As the recent lost on marriage equality in Maine demonstrates, the GLBT community will never achieve full equality under the civil laws without the help of our "straight allies" who may in some cases be better able to open hearts and minds in the larger society than we in the GLBT community.
This past weekend's 2009 Equality Virginia Legends Gala in Norfolk honored Cindy Cutler, one such straight ally, who has worked tirelessly in this part of Virginia for the equality of all citizens and has shown no fear in supporting our community. At Saturday night's event, while accepting the title of 2009 Legends honoree, Cindy made some remarks which all us need to share with our families and straight friends. To quote Cindy, they need to "come out" as GLBT allies. Had more of our straight allies gone to the polls in Maine last week and voted "No" on Question 1, we might have seen a different result.
Here are some highlights from Cindy's acceptance remarks which I post with her permission:
As most of you know "I've come out... as an ally, that is." A question I get often is why do I volunteer to support the gay, lesbian, bi and transgender community. I'm out for the friend for whatever reason can't be out. I'm out because I have gay and lesbian friends that I value, respect and am grateful to have in my life.
It isn't always easy. I had my own 'coming out' process. As an ally, I've know some fears ... some people may think I'm gay. How will it impact my business when friends and clients read about my support of the LGBT community? It has taken me awhile but I've come to realize I need to be true to my own beliefs and values. There will be those people that are surprised and may disagree with my position and I may lose business and possibly friendships. This is a risk I've decided I need to take.
When I began to speak out, I realized that something so small made a difference. It started conversations. People told me they had siblings or parents or kids that were gay. They wanted to share this with me. Others at work are curious about whether my clients are in committed relationships.
I am out in hopes that other straight people will realize they're also needed in this process. We straight people need to speak up - We need to start conversations. You don't need to march. You don't need to shout a slogan. But you may be surprised by how effective small changes can be... Speak up when you hear derogatory slurs and jokes. Open dialog is essential for change.
I want to persuade more straight allies to 'come out' to their friends and families as supporters of the LGBT community and challenge those beliefs that 'this doesn't' affect me because I'm not gay'. I believe all people deserve to feel safe and supported. The LGBT community cannot achieve equality without support from straight allies. We need to Call, write, email and visit public policy makers and let them know as a straight person, I support the laws that extend to equal rights and protections to all people.
I'd like to see more companies become part of the conversation and advertise and reach out to the LGBT community. For companies, it's time to recognize the power diversity in the workplace has on their bottom line. All of us need to support LGBT owned and friendly businesses. I believe that every person deserves equal rights, respect and life free from hate, fear and discrimination. We can no longer pretend that civil rights do not include rights for lesbian, gay, bi and transgender Americans.
Cindy is an amazing person and a wonderful friend that I came to know as a co-founder of HRBOR and through work on the Legends committee for the last three years. Would that we could multiply her many times over. I am most proud to call her a friend. She truly deserves the honor bestowed on her.