Students congregated for the presentation “Straight Talk: Understanding the Power of the Straight Ally” on Monday April 20. The discussion focused on how one can become an ally of the LGBTQ+ community and how the gap between straight and LGBTQ+ individuals can be bridged.
Gay Alliance Education Director Jeanne Gainsburg led the discussion by beginning with a personal account of her own experience as an ally of the LGBTQ+ community. “I identify as a straight, cisgender ally,” Gainsburg said. “It’s a nice place to start the discussion because once I got to know and appreciate the transgender community, the more I realized I was doing a disservice to them by not identifying my gender. I was making the assumption that everybody knew that.”
After Gainsburg’s account of becoming an ally, she gave advice on how Geneseo students could attempt to become polite allies themselves. The first question Gainsburg asked the students to answer was, “What are some of the barriers allies face?” Students discussed a multitude of obstacles within both communities, leading to a discussion on how to create safe spaces for allies.
Students then addressed the topic of respectful communication with members of the LGBTQ+ community by identifying terminology. Individuals participated in an activity that sought to identify members of the LGBTQ+ community and to address negative communication issues. Attendee junior Gregory Kalvin advised peers to “focus on people and not on ideas, putting all the other stuff aside. When I’m in that frame of mind, I’m my best version of an ally.”
Graduate Assistant for LGBTQ Programs and Services Aiden Cropsey ’14, who organized the event, works with Geneseo students to form relationships and to serve as a resource. Cropsey explained that he also works with administration and the Lauderdale Center for Student Health and Counseling in order to “get things moving in terms of policy and procedure to make the community more inclusive for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff.” Cropsey said that his main objective in creating this event was to spark dialogue on building relationships between the LGBTQ+ community and straight allies; providing an open, comfortable environment where questions could be asked.
“I want to have allies come into the community because there’s often a stigma involved with getting allies to participate and get actively involved,” Cropsey said. “[Allies can] feel like they would be imposing or stepping on toes, or like the LGBTQ+ members feel uncomfortable with an ally.”
Gainsburg promoted a “Coming Out As a Straight, Cisgender Ally” model for students who did not know how to actively get involved in the LGBTQ+ community. This model also promoted rights for people of any gender and sexual orientation. After presenting the model, Gainsburg ended the panel by addressing the power that straight, cisgender allies have as advocates for and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community.
“The biggest thing about allies is to ask what people are comfortable with,” Cropsey said. “If you go and ask, ‘I have a question and I’m not sure if it is okay, but can you tell me if you’re comfortable answering the question?’ it’s the first step. You’re making sure that person knows you are not looking at them as an object, but as a person.”