Monday, May 16, 2011

Our Straight Friends and Allies

Of course.  How could I not have seen this before?  Who knew straight people might just be our best friends and allies?

Actually, given my history, you can forgive me for not thinking straight people, in general, could ever be our best friends, especially if they suspect or know we're gay.  After all, most of the bullying I was subjected to--in school, on the job, on the street, wherever--was presumably at the hands of straight people (or, perhaps, of gay people, trying to pass themselves off as straight by demonstrating to themselves and others how against gay people they were by tormenting them, verbally and physically).    

But my eyes were opened last week when I began to put the pieces together.  

One of the pieces was from last Tuesday's episode of "Glee."  (All right, I know, "Glee" is hardly an indicator of the real world, but hear me out--there's some cornel of truth in it.)  There was poor Kurt, nominated prom queen at McKinley High, running out of the auditorium during the ceremony, sobbing, upset that the cause of gay recognition and respect had been dealt a deathblow.  After all, what male wants to be nominated prom queen, let alone face the embarrassment of accepting the supposed honor in front of his classmates?  

That said, Kurt, in his inimitable and dignified fashion, returned to the ceremony, accepted the nomination, the placing of the crown on his head, and was making his way to the dance floor with prom king Dave Karofsky (another interesting selection), until Karofsky dashed out of the auditorium, unable to dance cheek-to-cheek with a fellow gay man.  Fortunately, Blaine stepped in and all was well, as the cutest gay male couple on earth held each other and showed just how natural two men dancing together, and obviously affectionate toward each other, really is.

My point is this:  As soon as Kurt reappeared to take on the role of prom queen, his fellow classmates, albeit tentatively at first, applauded him, showing their support for him and his spirit.  Not a single person booed, demonstrating, perhaps, how, if we gay people give straight people a chance, not only will they come through for us, but they just might become our biggest supporters.  Kurt selected prom queen a mistake?  I think not.      

Here's another example:  On the website last week, I saw the following headline:  "100 Michigan Law Students Walk Out on Antigay Commencement Speaker."  According to the accompanying video, even before the speaker, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, opened his mouth, one hundred straight students, in support of gays and lesbians, "...walked out of their own graduation at the University of Michigan Law School on Saturday...."  The walkout was "...a message to antigay politicians that discrimination of any kind no longer has a place in American society."  (I realize they walked out of a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony, but think how proud they'll be when they tell their children and grandchildren how they stood up for gay and lesbian people when it wasn't popular to.)    

Another great example of straights supporting gays is right here on my own blog. Sarah S. from Calgary has been an avid reader and commenter since early this year.  Over the past five months, I've learned Sarah is a middle-aged mother of three mostly-grown children, none of whom is gay.  Yet, this hasn't stopped her from recognizing the challenges gays and lesbians experience on a daily basis; from frequenting my blog, and those of people like Dan Savage, to keep informed of issues facing the LGBTQ community; and from offering her support in a myriad of ways.  

On a more tangible level, this includes donating money to our causes and volunteering to help gay and lesbian youth in her home city.  Given some of Sarah's comments and personal emails she's sent me, you would think she was gay herself, or a family member or friend was, but this isn't the case.  She's just a compassionate and empathetic mother and citizen, who feels our particular pain as though it were her own, and who actively seeks ways to be a part of the solution.  I take my hat off to her.

Then, incredibly, I learned this morning famous British rugby player Ben Cohen just announced his retirement from the sport.  Cohen, who founded the Ben Cohen Standup Foundation, dedicated to tackling homophobia and bullying, admitted, at thirty-two, he still has several more good years of sports playing in him, but he's decided to become a gay rights activist.  Cohen isn't gay himself, nor, to my knowledge, is anyone in his family.  Rather, he sees the tragedy in young people killing themselves because of their sexual orientation, and he knows retiring to support this cause is the right thing to do for him at this time in his life.  (Cohen was a hero of mine before, but he's even more of one now.)  

Over the decades, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people have largely fought their own battles, to eliminate discrimination, to secure our human rights, to be taken seriously, and to earn the respect of society.  And we've had some success, without question.  But, despite our considerable efforts, we're not where we should be.  By ourselves, I think we've taken the fight as far as we can, although, until we are looked at no differently from anyone else, we will continue to wage the war on our own behalf.     

But I now believe the only way we're going to reach the tipping point is with the support of straight people--the crowds who aren't scared to applaud us, to stand up for what's right, and to support us in the many tangible ways we need it.  In many respects, straight people have credibility we don't.  Many straight people won't pay attention to gay people because they consider us less-than, unworthy of their attention and consideration simply because of our sexual orientation.  

But, when a straight person--like law students, Sarah, and Ben Cohen--stands up for us in front of another straight person, well, that's harder to ignore. It's no longer the case of a gay person trying to reason with a straight person; it's a straight person trying to reason with a straight person.  And what straight person wouldn't be given pause to re-examine outdated ways of thinking about fellow human beings, even those who are different from him, if he's shown he might just be wrong after all and could get left behind in the upcoming cultural shift?       


  1. I totally agree with this post Rick. Not only are straight people our allies, they are in fact diverse individuals, most of whom likely suffered some kind of discrimination themselves, during their lives. The whole reason that Glee has such wide appeal, is that most everybody knows what it feels like to be rejected for some superficial reason or other... too short, too brainy, not funny enough, not good at sports. I think the difference is that some people (perhaps out of fear) pretend that they are part of the "normal majority," and go out of their way to reject everyone that is different. Others realize that we are all different, and go out of their way to include everyone, no matter what. We need to encourage all people to realize that gay rights symbolize the rights of everyone to be respected for being unique individuals.

  2. As always, Doug, you take what I've written and bring it home even better than I did, or you add something to it to give it a greater meaning or a wider scope. Thanks for getting what I write and for helping others to see the bigger picture.
    I especially appreciate your observation about how gay rights are really human rights for everyone. As you say, we're all different in some way. And, if one group gets its right, then that helps to ensure all minorities get theirs, too.
    Nicely done, Doug. I'm thrilled you continue to check out my blog and to contribute to the discussion.

  3. Wow, thanks, Rick!! I feel honoured to be a part of your blog community, and an ally in the larger LGBT community here in Calgary. Your post makes me think of Annie Lammott's book Bird by Bird. She's writing a paper on birds for a biology class, and is overwhelmed by how much she has to do, and her father says, "Just take it bird by bird, Annie." Maybe that's how this will go; one person at a time, calling out those who say "that's so gay," writing letters, and making sure gay kids know they have straight people who find them interesting and cool to hang out with, not because they're gay, but because they're cool kids. That's my take on it, anyway.

    Your blog is one of the things making a difference. Keep it up, Rick!

  4. Sarah, it's an honor to count you among our supporters. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: You set an example for all straight people in the compassion you show toward gays and lesbians, not only in how you feel but also in what you do. On behalf of all of us, thank you. I'm so grateful I've gotten to know you through my blog, and that you're a member of the community I've been able to create here.

    Your mention of Annie Lamott's "Bird by Bird," in reference to how the battle for greater acceptance will likely be won, is a good one. I read this book many years ago, to help improve my writing, and, while I don't remember much of it now (I must read it again), I do remember we can never become overwhelmed by how large a task is. If we ensure every encounter with every person is the best it can be, we'll have a large impact over time. I'm absolutely certain of that.

    Thanks so much for your support of gay people in general and of my blog in particular. You know how much we and I appreciate it.