a better ally.
The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition is launching an awareness campaign called “I AM: Trans People Speak.’ A friend who is also a community organizer sent out a call for participants. He included me in his email, so I wrote back. I am always happy to write or speak and tell my stories, but I am not trans. “Is there any way I can help as an ally?” I asked.
He got pretty excited and thought that me telling my story of how I came to think of myself as an ally for trans rights. He suspected there wouldn’t be (m)any other allies participating, and my story might be a good model for others. The thing is, I’m not sure there’s much of a story. But I’m going to think about it, and see if I can put something together. I expect whatever I come up with will show up as a blog post here before it becomes something for the campaign. So, I guess, stay tuned for some more reflections on what it means to be an ally, coming soon to this space.