Is this the end of the road for ‘straight allies’?
The concept of a Straight Ally is something that emerged out of the corporate diversity and inclusion programs in the US and elsewhere – a term to describe the senior executives who would support and speak up for LGBTQ employees, a way to describe and include the men and women who didn’t identify as LGBTQ but wanted to visibly and demonstrably support a company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.
It’s a concept that soon extended beyond the business world - actors, musicians, politicians – anyone who was happy to lend their voice and lend their support to the LGBTQ community could comfortably describe themselves as a Straight Ally. If you were happy to take your shirt off, then you could also reasonably expect to be featured on the cover of gay magazines.
When you’re part of a minority - as LGBTQ people always are - there’s a big feel-good factor when a politician, a celebrity, or a person with influence publicly declares that they sympathise with your goals and aspirations, and that they’re on your side.
A lot of the progress that has been made in terms of equality for LGBTQ people would not have been possible without the support of our Straight Allies from all walks of life.
However, things have changed. The concept of a Straight Ally is now something that we can probably consign to the history books.
The turning point seemed to be in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Pulse nightclub in June 2016.
It was a confusing time. A space that was thought to be safe was clearly not, everyone felt vulnerable. It was difficult for LGBTQ people around the world to process their emotions.
Some of the sentiments that we saw widely expressed included:
- Unless you’re LGBTQ then you can’t understand how I feel.
- I feel solidarity with LGBTQ people around the world.
- This kind of attack makes LGBTQ people stronger.
- Why aren’t my straight friends as angry as I am?
- Why aren’t our straight allies being more vocal?
One interesting aspect of the immediate aftermath of the Pulse attack was that the LGBTQ community were quick to identify and criticise inconsistency from public figures. For example, news presenter Anderson Cooper - during a live interview about the Orlando shooting – confronted Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi about her past opposition to marriage equality: “I will say I have never really seen you talk about gays and lesbians and transgender people in a positive way until now…” Cooper said to Bondi, highlighting her hypocrisy. Cooper was widely applauded for publicly calling out Bondi for suddenly declaring herself a friend of the LGBTQ community when her past actions had clearly demonstrated that she was not.
But we weren’t always so quick to recognise inconsistency in our own responses. We applauded singer Nick Jonas when he cancelled concerts in North Carolina – in protest over HB2 legislation banning all local LGBTQ rights ordinances in the state - however, when he spoke at the NYC vigil for victims of the Orlando shooting there was a bit of an outcry along the lines of: “Why is Nick Jonas speaking for us?”
Obviously, there’s a lot of diversity of opinion within the LGBTQ community in the United States and around the world, but one of the things that seemed to emerge from the days and weeks following the Orlando attack was a strong sense of LGBTQ resilience and identity, and a sense that we no longer needed people from outside our community speaking on our behalf.
As we commemorate and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, it’s a lesson that’s worth remembering.
We need to respectfully thank our straight allies for their support and encouragement. We need to recognise that we probably couldn’t have got this far without them. But from here, from this point forward, we need to have the confidence to speak for ourselves and to fight our own battles.