“Coming out” as an ally, bridging the gap
Pride Week is a time to learn about and support issues that are relevant to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) community on campus. However, it is also a time to reflect on larger issues of diversity within the College community. The College’s statement on diversity goes reads: “Colby College is dedicated to the education of humane, thoughtful, and engaged persons prepared to respond to the challenges of an increasingly diverse and global society and to the issues of justice that arise therein. The College also is committed to fostering a fully inclusive campus community, enriched by persons of different races, genders, ethnicities, nationalities, economic backgrounds, ages, abilities, sexual orientations and spiritual values and attitudes that discourage the widest possible range of participation in our community, and we seek to deepen our understanding of diversity in our daily relationships and in our dealings as an institution."
The purpose of The Bridge is to provide a community and “safe-space” for those who identify as, relate to and/or support LGBTQ students. Operating from the Pugh Center, The Bridge works to allow all people to embrace their true selves and to celebrate being bisexual, transgender, transsexual, lesbian or gay. The Bridge also acts a support system for students who are questioning their sexuality, or just need someone to talk to, but it is also a forum for activism on LGBTQ issues. The Bridge is committed to empower students to advocate for safe school policies and to mobilize their peers to stand up for safety and equality.
Although The Bridge is primarily comprised of those students who identify as LGBTQ, The Bridge is not a space designated solely for LGBTQ identifying students. The Bridge fittingly serves serve as a figurative bridge between the LGBTQ community and the greater Colby community. One of the ways this “bridge” is created is through the support of “out” straight allies. “Non-LGBTQ allies are essential to The Bridge, especially since The Bridge is an organization that represents a small sub-community within a community. Allies are what literally ‘bridge’ the two communities together to create a further integrated community.” Stephanie Ruys De Perez ’14 said.
Being an “out” straight ally transcends simply accepting and having an open mind about LGBTQ issues; it is a quest for a broader understanding outside of the accepted norm of what the human experience can be. Being a straight ally involves coming “out” in the community, officially affiliating yourself with The Bridge, and saying that you are part of the movement toward equality and acceptance. According to Stephanie Ruys De Perez ’14, “What many people don’t understand is that silent support looks the same as silent opposition, coming ‘out’ and expressing support is a powerful move in the right direction.” According to Katie Graichen ’12, “The ‘out’ straight allies to The Bridge give important LGBTQ issues much needed visibility and attention within the greater Colby community. Straight allies also help perpetuate an attitude of compassion and acceptance, which is essential to creating a truly safe space.”
Although acceptance and open minds are prevalent on the Hill, many people find it difficult to officially affiliate with The Bridge. In fact, out of the hundreds of people who claim to accept and support LGBTQ lifestyles and activism, only sixteen have come out as official straight allies of The Bridge. According to Barbara Santos ’11 “There is definitely a stigma, people think that if you claim to be straight and join The Bridge you are somehow questioning your own sexuality. This is just not the case: it is about showing support while staying true to yourself.”
According to Lindsay Peterson ’13, “What it really means to be a straight ally is not fully understood by a majority of the community. There needs to be more awareness about the role and value of straight allies.”
So, what does it really mean to be a straight ally? It could be as simple as attending more Bridge-sponsored events or talking to one’s “out” LGBTQ peers about their perspectives, triumphs and struggles. Truth be told, there is a vast spectrum of allies. The key ingredient to being a true “out” ally is having the willingness to accept, understand and advocate; to accept that not everyone may have the same views as you, and attempt to understand where they are coming from.
Raising support and awareness about what it means to be part of the LGBTQ community, whether one identifies with the lifestyle or is an “out” ally, is going to take more than just putting up more posters, sending more emails, or posting on the digest. According to Anna Caron ’13, “A good way to raise awareness and support, especially among straight allies, would be to create Campus Conversations on Gender (based off the idea of CCOR). This way people would know what it means to be an ‘out’ ally and how much allies can contribute to the greater goals of The Bridge.
Not everyone is going to be equally passionate about being a straight ally to The Bridge and, at times, it is difficult to be vocal about these issues. As a member of the Colby community, keep in mind that in some way you are connected to someone who identifies with the LGBTQ community. This can be a friend, teammate, professor, neighbor or classmate. It is important to let our friends and community members know that they are not alone in their fight for equality and acceptance.