By Sheilah Powell
I am a 41-year-old white woman who grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey. My childhood included cookouts in the backyard and I attended a decent school district with updated school books and air conditioning in a few rooms – in the 80’s this was a big deal!
My town, though a suburb, was rather diverse so I was friends with people of all cultures and identities. Our friend group included a teenager (let’s call him Scott) who was gay, and while he was not ready to tell the world, we all honored him for who was. I was naive and assumed all others were as accepting as me and my friend group. They weren’t.
Fast forward a few decades, and I am a self-proclaimed proud ally to the LGBTQIA+ community and will go hard for any person in the rainbow population. My daughter told me when they were 9 years old that they didn’t know if they wanted to be a boy or girl, and that they liked girls. I told my brave courageous child (through Snapchat, of course) that they can be whoever they want and can love whoever they do. I was so proud of them for being so open and vulnerable – afterward, they said they were so nervous to tell me that. That is a failure on my part and society’s part. Children should NEVER be scared to tell their parents who they really are. So, I told them I will do better and that I love my babe unconditionally.
So I am this powerful amazing ally, right? Perhaps not.
Like a true overachieving Virgo, I tend to accumulate jobs and one of them is to manage and curate social media content for the upcoming Mobilize Recovery Across America 2022. Beautiful fireworks exploded in my brain thinking of all the potential content to highlight the LGBTQIA+ community in June. So, I got to work.
I contacted individuals in the community, did research and conducted an informal market analysis of how to best celebrate #PrideMonth. Even after I flexed my privileged intellectual brain muscles, I still felt like an outsider. An imposter. I was unnerved because I didn’t want to misstep. I am not a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, so how can I best elevate their voices as a *cis* white woman? Am I objectifying or amplifying?
Furthermore, I feel it is inconsiderate of me to lean on the LGBTQIA+ community to work extra for me – especially during #PrideMonth.
“Tell me your story! Send me your pic with the pride flag! Can you give me a quote??”
At first, I thought I was doing a good thing. After some reflection, I realized that perhaps I wasn’t. I was left with the question – Is it appropriate for an ally to author a blog in June, a month dedicated to celebrating LGBTQIA+ folks?
Pride Month is a month to honor and celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community, their struggles, their experiences, and also triumphs. As my mental Rolodex spun in eager pursuit of a metaphorical rainbow, I felt predatory. It didn’t feel good. I was social media friends with many of the people I contacted, but didn’t know many personally and wasn’t familiar with their stories. I didn’t know what it was like for them to live as LGBTQIA+ people who also had to navigate recovery in often recovery-hostile environments? Is it offensive to ask them to tell their story just because it’s #PrideMonth? Am I harming the people I love and want to protect?
Incoming Facebook message – “Oh heyyyyyyyy you may not remember me but I would LOVE to feature you for #Pride!! Lmk :)”
I was like an old high school acquaintance you haven’t talked to in decades asking if you heard about this amazing business opportunity. I didn’t want to be that person. How did they feel when a random (and possibly creepy) dm slides into their inbox from a person they barely know?
I was conflicted. I love the LGBTQIA+ community and I want to remove the barriers they face in this cruel, cruel world. But am I going about it the right way? Am I as open-minded and loving as I thought? How can I ask them about the good when there has been year after year of anti-LGBTQ laws passed in this country?
So, what did I do? I met with a few close LGBTQIA+ folks and was honest and direct in my questions and conflicted emotions. I want to help. I want to be an ally. I don’t want to cause harm. I want to elevate LGBTQIA+ voices. Will this approach achieve that? Or am I causing harm?
The results I got were-opening and magical. I decided that as a person who has never experienced the barriers that LGBTQIA+ folks did, I will do the work – both in June and beyond. It is not the responsibility of any member of the LGBTQIA+ community to educate me. I can research on my own. I’m smart and the info is out there. Going forward, if I need to lean on a person for an expert opinion or information, I am going to honor the emotional labor they exert and financially compensate them. Asking a person to provide a quote or video could re-traumatize them, and that is the opposite outcome I am seeking. I will use and honor pronouns. I will highlight and elevate LGBTQIA+ voices in June, and in October and February.
I was told by an amazing Austin recovery advocate that even a straight cisgender woman can – in fact – elevate the voices of the LGBTQIA+ community. I can follow the lead of my LGBTQIA+ peers, I can speak up for the underrepresented, I can ask educated questions and do my own research, I can make room for LGBTQIA+ folks to exist, and I can do more than just show up as an ally during #PrideMonth. I promise to do more than wave pretty rainbow flags in June.
If you want to read more on this topic, check this blog out from Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
*cis – cisgender – can be described as whatever gender you are now is the same as what was presumed for you at birth
*het – heterosexual – could refer to sexual or romantic attraction to or between people of the opposite sex