You're the + in LGBTQ+: What it means to be an Ally

Most people know what the letters in LGBTQ+ community means, but often we glaze over the plus and what it stands for. Recently, a colleague of mine asked me what the plus means. I kindly reminded him that I’m not in charge of the Queer Community (I often say that jokingly to my kids as they assume adults have answers for everything. “Why do they call it a driveway? … Who decided to name it Mac N Cheese?” … I’m not in charge, I don’t know; they didn’t consult me). However, I do know not only from research but also being a member of the ‘Alphabet Mafia’, that as the queer community became more inclusive, we added more letters (hence, Alphabet Mafia). It eventually became so much at someone in charge of this fabulous community, the head Gay, if you will, used the plus (+) symbol to include all the other parts of the community. Inside that + are Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual, Agender, Gender Queer, Bigender, Gender Variant, Pangender, and Ally to name a few.

Yes, Ally! You’re in there too! You even have your own flag (see above) and we need you more than ever! If you’re not an Ally yet, there’s still hope and time for you to join the +. Let me take you into the experience of the LGBTQ+ community to give you a better understanding of the stigmas we face.

We can start back in 1948 when the United Nations established the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that ensured every human was afforded many basic human rights. While the U.S. was one of the first countries to sign this declaration, did you know that we purposefully omitted over 7 of its articles as our political leaders did not feel it jived with the U.S. Constitution? Things like the 'right to desirable work and to join trade unions, rest and leisure, an adequate living standard, education, cultural life of community, social order, and freedom from state or personal interference' (Redcay et al, 2019). While the UDHR does declare the right of freedom from discrimination and that everyone is entitled to all of the rights regardless of distinction ‘of any kind’ including sex or other class (Redcay et al, 2019), many argue that since it does not specifically call out sexual orientation. By not upholding this article in our countries laws, many argue that technically, the U.S. is in violation of article two of the UDHR and we’re one of the few countries that signed this declaration that has chosen not to uphold this article to its fullest. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law defining marriage as between one man and one woman. It took 9 years to have this overturned in 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage with Obergefell v. Hodges (Sansone, 2019). The Equality Act, which amends the 1964 Civil Right Act, was passed in the House just this February 2021, will provide consistent and explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service (Cicilline, 2021). While many assumed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 addressed equality for all, again, because sexual orientation and gender were not addressed, we need to amend the law for specificity.

According to a 2021 Gallup poll, over 5.6% of Americans identify in the LGBTQ community. That’s over 18 million people who should have the right to live free from discrimination, but do not. Maybe you’re starting to see all of the hoops we’re having to jump through here just to be treated with equality.

The barriers we’ve removed towards the quest for equality have been thanks to the work of allies. What does it mean to be an ally? An Ally is someone who supports the need for civil rights and equality of another group. Can straight/heterosexual people be allies of the LGBTQ+ community? Heck Yes! That’s where you belong in the +. Those that identify in the queer community can also be allies. As part of my workplace inclusion mission, I also want to make sure there is safe space for individuals to be their authentic selves in the workplace, therefore, while I not only want be able to be my authentic self at work, I want others to have that same right including Transgender, Non-binary, and Gender Non-conforming professionals. This basic right is so important because studies have shown LGBTQ employees have expressed being out in the workplace has improved their ability to do business and engage with customers (Longarino, 2019).

"Come on, Wendy, I see gay people in the workplace all the time. They're not that worried about coming out". Actually, a Human Rights Campaign’s survey in 2018 found that 46% of LGBTQ are still closeted at work and a 2016 Credit Suisse survey showed that 72% of LGBTQ senior executive have remained closeted in the workplace (Longarino, 2019).

In the workplace, one of the easiest ways to be a better ally is ensuring your company has an anti-discrimination policy that addresses sexual orientation and gender identity. One of the first U.S. companies to adopt a anti-discrimination policy addressing sexual orientation was AT&T and they did it all the way back in 1975. As of 2018, 83% of Fortune 500 companies now have anti-discrimination policies that address sexual orientation and gender identity (Longarino, 2019). That leaves 17% of Fortune 500 companies that need to get with it if they haven’t already.

What you can do also do as an individual is educate yourself and others, where you can. Below are some great resources to get you started.

  • Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists (GLMA) –

  • National Resource Center of LGBT Aging -

  • Bisexual Organizing Project (BOP) -

  • Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) -

  • PFLAG -

  • Children of Lesbians and Gays (COLAGE) -

  • The Gender Unicorn –

As an ally, ways you can empower the LGBTQ community to advocate and support them as well is to join LGBTQ+ or Pride communities at work. If your company doesn’t have one, start one! This can be a safe space where queer community colleagues can network and support each other. Outside of work, there are plenty of online communities what provide support for each other and welcome allies to join in the conversation.

Honestly, it’s not that hard to start being an ally and it costs you nothing to simply be a better human to other humans.

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