I will never forget the day several years ago when one of my advisees walked into my office. Instantly, I was concerned about him. There was a heaviness to the way he pulled out a chair and sat down. In place of his usual smile was a worried expression. My thoughts went to his solid academic record, “maybe he is failing a class.”
We chatted about classes for a few minutes until he said, “I need to tell you something.”
I responded, “I’m here to listen and help.”
Several seconds passed before he looked up and stated, “The thing is … I’m gay.”
Years ago, I lacked the information and training to help this student. When a friend came out to me in a letter in college, I wrote back, “I guess that is ok. I will still be your friend.”
I have always regretted my lukewarm response, borne out of a lack of information and understanding. Thanks to some wonderful family, friends, educational resources and the training of the Dolphin Allies program at Jacksonville University, I learned more about what it means to be an ally (a term used to describe heterosexual people who support and advocate for the LGBTQI+ community).
What I appreciate now is the amount of courage it took for my college friend and for my advisee to come out. I looked at this bright, talented and kind student and answered, “That’s wonderful! Thank you for trusting me. How can I support you?”
A long conversation ensued about his concerns, support and resources. When he left my office, his heaviness was gone. He went on to complete his degree and is working in a field that he loves.
As our community celebrates Pride Month, an annual celebration which honors the June 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York City, which helped launch the modern gay rights movement, there are many ways to acknowledge the contributions of the LGBTQI+ community and promote advocacy. Following is a list of ways we can all celebrate Pride.
There are excellent educational resources online for learning more about LGBTQI+ history, advocacy and support, including:
- PFLAG: With more than 400 chapters across the country, PFLAG provides confidential peer support, education and advocacy to LGBTQ+ people, their parents and families, and allies.
- GLAAD: For more than 30 years, GLAAD has been at the forefront of cultural change, accelerating acceptance for the LGBTQ community.
- The Human Rights Campaign: This is the largest LGBTQ advocacy group and LGBTQ political lobbying organization in the United States.
- The Trevor Project: Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film “Trevor,” The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ young people under 25.
Avoid labeling someone else’s sexuality, gender identity and gender expression. Encourage others to listen to and support each individual’s choices regarding their gender, sexuality and coming out process.
Work to bring LGBTQI+ issues to more people. Show your support on your social media. Promote the work of LGBTQI+ community members. Consider joining the Gay Straight Alliance if one is available at your organization. Many companies and non-profits have reported positive results with Ally Training sessions.
Constructively confront harmful jokes and hate speech. If you witness someone being harassed or bullied at school or work, ask the target of the harassment how you can support them.
LGBTQI+ organizations have local, state and national initiatives in which you can participate. Also, you can shop at LGBTQI+ businesses, which often serve as important fundraisers for the community.
By Dr. Heather Downs
Associate Professor of Sociology
This column originally ran in The Florida Times-Union.