Sunday, August 21, 2011


During the summer months, while I'm home in Indiana, one of my only refuges from the toils of the retirement home and the routine boredom of being at home is my friend Helena. It should be noted that Helena is still without a driver's license, making it my responsibility to be her personal chauffer—this is my favorite thing about summertime. Actually, a lot of my friends at home are still not legally allowed to sit behind the wheel (they're just late bloomers is all), but Helena's house is always the last stop I make because we have a tendency to sit in her driveway for hours and talk about nearly everything. (Actually, we usually only talk about the people in our town, Cher, and gay rights—but really, what more is there to talk about?) During one of these late-night discussions on life, Helena asked me what I thought about "allies;" the "A" in the LGBTQIA acronym which designates those people who do not take a queer identity but support those who do. At the time, I didn't have much an answer for her, but the topic has been rolling around in my head for a while, and I think I now have an appropriate answer built up.
On a personal level, I think allies are a necessary part of the gay community. If we didn't have allies, we wouldn't have as much force in society as we currently do; we wouldn't have "safe places" in our schools and communities—basically, in my opinion, the gay community is heavily endorsed by allies. If you don't believe me, let's take a look at current hate crime laws.
In 1964, the United States government passed the original Federal Civil Rights Law, which prosecuted anyone who "willingly injures, intimidates or interferes with another force because of [their] race, color, religion or natural origin." Since this act was passed in a time when homosexuality was still seen as a mental illness (until 1972), the act was obviously not catered to the protection of gays and lesbians. This fact was overlooked until 2009, when President Obama passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (simply referred to as the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, or HCPA because I like acronyms). This act expanded the previous hate crime laws to encompass protection of people attacked because of their "actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability."
This act was spurred by Matthew Shepard, an openly gay man in Laramie, Wyoming who was brutally beaten by two men and strung up on a fence with chicken wire and left to die (he was found and taken to a hospital that morning, but never woke from his coma and died a few days later),  and James Byrd, Jr., a black man in Jasper, Texas who was dragged down a two mile dirt road chained to the back of a pickup truck and wrapped in a tarp until his body was found by state authorities a few days later. The HCPA is often more heavily attributed to the killing of Matthew Shepard because Shepard became a martyr of the gay community, receiving long-term press, while Byrd's murder was rather quickly forgotten. Though Shpard's death is usually earmarked as the "reason" for the new, gay-friendly hate crime prevention laws, the gay community, nor any group of self-identified "allies" had a hand in the passing of the act. The act was simply an addendum tacked onto the National Defense Authorization Act (for the Fiscal Year of 2010), almost as an afterthought, as if the government just said, "we should probably do something about that Shepard kid and the Byrd boy." Whatever it was the prompted them, I'm glad they acted on it.
This is what informs my opinion on allies—the government officials that formed the HCPA did not assert themselves as allies; they didn't have a "gay agenda." The same goes for President Obama, who passed the act; the president has made it clear that he has no gay agenda. However, because of these non-ally-identified people, the gay community now has one of the strongest safety nets we could ask for; though these laws don't guaruntee the prevention of hate crimes, they do ensure that those who commit hate crimes will have a punishment cruel enough to match the crime (as is the American fashion).
Allies don't have to identify themselves as allies—in fact, I get a little annoyed by girls who chronically throw themselves at the gay community proclaiming their love for all the gays. I don't need that kind of endorsement to my sexuality. What I want is a friend, like Helena, who doesn't mind talking about gay rights, who understands, accepts, and supports my sexuality, and who will defend me, when necessary, against the ignorance of homophobes. What I also want is a friend who can go through a conversation without throwing my sexuality back in my face—I know what I am, there's no need to remind me.
I think that allies are a vital resource to the gay community. I also think that some allies can be a little too outspoken about their place in the gay community, but then again it's often the outspoken ones who get their points across faster. But, in my "perfect world," allies do not have to wear their "A" loud and proud, in fact I would almost prefer that they didn't. I like to think that anyone short of condemning the gays to an eternity in hell is, in some way, an ally. I don't expect every one of these people to sign a registry, or start an email list, or even join their local GSA. I think people who accept the gay community for what it is are doing enough by just being themselves; accepting, understanding, and friendly; no "A" required.

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