Last month, students came together to celebrate our queer christian community here at Eastern University. Each day of Solidarity Week, Refuge, Eastern’s student-run club advocating for LGBT+ issues, ran events to celebrate the community, but also to bring light to issues and injustices they and many others face. Chief among these issues is the problem of Eastern’s hiring practices. As it has been since I was a freshman, faculty who do not fit the “moral standards” of the university are either not allowed to teach at all, or asked to keep their identity a secret. Among other problems, this issue was central to the conversations had for the duration of the week.
At the end of the week, Refuge held the Solidarity Stand, where queer students and straight allies gathered to hear several people speak on those aforementioned problems. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, an ally is someone who does not belong to a specific oppressed or disenfranchised group, but stands with them in their fight for justice. Being an ally can be daunting, as being too passive can make it seem like you don’t care, and being too aggressive can drown out the voices of the oppressed in favor of your preformative, self-aggrandizing brand of support.
I am not a member of the queer community here on campus, but many of my friends are, and because of my values as a Christian and human being, I believe in standing up for those who have been unfairly discriminated against. I don’t know what it is like to be gay, or a woman, or black, but I know bullying when I see it, and no one deserves to be treated as less than because of who they are. Now, does that make me a good ally? I don’t know, because as it has taken me years to realize, it is not up to me. In spite of my moral conviction to do what is right, I have learned through my friendships with people less privileged than myself that it’s not enough to have good intentions, you have to listen first.
When the final day of solidarity week came, I had been asked to give a short speech as an ally of the community. I was hesitant at first, but my friends in Refuge assured me that they genuinely wanted me there. To be asked to do so meant so very much to me, because I have had a wonderful experience at Eastern and been afforded so many opportunities. It breaks my heart that many of my friends cannot say the same. There were plenty of people there far more wise or knowledgeable than me on this subject, so I decided to speak directly on my experience as an ally, and what that means to me.
You can be a good person. You can even be a particularly intelligent person. However, when you are not from an underprivileged or oppressed group, you can never fully grasp what it must be like to live in the world they live in. That is why it is important to listen, and be open. That doesn’t mean that everything a person less privileged than you says is always right, but if we are honest with ourselves, we jump to the conclusion that they could not possibly be right far too often.
I have not always known the right things to say, or had the most informed understanding of the issues I have the privilege to ignore, but by virtue of my queer friends’ patience and grace, I have had the fortune of being able to grow and learn from my mistakes to become the better friend to the community I am today.