Friday, February 17, 2012

Straight Allies: The Importance and the Realities

via HuffPost Gay Voices, Jack Antonoff

2012 is a strange time in the fight to end inequality. On paper we are closer than ever before, and although this is true, our country is also becoming more and more polarized as a byproduct of this undeniable progress.

While it is important to celebrate each victory large or small, there is obviously still a great struggle ahead. Our roles as straight allies of LGBTQ Americans are becoming not only clearer but increasingly vital as we go further down the road toward change.

We have reached a moment in which wavering apathy is simply a non-option, as it is an endorsement in itself of the treatment of LGBTQ Americans as second-class citizens. As straight allies, we have to realize that the time is now to take a critical look at ourselves and to question how and where we are allowing hate to exist and, therefore, to breed.

A large part of being an ally is establishing ourselves within our social and professional circles as people who will not tolerate homophobia in any form or under any circumstance.

This is also, in many ways, the hardest part. It goes without saying that bringing up weighty issues can be awkward in social situations -- even more so, standing up to a colleague or a friend.

My experience has led me to believe that people are excessively uncomfortable and often upset when homophobia is pointed out in social settings.

I can't even begin to count the amount of times I have been called a "buzzkill" or, worse, pre-warned to keep my mouth shut before entering a dinner: "So-and-so's parents are super religious, so don't bring up the gay rights stuff."

That felt seriously dark even to write, but nonetheless, these are actual words that have been said to me, and I believe they reveal a great deal -- namely that we as a culture place social comfort over right and wrong.

We would rather let hate speak linger among us than endure that awkward moment when someone points out that something is simply not acceptable. It is that same part of the brain that can't locate the words to ask a cab driver flying down an avenue at the speed of light to just slow down.

Social paralysis is strong and stands firmly in the way of change on the ground level. As allies, we have to prepare ourselves to step into the fire when necessary, even -- and especially -- when said fire is merely a still-lit cigarette tossed carelessly onto the street.

Of course, the majority of us would speak up in the face of outrageous bigotry, but do we speak up in a social situation when someone casually refers to something as "gay"? If we don't, we are standing with the homophobes whom we are quietly fighting.

Saying nothing is saying that you are someone who is OK with hate, while saying anything establishes you as an entity that will not accept it in any form. Awkward? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

Homophobia is not only rampant; it is tolerated, and those of us who intend to speak up in its ugly presence are often looked upon like oppositional teenagers just trying to get a reaction. However frustrating it can be, these are the scenarios in which we have a real opportunity to make a difference.

Unlike racism, the verdict on homophobia's social acceptability is still out. Hate mongers will always exist; we can't change that. We do, however, have the power to back them into corners and illuminate their ignorance, making them as irrelevant as possible.

As we have seen with racism, the more we as a culture choose to cease to tolerate it, the less visible it becomes, and therefore, its influence is monumentally decreased. As a result, life becomes better for those oppressed, laws change more rapidly, and equality is achieved sooner.

You can bet that the more we make a scene in the presence of homophobia, however minor it may seem, the more progress we will make toward its greater silencing.

Personally, this is something I encounter constantly in the music industry. Being a heterosexual male in a band comes with a certain misogynistic stereotype that, in effect, leads people to assume that they can safely use offensive terminology that perhaps they wouldn't in front of, say, a teacher.

This leads me to another vital role of any ally: recognizing the specific power we each have based on who we are and what we do.

There is no question that the issue of LGBTQ inequality has a stigma of being a "gay issue" and not the human rights issue that it is. With this comes an assumption that heterosexual America doesn't have to care, because, well, it's not their problem (or as stated above, "they didn't come for me").

I personally believe that this way of thinking is one of the most threatening to human equality, and that "straight apathy" is a major roadblock in the fight towards faster change.

The non-LGBTQ community has a distinct power -- whether or not they want it -- to stand up on behalf of our oppressed fellow human beings, and it seems that the straight community has, to date, failed our LGBTQ citizens by not fully exercising that power.

To support quietly from the sidelines while those oppressed stand on the battlefield is to ensure that change will come at a glacial pace.

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