The following is an Op-Ed by Trés McMichael.
As an openly gay Musical Theatre major from the suburbs of Maryland, I was more interested in pliés and Shakespeare than probates and step shows. I knew who I was, who I loved, and the challenges that came with being a black gay man at a predominately white institution in the South. Like many other queer people of color, I spent much of my life standing the shadows, hiding who I really was. For years I occupied a locked closet with no room to breathe let alone be my true self out, loud, or proud. I never thought I’d want to join a fraternity. It was novel of me to believe that a group of straight black men would accept and embrace me with open arms for all of who I was…but alas they emerged. Those men showed me what true friendship, brotherhood, and unconditional love and support really looked like. They refused to allow me to be anything less than my unapologetic gay black self, pliés, Shakespeare and all. They accepted me as the gay man I was, not a gay man they wanted me to be.
Going through the intake process my freshman year of college was not a card I was expecting to be dealt; however, I am so glad it was. For the entirety of my college career, I remained the only out gay male in any NHPC fraternity at my University. Despite that singularity, the support and inclusion I was shown from members of all Divine Nine organizations at my school prevented me from ever feeling the need to dwell in the shadows or suffocate in closets again. No matter what clothes I wore, what music I listened to, or who I danced with at a “social event”, they stood by me willing to work and serve. It was from these men and women that I learned what true allyship looked like.
Here are five steps to being an effective ally that I learned from those who demonstrated it to me the best:
- Fully Embody Education – As an ally it is your job to educate yourself on how your queer brothers and sisters have to walk through the world differently than you do. All of our organizations pride themselves on being vessels of scholastic achievement and intellectual stimulation, but #scholarship is more than just checking out books, watching documentaries, and reading articles (just like this one). Your education must be active. Participate in courageous conversations with queer individuals in your community. Attend panel discussions and lectures about LGBTQIA issues. Don’t just talk about it, be about it. If you desire to be an ally, you will do this without being asked or told. Show up to listen, engage, and discover something that might be new or even uncomfortable.
- Know the Power of Language – Words matter. Plain and simple. Most people have been socialized you use heteronormative and gender binary language; however, this common language can often be isolating and non-inclusive to queer-identifying people. Sex, sexuality, gender, and gender-expression are all different aspects of an individual’s identity. Take the time to ask questions about how your brother or sister wants to be identified and respect the answer. Don’t make assumptions about who they are or how they pursue love. Allow them hold agency in their truth and claim their own narrative. Celebrate the differences, don’t silence or erase them. Sometimes a simple change in the words you use can demonstrate that everyone in your organization is welcomed on the yard.
- Speak Up – Straight people have access to privileges that queer people do not in society. The environments where “locker room talk” and bigoted language take place often do not include us. When you hear homophobic rhetoric being used in those spaces don’t just let it pass by unaddressed. Regardless of what is being said your silence will be the loudest voice in the room. It is silence that leads to complacency and complacency that leads to further marginalization. Anyone who is complacent in their brother’s/sister’s oppression is not a brother/sister. Don’t wait for a queer person to be in the room to stand up and fight against hate filled dogma. Do it anywhere and do it always. Queer people of color specifically have to work twice as hard to be heard half as loud. Use your privilege and your voice to help us reach full volume.
- Demonstrate Compassion – For many members of the LGBT community, the process of coming out and being able to live proudly and authentically is extremely difficult. You may not know the full extent of what traumas your queer brothers or sisters may be carrying with them when they come into your organization. Some have been rejected from their families, shut out of religious institutions, bullied and harassed, or even assaulted solely on the basis of their sexual identity. Your acceptance of their truth, in whatever form it may be, can be the first step on the path to radical healing for them. Regardless of at what stage they are out, be compassionate towards them as they walk on their journey. Be brave and allow yourself to walk with them hand in hand.
- Do Not Offer Lukewarm Acceptance – I would have never joined my brotherhood if I was only tolerated by my brothers. Tolerance would have forced me to settle for my own silence. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes that “Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” Being lukewarm is not being a brother or a sister, being lukewarm is only a variation of being an oppressor. There is a difference between I don’t care if you are gay and accept that you are gay. When you enthusiastically accept your queer brothers and sisters, in many ways you give them the space they need to be themselves fully around you and others. Authenticity is the key to productivity. If I cannot be fully and authentically myself then I am obstructed from fully and authentically serving my organization.
While the experience I was afforded at my institution was positive, I know that for some of my fellow queer Greek brothers and sisters their stories looks very different. Many continue to exist in silence. They work tirelessly for their organizations while suppressing their identities out of fear of ridicule or rejection from those who pledged to be their family. They are told who they sleep with is their business but enter rooms where others “business” is celebrated, applauded, and normalized. They are told to “leave that gay stuff at the door”, but as time goes on the doors become never ending. They are expected to “take a joke” even when the comedy comes as a sacrifice to their humanity. We call upon all those who are willing to step up and embrace not just allyship but justice, because we often continue to struggle alone. We struggle, frequently in silence not because we want to but because we are pushed occupy silence in exchange for membership.
Everyone is not and will not be an ally; you must desire to be one. Acceptance does not always equal effective allyship. Allyship is acceptance put into action. Our organizations were established and incorporated with the intention of elevating, supporting, and serving the black community in its fullness. Our service is in vain if it is in fragmentation. If our work is harbored in the liberation of black lives then it must be for all black lives: black and Muslim, black and immigrant, and yes black and queer. There is enough room at the table for all of us. I found more than brotherhood in my chapter. I found a group of men who didn’t just teach and show me what it meant to be a man, but supported and loved me for the man I wasn’t afraid of being. For me, my brothers were the lights that helped me out of the shadows. Will you be someone’s reason for knowing that they too deserve to live authentically out, loud, and proud? Will you be someone’s light?
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