Katie explains the importance of being an ally to the LGBT community –
out of empathy and solidarity, and because it affects everyone else as well.
I am a straight woman. I am also a queer ally. Why? What do I have to gain by supporting full, equal rights and acceptance of the LGBT community? I want to live in a society where all people – regardless of race, sex, gender identity, religion/irreligion, ethnicity, etc. – are all included as equal.
Equality for Loved Ones
I have a gay nephew and several LGBT friends (some of them best friends, including my college roommate). I’ve always felt like an outsider. When I was young, it would bother me. I was the tallest girl and only redhead in elementary school. I’m pretty much the palest-skinned person ever. I watched all of the Esther Williams movies and musicals at the local video store. I was socially awkward. It took me a long time to embrace being the weird kid; now I’m proud of my eccentricities. But I still often recognize that I’m an outsider, an “other.”
There are things about myself I cannot change (particularly the physical), that make me different from most. It was natural that I always seemed to gravitate toward other “others” – people who knew what it was like to be an outsider. I really relate to a quote I heard John Waters say in an interview on NPR: “I saw people that didn’t fit in. I saw outsiders that didn’t even fit in with their own minority. And that’s always been my people, really.” I’ve always identified with my LGBT friends as an outsider, while realizing that I still have straight privilege.
The Greater Impact of Equality
But why else should straight people care about LGBT issues and be allies besides the fact that we want our LGBT friends and family to be accepted and treated equally? Our day-to-day lives are not really affected by policies, laws, and attitudes that seek to exclude LGBT people from being full members of society, right?
I have two family members – both straight women – whose lives were impacted because of the LGBT’s marginalized position in society. Yes, that’s right, they are both straight women. I’ll focus on my cousin Sally*. Sally, a Jehovah’s Witness, married another JW in the 1960s. Of course, in the 1960s (and within the Jehovah’s Witness religion today), homosexuality was not accepted. Most LGBT people in the 1960s lived a life where their true selves were secret. Society forced most of them to live in the closet; some married in hopes of living or at least appearing to live the heterosexual life that society expected of them.
This is what my cousin’s husband – a gay man – did. I can’t say that I blame him. I understand what the societal pressure and pressure from his religion must have been like. I’m sure he loved my cousin in many ways, just not romantically. I’m sure he didn’t think of it as using my cousin or intend to hurt her. He probably thought could deny his true self and live happily as a married, heterosexual man. But he couldn’t. The marriage ended. Sally was devastated. Everyone knew why it ended. She knew people saw her as a fool or as a woman to be pitied. She knew people thought he had married her because she was too stupid to catch on or perhaps because she wasn’t able to land a straight man as a husband and had to take whoever was willing to marry her. She knew that even some people thought she had failed because she couldn’t “fix” him. Sally’s life cycled into one of depression and alcohol use. She never remarried and never really dated. She became a functioning alcoholic and eventually, a non-functioning one. Her life was destroyed by the anti-LGBT laws and cultural attitudes that forced her husband to live as a closeted man. Unfortunately, even today, I know some women my age (who were raised in very conservative religions) who unknowingly married gay men.
We are In It Together
This continues even in the new millennium. When straight people make, reinforce, or simply don’t push back against laws and attitudes that don’t include LGBT people as people, straight people are often also part of the casualties. We are all hurt by these laws and attitudes that force our LGBT brothers and sisters to live lives where they feel they must hide their true selves. We have to work alongside them to make sure that they are granted complete equality and work for acceptance – because it’s the right thing to do, and more importantly because we are all affected when any member of the human family is not treated as a human being.