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Lecture suggests ways to be LGBT allies

Marisa Iati | Thursday, December 1, 2011

University staff and faculty spoke about being allies for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) in a Thursday panel discussion presented by the Progressive Student Alliance.

To oppose hatred against those who identify as LGBT, people must prepare to face indignity, Miguel Franco, staff psychologist at the University Counseling Center, said.

“In quest of anything noble, indignity is going to come your way and the indignity is going to be commensurate to the size of the nobility,” Franco said. “You’re going to get tired.”

Franco warned attendees that as allies to the LGBT community, they must not become self-righteous. They will still make mistakes of judgment in words and actions.

Allies should also not be defensive, Franco said.

“You want to be approachable to people, and you cannot be approachable if you have defense mechanisms going off left and right telling people ‘I’m hurting’ [when you encounter opposition].”

The solution to improving others’ self-esteem is growing one’s own, Franco said.

“I’ll argue that if you want to cultivate self-esteem in yourself and other people, the answer is altruism,” he said. “Give of yourself to other people.”

Professor of sociology Dan Myers said allies must understand their context.

“Here at Notre Dame, we have a certain idea about what we think this context is, and I don’t think it’s entirely accurate,” Myers said. “We think that the people around us think about [LGBT issues] a certain way … that’s relatively unfriendly. There’s a very different reality than what people expect.”

Myers emphasized the importance of understanding what issues are important to the LGBT community and educating yourself about them.

“When you’re new to an issue or an environment, take it easy as you figure out what’s up and what you can best contribute instead of rushing in full blast with your righteous indignation,” he said.

Try not to get frustrated, Myers said. Some people will not agree with you, even though you think they should.

“There are people in the LGBT community itself that aren’t going to appreciate you and your intervention and your presence in their community,” Myers said. “Remember that you’re not actually a member of the community … You don’t have to pay the same cost for talking about and acting on these issues.”

Because their risks are smaller than those of LGBT community members, allies should let the community members lead all anti-hatred initiatives, Myers said.

“You should be willing to take some risks for the group and for the cause,” he said. “You may be able to bear these risks better than some of these other people [in the LGBT community] … Recognize that what you do is really pretty small compared to what other people have going on in their full-time lives.”

Despite the challenges of being an ally, Myers said people should not give up.

“Part of doing anything that matters is persistence,” he said. “These are challenging situations and they get tiring, but as the ally, you can make a huge difference by consistent, even small, behaviors. They can add up to a monumental difference.”