July marks the end of Pride festivities, and for too many people, a return to the closet. But the camaraderie and sense of belonging that go along with Pride don’t have to be fleeting.
But the high-profile celebrations make it easy to forget there’s another side to Pride. Among less affluent members of the LGBTQ+ community and those living in rural and suburban areas, Pride is often observed in smaller, quieter ways, and it’s not uncommon for the low-key celebrations to be the only time it feels safe to be publicly out.
Keeping Pride Alive
That’s where you and I come in. I’m a gay white man living across the Hudson from Manhattan. I have a husband named Michael, and a black Lab named Dagny. Thinking outside the box is a big part of who I am and what I do best.
Yet like everyone in the LGBTQ+ community, I spent time in the closet – a box of my own making. I’ve been out since 2002, when a brief sojourn in Bangkok before my junior year abroad in Australia convinced me the time was right. At the University of Queensland, I joined the Queer Collective, a safe and affirming student group. (To give you an idea of what student groups there were like, there was also a Beer Appreciation Society. I was a card-carrying member.)
It got a lot harder to come out when I was back in Ohio at Case Western Reserve University. When I did, my commanding officer in the ROTC program sent me to the school library to type up a letter stating I had a “propensity to engage in homosexual acts,” which is the same verbiage on my “don’t ask, don’t tell” discharge paperwork. Telling my fraternity was even tougher: During our weekly meeting’s round robin, I had to announce not only that I was out of the military and had lost my ROTC scholarship but also that I liked men.
Coming out isn’t a one-time occurrence. It’s not binary. We’re always coming out, in each and every action. It just gets a lot easier the millionth time.
The Power of Allies
If you’re reading this, you’re likely to play a crucial role for the LGBTQ+ community: You’re an ally. With LGBTQ+ individuals representing only 4.5% of the population, much of our community is made up of allies. Because we’re a relatively small group, allies are critical – and sometimes found in the places we least expect. When we circulated an eight-question survey as part of the relaunch of Embrace, Cognizant’s LGBTQ+ affinity group, I was moved – and surprised – to discover the greatest number of responses from a single U.S. facility was in Jessup, Pa., population 4,676. We truly are everywhere.
Returning to the closet sometimes feels like the only choice. A unique characteristic of those who identify as LGBTQ+ is that unlike members of the Black, Hispanic and Latinx communities, we can shut that part of ourselves off. Forty six percent of LGBTQ+ workers say they’re closeted at work.
Allies play an important part in ensuring we don’t have to be.
The power of allies has become crystal clear in the wake of Black Lives Matter. To see how BLM and LGBTQ+ issues have dovetailed, witness the thousands like me who gathered in cities such as New York and London in recent weeks and risked getting pepper-sprayed to support Black Trans Lives Matter.
No one can achieve equality unless we all have equality. Just as LGBTQ+ issues don’t end when the month of June does, neither does our need for allies – nor our allies’ need for us when questions arise about their gay sons and daughters, or the quandary of gender pronoun norms, or the alphabet soup that is LGBTQIA+. Part of the benefit of allyship is that it’s a two-way street.
So, take action and become an ally. Get involved with your company’s affinity groups. (At Cognizant, Embrace’s next meeting is July 31.) Help all of us raise our visibility throughout the year. If the strength and support of our allies influences one person to live outside of the closet, you’ll have contributed.
Everyone deserves to belong for more than a month.
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