A New Approach to Allyship

Mar 25, 2011 No Comments

By Molly Pererson

“Imagine you are 13 years old, growing up heterosexual in a world where everyone is lesbian or gay. Your schoolteacher is lesbian, your tennis coach is gay; all your sisters are lesbians and brothers are gay. Who could you turn to? Who could be your confidant? It’s your junior year and time for the big homecoming dance. Someone of the same sex asks you to the dance and you go, because you don’t want people to think you’re strange or different. Girls are dancing with other girls and boys are dancing with other boys, holding each other close. What will you do if your date starts snuggling up to you and tries to kiss you? What if they find out about you? People say that it’s a sin to be heterosexual. [The magazine] talks about this club in town for young heterosexuals. You finally get to the club and you meet someone there you really like.  After going out together for a while you decide to get an apartment and live together. Then one day, your partner gets hit by a car. You rush to the Intensive Care Unit…a sign on the door reads, ‘Relatives Only.’”

If you’re at all like me, being straight in a world like this sounds challenging at best. When I was first confronted with this scenario (Courtesy of the Gender Equity Resource Center) at a Cal Berkeley Democrats meeting in October, I wasn’t sure what to think. As part of their “Equality Month,” the Cal Dems focused on LGBT issues – including Prop 8 and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which prevents gay men and women from serving in the military. At our meeting, representatives from the Gender Equity Resource Center led a discussion about the social aspects of being gay or lesbian in our society. They read the above scenario aloud.

After talking in small groups, people began to voice their reactions. Personally, I had never contemplated this reversal. Growing up was hard enough: high school football games, dances, and social events all presented challenges for me, and I cannot imagine adding intolerance for my sexual orientation into the picture. My idea of daily life drastically changes. What if I had been the only straight person at my high school? How would that affect my daily life and my values? What if some considered heterosexuality to be a sin?

After members voiced reactions similar to mine, we defined what it means to be an LGBT ally. Before the workshop, I defined an Ally as someone who understands LGBT issues and conveys the importance of civil rights to others. Now, I define an Ally as someone who doesn’t just campaigns for equality; he or she truly understands why this equality is crucial. He or she has experienced, even if just for a fleeting second, what it feels like to be an outcast due to sexual orientation, and an Ally know that discrimination undermines everything our society strives for.

In November, the Gender Equity Resource Center and Cal Berkeley Democrats were lucky enough to host an event featuring State Senator Mark Leno, an openly gay elected official from San Francisco. After giving a passionate talk on the passage of Prop 8, the history of the movement, and his reactions to Gavin Newsom’s issuing of marriage licenses in February of 2004, Leno opened up for questions. A young man walked up to the microphone and shared his views, which clearly contradicted those of Leno and most other people in the room. He cited examples such as “I love my mom, but I don’t want to marry her,” and when he was done, Leno calmly and slowly explained why he disagreed. Leno affirmed that when the marriage rights of gay and lesbian couples are taken away, the heterosexual community puts the love they share with their partners above the love of homosexual couples. Last November, our state sent the message that homosexual couples don’t love equally to heterosexual couples. What struck me more than the response was Leno’s calm presence. I couldn’t help but think that Mark Leno is the perfect role model for this movement; in the face of such personal attacks, Leno stayed calm. Leno gracefully showed what this movement is all about: mutual understanding and compassion for others whether or not they share your beliefs. After a powerful Cal Dems meeting and Leno’s moving lecture, I find myself even prouder to be a supporter of gay rights.

Spring 2010

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