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7 things straight people need to know about to be a true LGBTQ ally

Celebrating Pride Month is about more than the party, it’s about the cause. And everyone has a role.
This Thursday, June 6, 2019, photo provided by Cody Barlow in Hulbert, Okla., shows self-described "straight, country boy" Cody Barlow's pickup truck decorated to show support for his LGBTQ loved ones for pride month. Barlow believes duct tape really can fix anything, including bigots. [Associated Press]
Published Jun. 19
Updated Jun. 19

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

This May 29, 2014 file photo shows The Stonewall Inn, in New York's Greenwich Village. [Associated Press]

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.

ALSO READ: He was at Stonewall 50 years ago. In St. Petersburg, he remembers the before and after.

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

Rachel Schumm, 18, of Trinity, waves a flag with her friend Jessalyn Odum near 5th Avenue before the 2018 St. Pete Pride Parade down Bayshore Drive. Times (2018)

“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.”

RELATED: Guide to Pride: St. Pete Pride parties, parades and festivals

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

Tech Data’s float in the 2017 St. Pete Pride Parade had about 100 employees and their friends and family. [Courtesy of Tech Data]

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.

RELATED: Six rainbow foods in Tampa Bay to try for Pride Month

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

The LGBT Welcome Center first opened in 2014. [SARA DINATALE | TIMES]

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.

If you can’t volunteer your time, many organizations, like the Campaign for Southern Equality, Funders for LGBT Issues, the Human Rights Campaign and more accept financial donations small and large.

Understand the struggle and get ready to act

Hundreds of demonstrators protest a Trump administration announcement that reversed an Obama-era order allowing transgender students to use school bathrooms matching their gender identities, outside of The Stonewall Inn in New York, Feb. 23, 2017. Activists in the LGBTQ community mobilized a fast and fierce campaign on Oct. 21, 2018, to say transgender people cannot be expunged from society, in response to an unreleased Trump administration memo that proposes a strict definition of gender based on a person's genitalia at birth. [New York Times Files]

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

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman leads the TransPride March before the 2018 St. Pete Pride Parade down Bayshore Drive. Times (2018)

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

Julian Gonzalez, 8, of Hudson, FL, reaches for necklaces thrown into the crowd during the 2018 St. Pete Pride Parade down Bayshore Drive on Saturday, June 23.

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.”

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