The word "Ally" can be used in many different contexts, but it almost always means the same thing. It can apply to any parties who share a common goal. That goal can be societal, geopolitical, regular-political, community related - basically anything. And if you look throughout history at "things that have been gained," again regardless of scale or scope, you'll find very few of them that were obtained without the assistance of allies.
Before I talk about GLSEN's Ally Week, I'm going to walk back a bit here and take you through one of the more interesting phone calls I've ever received in my time here at GLAAD. (And I've had quite a few.) It was in January or February of this year. An older man had called me because I was the contact for whatever the most current press release was on our website at that time, not because what he was calling about had anything to do with me. Or so he thought.
"I need you to take me off your mailing list. Someone played a prank on me and signed me up for your letters and I need you fellas to take me off the list."
"Okay, that's not exactly my department, but if you can hang on a second..."
"My wife thinks it's weird that I'm getting mail about gay stuff, and she's starting to give me weird looks, but I guess you wouldn't understand..."
"Well, my wife is incredibly proud whenever I get mail about 'gay stuff.'"
"Did you say your wife?"
It happens more often than I'd like it to (though less often than someone like this man might assume), but every once in a while someone is dumbstruck by the fact that a straight guy works at one of the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy organizations.
What followed was a ten minute conversation, in which I relayed to this gentleman exactly why I have followed this career path and why the issue of LGBT equality directly impacts all of us, even if we don't self-identify as LGBT. I talked to him about why our society is stronger if we afford everyone the same protections, the same respect, and the same opportunities. I walked him through how everything from employment non-discrimination to marriage equality strengthens our communities. I walked him through the fact that there are LGBT-affirming churches in just about every denomination of just about every religion under the sun, probably including some in his own area. I talked to him about the work GLAAD has done in the worlds of news, entertainment, and sports. And while I'd love to say he kept his name on our mailing list (unwanted mail is still unwanted mail, I guess), he did promise to tell his wife about our conversation and to check the work we're doing once in a while.
For those ten minutes, I stepped away from my position here at GLAAD, and I stepped into my role as a straight ally.
The importance of GLSEN's Ally Week is that it gives those of us who work within the movement for LGBT equality a chance to acknowledge and recognize the crucial work of straight allies in our efforts. Yes, openly-gay New York Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell and openly-gay New York Senator Tom Duane spearheaded the efforts to pass marriage equality legislation in their respective chambers. But that measure would not have passed without the unwavering support of Governor Andrew Cuomo. In the political arena, there simply aren't enough LGBT elected officials to make any progress without the support of straight allies. In the courts, the legal struggle to overturn California's discriminatory "Proposition 8" is being led by two straight allies from opposite sides of the political spectrum, Ted Olson and David Boies. And the world of entertainment is filled with straight allies of all political and religious affiliations, who are leading the way for LGBT equality and inclusion.
During Ally Week, the LGBT community should think about ways to engage with and support straight allies in the work they do. And allies themselves should talk proudly about why they're allies..
A few years ago, we found that of those who counted themselves among the many who look more favorably upon issues of LGBT equality than they did in the past, the vast majority - 80% - said they did so because they personally knew someone who was LGBT. I would imagine the numbers aren’t quite as high, but knowing people who advocate for something must have a similar influence..
Speaking from personal experience, I'm much more prone to support a community’s cause or effort if someone whose opinion I trust and respect tells me why THEY support it. So allies, take this week as an opportunity to start spreading the word about why you're an ally. (Including "Going Purple" for Spirit Day on Thursday!!)
But don't stop when the week is up. Keep it going all year - and in no time, we'll have even more to celebrate.