Guest Opinion: Coming out as an LGBTQIA+ Ally – What does it mean?

By CATHY BUSHA and ALEJANDRA FAVELA

THE LAST ISSUE of the Pioneer Log featured a full-page ad that was co-sponsored by the depart­ment of Inclusion and Multicultural En­gagement (IME) and the Queer Student Union (QSU).

In case you missed it, the ad read, “We are your friends, mentors, pro­fessors, colleagues, administrators, co-workers, and health care providers and we are Coming Out! We represent just a few of the talented and committed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual and Allied+ individuals who call Lewis & Clark College home. We invite you to join us in celebrating Coming Out Week 2015!”

Over 150 LC LGBTQIA+ staff/facul­ty participated in the ad, including 106 Allies.

Founded in 1988, in the feminist and queer liberation spirit of “the personal is political,” National Coming Out Day/Week is rooted in belief that in a homo/transphobic world, voluntarily sharing one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is activism. “Coming out” not only empowers the individual, but pro­vides visible connections to other people who may be struggling with their own sexual orientation, gender identity and/or trans/homophobia.

That said, not all members of the LGBTQIA+ support the ‘coming out’ framework. Indeed, there are valid race/class critiques (i.e. the whiter and wealthier you are, the easier it is to come out). Also, there is an analysis that sug­gests that the act of coming out perpet­uates ‘the closet:’ rigid, binary thinking (you’re either ‘in’ or ‘out’, straight or queer); and heteronormativity. Non-LGBTQIA+ people are never asked to declare their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. “Coming out’ as LGBTQIA+ theoretically maintains a ‘normalcy’ and ‘othering’ paradigm. (To this point, while I [Cathy] am often hes­itant to compare oppressions, it is worth noting that race is a social construction and, therefore, ‘made up.’ That said, we can all agree that racism is very real. The need/desire of some to “come out” is also a social construction because trans/homophobia is, also, very real. Removing ‘coming out’ as an option or LGBTQIA+ labels will likely not end op­pression against LGBTQIA+ people.)

As for Allies, the ad read “an Ally to the LGBTQIA+ Community is defined as someone who doesn’t identify as LGBTQIA+, but is committed to actively learning about and advocating for/with the LGBTQIA+ community.”

I (Cathy) received several emails, calls and conversations from Allies, wanting to know if, indeed, they are “ally” enough to claim the title. One such conversation was with Alejandra Favela, faculty at the LC Graduate School of Ed­ucation and Counseling.

When I received the email invitation to “Come Out” (Alejandra), I immedi­ately signed up as an ally.

After all, my work, revolves around social justice issues in education. During one of my classes, we read a piece about a teacher making the choice to come out. Although I was trying to illustrate the point that teachers, just like students, need to have their full identities validat­ed, I made the mistake of conflating sex­ual orientation and gender and used the wrong pronoun in talking about a teach­er and LC alumni who recently came out as a trans man. I was called out by several students for this mistake, which was humbling and really caused me to question my identification as an “ally.”

I considered removing my name from the list, but after much delibera­tion instead decided to re-double my ef­forts to become a better ally. I realized I needed to acknowledge my own identity privilege, and take responsibility to educate myself more, espe­cially with regards to trans­gender issues. I am grateful to students who have pro­vided sources of information and recently attended an ex­cellent workshop provided by the TransActive Gender Center. I will no doubt still make mistakes, but when called out, I will not retreat to my place of privilege. As an ally, I will strive to be a better listener, and to work with others in the LGBTQIA+ commu­nity to hold myself accountable.

So, who is an Ally? Allyship is a verb — it is about people taking action to address their own implicit bias and to serve as an accomplice to mar­ginalized groups. Allyship is “an unachievable ideal and aspirational process;” in fact, some people sug­gest that a better term is ‘Aspiring Ally.’

If you proudly listed your name as an Ally in the Coming Out ad, thank you. We now need you to (re)commit yourself to listening, learning and con­crete action.

Cathy Busha is the Associate Dean of Students for Student En­gagement and the Interim Di­rector, Inclusion and Mul­ticultural Engagement. Alejandra Favela is an Associate Professor of Ed­ucation

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