The Journey of Being an Ally

Jim Johnson over at the excellent pro-gay blog Straight, Not Narrow recently experienced a negative reaction to one of his pro-gay posts in a Yahoo queer group. Although he has had positive experiences in the past and a good track record with similar groups, some members of the Yahoo group felt offended by the post and possibly the presence of a straight man in their midst.

Puzzled over this reaction, Jim reminded us all that acceptance is a two-way street. LGBT groups can be intolerant too.

I agree with Jim that LGBT groups can be much more open, particularly towards queer-affirming people of faith, but as I considered his post I thought about the challenge of being an ally and the sort of rejection an ally may experience. I posted the following response that I thought might be helpful to those of us who seek to be better allies.

Jim, I so appreciate what you do. The presence of straight allies in the struggle gives me so much hope. Your posts, filled with insight, warmth and humility provide a well-needed perspective.

I completely understand the response you recevied from the the LGBT group in question. I do not see it on the same level as the rejection LGBTQ individuals have faced.

A few things to consider.

1. I once heard Judy Shepard, mother of the slain gay man Matthew Shepard say, “Church hurt is the worst kind of hurt.”

As I’ve been traveling throughout US, Canada and even Europe I have found many LGBTQ folks who have been so wounded by churches in their past that it takes extreme courage to comtemplate going even into a queer affirming congregation.

So many flashbacks occur for many of us, so many fears and even shame. Even though we are welcome with open arms, we don’t see those arms. We see the fist that we felt shut us away from the God that many of us loved.

This is not your problem to solve; we each have to find our way to the divine for ourselves, but it will help you to know that a post with the title “Don’t Trust the System, Trust the Lord” can feel inflamatory and bring up lots of debris from the past.

2. Many conservative Christians believe they need to be wise as serpents in their efforts at evangelism. I have learned to distrust seemingly affirming messages from straight Christians until I know for sure where they are coming from.

You may have a good track record with some of us queer folks, but you may find that you will have to do plenty of relationship building before you are welcome to speak directly into a community that has been hurt by straight Christians.

3. This last point is harder to express so I will talk about myself some. I am a white man. I have been trained to think and respond in certain ways as a white man. I know in most places I go my opinion is valued and even sought after for lots of reasons. Part of the privilige I experience in America as a white man is that loads of people are open to hear what I have to say.

This is not the case for everyone. Women, people of color, people with disabilities, transsexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and even white gay men at times have to struggle to be heard.

I know that when I am around people of color and women, as a white man, I need to listen more than speak. I have many things to learn, many assumptions to unlearn. These folks have heard a white male perspective for a very long time. One of the gifts I can give is to listen, to hear, to learn. In so doing I can then grow into their communities and find out how I can contribute in a meaningful way.

So, Acceptance is a Two-Way Street, but some streets go up-hill. Depending on the direction you are going, you may have to exert more effort and walk more carefully.

You have chosen to walk uphill, to become an ally. Don’t be surprised if you are not always warmly welcomed. In the plast Many who look very much like you have wounded us deeply and we are not keen on having that happen again–especially from an ally. It hurts that much worse.

Please don’t lose heart. We all have places to grow within our communities and as we each seek to be allies.

This post has 3 Comments

  1. Christine on February 12, 2006 at 6:41 am Reply

    “So, Acceptance is a Two-Way Street, but some streets go up-hill. Depending on the direction you are going, you may have to exert more effort and walk more carefully.”

    I love this. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts. And, for the record, I really appreciate Jim and his blog, too.

  2. john on February 12, 2006 at 11:03 pm Reply

    I need to listen more than speak. […] One of the gifts I can give is to listen, to hear, to learn. In so doing I can then grow into their communities and find out how I can contribute in a meaningful way.

    I hope that I am internalizing this message. I think I almost always talk more than listen. That’s probably the source of most of my troubles.

  3. Christine on February 13, 2006 at 2:55 am Reply

    John, you’re surely not alone in that. I take this to heart as well and want to be more mindful of the need to listen more than speak and to listen (fully listen) with presence, instead of listening so that I can formulate what I want to say next.

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