June is known as Pride month in many countries and marks the start of Pride celebrations in many parts of the world. We know Pride to be a joyful, colorful time today. It didn’t start out that way, though.
On June 28, 1969, in the early morning hours police raided a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, called the Stonewall Inn. This wasn’t unusual at the time; police would conduct raids and arrest gay men and women on the basis of their sexuality.
But June 28th was different. Patrons of the Stonewall Inn and other bars in the neighborhood refused to back down. The events that early morning sparked six days and nights of rioting and protests. It was the start of a fight for human rights and equality for all members of the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) community. It also echoed the women’s movement and the civil rights fight for Black people in America happening at the same time.
Why Pride matters
Since those days over 50 years ago, Pride has evolved and shifted to be less about protest and more about celebration. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still rights to be fought for and homophobia to be crushed. When we see the bright colors, the fabulous music and feel the celebratory atmosphere at a Pride parade or celebration it can be easy to think that everything is fine, that the fight is over.
In many parts of the world, a person who is gay can be sentenced to death simply because of their sexuality. Five years ago, there was a mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Florida. And even in the most liberal-minded of countries and communities there is stigma and homophobia. So yes, there is still work to be done.
What is ‘allyship’?
Sometimes we might think that it’s enough to wear a rainbow t-shirt at work during Pride week or replace our profile picture with a rainbow for Pride month or a black box for Black Lives Matter. If only it were that simple! Allyship is not something that you say, or something that you do once. Amber Cabral author of the book Allies and Advocates, offers this definition:
“Allyship is when someone with privilege and power seeks to learn about the experiences of a marginalized group of people, develops empathy for them and identifies ways to extend their own privilege to the marginalized group. To be an ally, you have work to do, and most of that work is on yourself. Ally is not a title; it is a verb.”
For those of us who are not part of the LGBTQIA+ community, let’s use Pride as reminder of the importance of acting as an ally both in the workplace and in everyday life. Here are some tools for your allyship toolkit that can be applied to supporting all marginalized groups:
Unlearn your bias
Guess what? You have unconscious bias. I do, too. We all do. It’s the way that our brains are wired, and it’s influenced by how we were raised, the messages that we receive from media and the people around us, and our life experiences. Some of it serves us, but a lot of it doesn’t. The next time that you experience a strong reaction to something, consider why. Ask yourself this: does this belief help me or others, is it true? If not, it’s time to replace it. If you’re in a hiring role or manage a team, there are tools out there, like performance management software, that can help to control for these unconscious biases.
One of the most important tools that we can have is knowledge. If there is a marginalized group that you don’t know much about, seek to understand. But don’t expect them to teach you! Read a book, watch a documentary, take a course on the subject, or visit a cultural center. Exposing yourself to your bias is one of the best ways to reduce or eliminate it.
This, my friends, is your inclusion superpower! Empathy, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another. While we may not have had the same experience as another person, we can recognize that they are going through something difficult. An example of expressing empathy is, “I see that this is really hard for you.” An often-undervalued skill in the workplace, empathy can help us to build connections with our colleagues and work together more effectively.
Check your privilege
We all have privilege. Some of us have more, lots more. And that’s not something to feel guilty about; we don’t get to choose our skin color, gender or sexuality. Privilege doesn’t mean that you haven’t experienced hard times and significant challenges. It just means that those challenges weren’t because of your skin color, gender, or sexuality.
If you have privilege, use it! The reality is that those with privilege are often taken more seriously and listened to. The next time that you are in a meeting and a colleague who is from a diverse group isn’t given space to speak, speak up for them. If you are a man and a female colleague shares an idea, reiterate that her idea was great! Now do that for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. And that racist/sexist/homophobic joke in the lunchroom or on Slack that isn’t so funny? Speak up and say so.
Remember the first time that you learned how to do something new? It was uncomfortable, right? Maybe it was learning to ride a bike or taking a new route to work. But as you practiced, you probably began to feel less uncomfortable. Learning about equity, diversity and inclusion is uncomfortable. But that’s OK – it means you are learning and that’s a good thing! And if you are a leader, encourage and model a workplace culture where making mistakes is OK. Which brings us to the next point…
You are going to screw up
Human beings are imperfect. I have been working in equity, diversity, and inclusion for a decade and I still get things wrong. It’s part of the of learning process. When you make a mistake, figure out what you did wrong, apologize, and then figure out how to do better.
Being an ally is a lifelong commitment. If you want to create a better workplace, community, or world (let’s aim high!), where everyone feels like they belong, it means that you are going to have to put in the work. And that also means that sometimes you will get tired. When an incident of racism or a hate crime against the LGBTQIA+ community happens, it’s upsetting and can be a lot to process. But as the saying goes, learn to rest, not quit. When I feel like this work is just too hard, I remind myself that what is really hard is experiencing marginalization, hatred, and exclusion. Then I dust myself off and get back up!
Pride is something we should all feel, regardless of who we are, who we love, what God we worship, our ability/disability, or what we look like. So, let’s celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community and all diverse groups, not just during Pride month but every single day.
Authored by Kristin B.