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BEING A STRAIGHT ALLY TO THE LGBT COMMUNITY
"START THERE"

Peter Ji / University of Illinois at Chicago

Email: Pjiman1@hotmail.com, petji@uic.edu

 

My second lesson was truly realizing that issues of persecution are pertinent for everybody. The third staff member I talked to sheared stories about how a straight family member was mistaken for being gay and subsequently accosted. At that point, this staff member realized that prejudice and hate was not about specifically discriminating LGBT individuals. Anybody and everybody is a target for hate because there will always be someone who feels justified in hating another person. At that point, as a straight ally, you are not speaking out about the rights of a particular group, you are speaking about he rights of everyone to be treated with respect and free from misguided perceptions of others.

At this point, I was energized. I felt I had a starting point. I became comfortable with being a beginner. During my journey towards developing my straight ally identity, I wanted to hear stories of hate and prejudice. I became confident that I was not starting from “nothing”. I was staring from my own experience. Yes, I was still in the beginning stages of my development, but no longer was I timid about being a “beginner”. Rather, I was starting to feel comfortable at being an “expert” about the early process of becoming a straight ally.

PETER YI / PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

American Psychological Association: Member, Div 44 (Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual Issues)
Society for Prevention Research: Member
Society for Community Research and Action: Member

2006 – Co-Chair: Society for Community Research and Action – Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual Interest Group

2005 – Certified Safe Zone Facilitator (Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual Diversity Training) / Office of LGBT Concerns, University of Illinois at Chicago

2003 – Present - Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG) – Hinsdale, IL. (Treasurer, Speaker’s Bureau Chair, Publicity Manager), Chicago, IL. (President) and Northern Illinois Council (Vice-President) chapters
1994-1996 Ethnic and Diversity Training Committee, University of Missouri.

So now I “started” to explore. I have always wanted to be a part of a group that addresses these issues and my first logical place was with the national organization, Parents and Friends for Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). I attended my first meeting and immediately met an old friend and found out that after all these years he was gay. We have maintained our friendship ever since. The PFLAG meeting was illuminating. Many family members were happy to see me as a straight person at PFLAG simply because I wanted to be there. It also altered my assumption that everyone at PFLAG was comfortable as a parent or friend of a gay or lesbian individual. There are those who have fully accepted his or her gay or lesbian relatives or friends and there are some who still struggle with acceptance. However, PFLAG provided a space to feel comfortable and talk openly about acceptance by sharing stories about the difficulties and joys of being a friend or relative of a LGBT individual.

Even those who are comfortable with their LGBT relatives face additional struggles. For example, one mother came to PFLAG and talked about how her daughter was not sure if she could confide in her other family members. So only the mother shared her daughter’s secret. The mother had to conceal from the remaining family members that the mother was going to PFLAG. A father described how difficult it was for him to hear his fellow co-workers joke about homosexuals. He could not risk telling his co-workers that he was offended because he was afraid of the potential backlash from disclosing that he has a gay son. Listening to these stories, I realized that the end goal is not simply accepting LGVT individuals. Parents and heterosexual people need to straight allies too; they may face discrimination for being a straight ally. We need others who understand how hard it is to live in a homophobic society. Straight allies can set the tone that it is not enough to simply accept; only active advocacy and open support can truly assert that discrimination of LGBT individuals, as well as the parents and friends of LGBT individuals is wrong.

LGBT deals with people who use the Bible as
“evidence” that being gay is fundamentally wrong.
How would I respond if someone proclaimed me
as fundamentally flawed based on religious text?

These experiences were invaluable to me. I began to see my purpose and identity as a straight ally. Based on my experiences with PFLAG and other groups, I began to construct the outline for my outreach event, “Being a Straight Ally to the LGBT Community”. I presented this event at a Midwestern university campus as part of their LGBT Pride week. I came up with fifteen reasons why it is important to be a straight ally to the LGBT community. The event consisted of passing this list to the participants and I would lead a discussion regarding their reactions to the list. The list is as follows:

“It is important to be a straight ally?..”

1. ...so other heterosexuals can learn how to stop any form of persecuting LGBT individuals.

2. ...so we can dispel the myths and misconceptions of the LGBT community that are held by majority society.

3. ...because straight allies need to support other straight individuals who are coping with their own biases and discomfort with LGBT individuals.

4. ...because the feeling of being marginalized from mainstream society can be intense for a LGBT individual. Straight allies help LGBT individuals feel free to be a part of all society, as opposed to having LGBT individuals feel that only the LGBT community can accept them.

5. ...because LGBT individuals can comfortably and securely claim their identity when they know that straight individuals also accept the LGBT individual’s identity.

6. ...because a LGBT person may not feel supported or accepted by his or her own LGBT community and need to rely on straight allies for safety and support. LGBT individuals may have their own biases about the LGBT community or the LGBT community may have communicated some bias against the LGBT individual. Such biases make it difficult for a LGBT individual to “fit in” within the LGBT community and may look to straight allies for acceptance.

7. ...so LGBT individuals can look to straight allies as role models for how they hope the “coming out” process will be like when they are ready to “come out” to their families and friends.

8. ...because a LGBT person may need a positive emotional experience from straight allies if the LGBT individual’s own families or friend will not support him or her.

9. ...because LGBT individuals in the process of “coming out” may feel the straight community is labeling their feelings as deviant, inappropriate, or transitional. Straight allies can provide a supportive emotional experience by appreciating and valuing the LGBT individual’s struggle with the “coming out” process.

10. ...because straight friends or family members who know of an individual’s LGBT identity may need to keep the LGBT individual’s secret from others. Straight allies can help these straight members cope with this uncomfortable experience.

11. ...because straight individuals may be threatened or slandered if they express any affection for the same sex individuals. Prejudice against the LGBT community restricts how straight individuals can express affection for one another.

12. ...because straight allies need other straight allies to “come out” so they too can be supported as being an advocate for the LGBT community.

13. ...because even if a LGBT individual, or a family member or friend of a LGBT individual, has “come out” within their family home or their circle of friends, LGBT individuals and straight allies still have to decide if it is safe to “come out” within other settings, such as his or her workplace, school, social club, etc. Straight allies can help make every setting or environment a safe place for LGBT individuals.

14. ...so they can change environments or settings (e.g. schools, workplaces, institutions) that are not taking a clear stance regarding LGBT individuals. If we do not clearly support and encourage LGBT individuals within our own environments or settings, we are in effect leaving them at the mercy of passive sexual stereotypes inherent within these environments and settings.

15. ...it is simply the right thing to do.


Click HERE to Peter Yun Ji's Resume

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