Hey, straight people. St. Pete Pride, and the LGBTQ community as a whole, needs you.
Only, it’s not to make it about you, it’s about how you can help.
And that doesn’t mean throwing on a rainbow shirt on or waving a flag. Pride celebrations may be a fun way to spend the weekend — and St. Pete might have one of the largest around in the Southeast United States, but there’s also important work to be done.
The LGBTQ community needs support, but it also needs allies.
“We’re still under attack,” said Jim Nixon, manager of the LGBTQ Welcome Center in St. Pete and Mayor Rick Kriseman’s LGBTQ liaison. “Even today, we don’t have protections in this state for employment and housing. These are things that are a struggle for LGBTQ people, and allies are the ones that make that difference.”
While the community has seen progress in the last few decades, there are still measures being taken to strip LGBTQ people of their rights and humanity, Nixon said, like the military ban on trans people.
Allies — people who are not LGBTQ but actively support the community and promote equality — can go a long way in helping advance civil rights, if they know how to be effective.
“A lot of times in the empathy, in the understanding, it takes allies to bridge that gap between the LGBTQ community and people who may not understand the difficulties we face as a community,” Nixon said.
Here’s how you can be an effective ally to the LGBTQ community, or even an effective member.
Know the history
With the excitement and energy that comes with participating in celebrations, it can be easy to forget Pride Month’s violent and somber roots.
Fifty years ago, in the early hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police once again raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. It quickly escalated into one of the most pivotal moments in modern LGBTQ history as patrons grew frustrated with their treatment.
The following days saw rioting, but also the beginning of a rebellion in the LGBTQ community against an oppressive society that often wouldn’t, and sometimes still doesn’t, allow same-sex couples to even hold hands in public without being in danger.
Pride Month commemorates that anniversary. Knowing that is your first step to being an effective ally.
Show up, but leave the judgment at home
“The best thing you can do is show up and participate in the festival and parade,” said Brian Longstreth, a local business owner and leader in the LGBTQ community. "It’s different (than other Pride celebrations) because it’s family friendly. The key is show up and show your support. And pay attention.”
Longstreth said he recalls the first St. Pete Pride parade when he saw a straight family with two young children sitting on the lawn waving flags. The family told him they wanted to teach their children about equality and diversity early.
“That really is what we’re trying to do, teach people to reach out and support,” he said. “Everybody is equal. We’re all human beings.”
Support LGBTQ-owned/-friendly businesses
And don’t worry, there’s an app for that.
St. Pete Pride now has a mobile app featuring the second-largest LGBTQ-friendly business directory in Florida. It’s available on Google Play and in the Apple App Store.
While many bars and restaurants that are owned by or friendly to LGBTQ people get business during St. Pete Pride, the city, as well as others, have businesses like salons, Realtors and everyday businesses that can be supported 365 days a year.
“Value the diversity,” Longstreth said.
Volunteer with an LGBTQ organization
One of the best ways to be an effective ally is to volunteer with an LGBTQ organization. Not only is it active participation in supporting issues, it provides more inclusion and perspective for people of any gender and sexuality.
Locally, statewide and nationwide, there are countless opportunities to volunteer.
Check out places like Metro Inclusive Health, Equality Florida, St. Pete Pride, Come Out St. Pete, Empath Partners in Care, Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, the LGBTQ Welcome Center and many other organizations.
Understand the struggle and get ready to act
It’s still dangerous to come out, Nixon said. And it’s still not entirely safe to be LGBTQ today. Transgender rights, he said, are particularly under attack in the current political climate. To really help with change, Nixon said to write your senators and your representative in Congress. Tell them you support the Equality Act in Florida, for example. Show up at meetings and let your voice be heard.
One of the best ways to be an ally, Longstreth added, is to be a part of the decision making process. Allies are the bridge between the LGBTQ community and those who don’t understand or seek to oppress it.
Being an effective ally means putting in the work so those who might not know the struggles or understand the humanity of the LGBTQ community get a better idea, which also removes the toll of teaching from the marginalized community.
That also involves supporting legislators and leaders who help advance equality, and standing against those who don’t.
“If you truly are an ally, you have to support those politicians who are willing to step up and take criticism along with the praise they get," Longstreth said.
Appreciate the wins
There still might be a long way to go, but the world has also come a long way in 50 years.
St. Pete in particular has taken many strides toward inclusion, and Tampa this year elected Jane Castor as its first out mayor. Her victory made Castor one of the first LGBTQ women to lead one of Florida’s largest cities and the only one leading a major U.S. city in the Southeast, according to Equality Florida.
Familiarizing yourself with the victories and knowing what has been accomplished can be as important as knowing what’s left to do.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be honest about your misgivings and misunderstandings
There is such diversity among the LGBTQ community itself that even its members might not always understand everything, Nixon said.
If you are an ally or you want to be an ally, don’t be afraid to engage. There can be stigma and trepidation to someone engaging. But whether it’s friends or strangers, don’t be afraid to respectfully reach out.
“Any LGBTQ person should welcome that encouragement,” Nixon said. “We want to engage in it. We want to talk about it. Most of the time, we’ll want to talk about it too much.”
Engaging is the best way to understanding. That can be anything from asking about someone’s pronouns or finding out how you can help a cause, to simply checking in on a friend or seeking clarification on something you might not understand.
There will be misgivings and misunderstandings, even if it’s perceived perception. It goes both ways, too, Nixon said. Sometimes, LGBTQ people can be hesitant to engage for fear of judgment.
Ultimately, communication and understanding is what will lead to progress. Don’t be afraid to ask.
“Don’t worry about what you don’t know or what you might be confused about. Be willing to ask,” Nixon said. “The greatest shift we see in acceptance and diversity in our community comes from the allies.”