How Straight People Can Help
A great question was asked at the American Shorts @ WYEP event during Pride Week here in Pittsburgh recently: “Where did the term ‘straight’ come from, and how can straight people help in the effort for GLBT equality?” I learned an immense amount from the answers offered to this crucial question.
First, what does “straight” really mean? I learned that “straight” emerged after “bent” became a common slang term in England for GLBT people during the years after World War I. The idea was that homosexual people had bent away from the norm. Since GLBT people were considered bent, heterosexuals must be straight — and the term stuck. Perhaps the term “bent” did not take hold for GLBT people because it misrepresented their experience. They are just the way they are, not to be defined by a comparison to something else. Nevertheless, “straight” remained as a term for heterosexual people.
But more important than any label, the help of straight people is necessary to achieve full inclusion of GLBT people in church and society. Unlike other minorities — and despite the fears of some — GLBT people will never be more than a small part of the church or of our whole society. If pressure for change is to come from numbers of people alone, success will require straight allies in the effort to end discrimination against our GLBT neighbors in the church and the world. So how can straight people help?
First, raise your voice. Speak up when an injustice occurs. Do not leave the naming and challenging of an incident to GLBT people alone. Martin Luther King Jr. was right: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In addition, the painful trauma felt by GLBT people in the face of prejudice can, understandably, mute their protest, making the voices of straight allies extra important at that moment.
Better yet, help prevent the injustice by opening hearts and minds now. Arrange for study in your church adult Sunday School class or local library book club of some of the good books available. Two recent possibilities are Jack Rogers’ second edition of “Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church” (drjackrogers.com) and “Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America” (crisisbook.org).
Watch out for your GLBT neighbors by sending a letter to the editor of your local paper, to your legislator or to the church council when discrimination against GLBT people is made public. Write in support of things like an anti-discrimination ordinance in your county. Express your sadness or outrage in response to things like news reports of bullying toward “gay” youth in a local school. Ask your church council to write, too, highlighting Jesus’ teaching and practice of standing with the outcasts and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Talk with people you know. One of the most powerful ways you can help is to talk one-on-one with your friends and family about why you support inclusion of GLBT people in your community or your church. Talk with them about the need to end prejudice, but also introduce them to your GLBT friends and neighbors, just as you would any of your other friends.
Support your local LGBT community. Give to the GLBT center or group in your city. Participate in the Pride Week march. If there is no Pride march where you live, find a welcoming church where you can ally with the GLBT folk there to plan Pride events in June for your area.
We in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) strive to serve God with “energy, intelligence, imagination and love,” and those are the gifts straight allies bring to GLBT friends. Unleash these and straight folk will find endless ways to help.
In fact, how about sharing your own ideas and experiences of ways in which straight allies and GLBT people have worked together for full equality? I would love to hear them and spread them afar through the comment function here.