Letting Your Ally Flag Fly
By Alicia Case, Global Communications Manager, Publicis Health
While some people think of the term “ally” as simply being a title, I think of it more as a verb, an action that needs to be taken—and reaffirmed—each and every day.
My personal ally story began at childhood, when I would strut around my parents’ house while listening to RuPaul’s Supermodel. Although I was an unabashed drag-culture-loving ally by age seven, I already knew that others may not share in the same beliefs. I remember being in jazz dance class and pushing nearly every song from RuPaul’s Foxy Lady album on my dance teacher, only to be told, “We don’t dance to ‘he/she’ music.”
I didn’t understand the problem, but that moment marked one of the first times when I realized that I was different from other people, that my thinking may be radically progressive, even for a child. My pint-sized self couldn’t comprehend the idea that some people would judge others because of who they were. For me, my brazen allyship blossomed that afternoon in jazz dance class, dressed in a sparkly leotard, shiny dance shoes, and glittery tights.
Fast forward to today, Spirit Day 2017. As I type this article at work—I’m dressed in a sequined blazer, seated beneath a disco ball that hangs above my cubicle, and sporting the same purple hair that I’ve had for more than 14 years — the only difference between then and now is that along the way I’ve found my tribe of like-minded people who have supported and helped my pursuit of allyship.
In the intervening years since I unsuccessfully pitched RuPaul’s music to my dance teacher, I’ve had close relatives come out as gay to me, I’ve had a former partner come out as a transwoman, and my college experience included being surrounded by gay men who wanted nothing to do with my lady parts, but now are some of my very best friends. All of these people—and many, many more along the way—have helped me to hone my ally spirit and showed me what love, friendship, and true acceptance are all about.
As a straight-identified, CIS-gendered woman, I know there are everyday experiences of exclusion and discrimination that my LGBTQ brothers and sisters confront daily that I will never have to face. I appreciate that I possess certain privileges that aren’t afforded to my out, queer-identified colleagues, which is why I am so committed to demonstrating my allyship on a daily basis.
Because I grew up in a generally conservative, white-suburban town, few of my friends and family were surprised that I was drawn to the big city. However, my desire to move to New York wasn’t driven by the city’s glitz and mystique. Instead, exchanging small town America for one of the world’s largest and greatest cities was motivated by my desire to be surrounded by like-minded people who celebrate diversity rather than stigmatize it. The moment I arrived here as a college freshman, I immediately felt like I could be my authentic self and I’ve been able to thrive as an out and proud ally ever since.
So what does it mean for me to be an ally?
Being an ally means listening and creating spaces for others to be heard.
It also means letting go of the conscious and unconscious biases that people with privilege possess. Through the years, I’ve learned a lot from LGBTQ friends whose shoes I could never walk in. By really hearing them and taking to heart their unique, individual stories and struggles, I am armed to advocate with them and on their behalf.
Being an ally means fighting for someone else’s cause because it’s the right thing to do.
I joined my company’s business resource group (BRG) for LGBTQ employees and allies, Égalité, back in 2013. After four years, initially starting as a local board member, today I co-lead the group across 15 chapters, in three countries for more than 1,200 members.
With 28 states where you can still be fired simply for being LGBT, our BRG is vital to creating workplace equality and protections. It’s unacceptable that there are still cities and states in this country where an LGBT person can get married on Saturday, then on Monday have to fear showing off their beautiful wedding photos at work.
Being a BRG leader gives me the voice and opportunity to shape a workplace that becomes a haven for all people, a place where all employees can come as they are and bring their whole selves to the office. That safe space is not created being surrounded exclusively by LGBT people, but surrounded by allies as well. I know that in my leadership role, I have the ability to bring other allies to the table. If someone wants to know why I’m an ally, I tell them. It takes both allies and LGBTQ people to be in this together.
Being an ally means standing up against discrimination of all kinds.
I’ll admit, there was a moment when I wasn’t fully living my best ally self. It was when I held the title of ally, but wasn’t acting on the verb. I’ve realized that when someone says something that is discriminatory, I have the responsibility to step up and speak out—always. When someone says something ignorant, I need to use it as a teaching moment. Or when a loved one is hurt and they can’t find the words, I’m here to help alleviate their pain and help them find their words. I stand up for my LGBT friends and family daily. And they know that I have their backs and I’m going to call out people when they say or do the wrong thing.
One of my most humbling moments as an ally occurred just last week. A trans colleague and friend approached me after we finished speaking on a panel at the 2017 Out & Equal Workplace Summit. She told me that she didn’t quite “get” the ally thing and never really felt she met an ally until she met me. She expressed that allies didn’t become real until she met me because I also “get her.” That struck me to my core. She is who I’m here for. If I can help any person feel that they are surrounded by people who authentically care about them, no matter who they are or who choose to love or be, then that’s an ally win in my book.
Alicia Case is a brazen ally who works as Global Communications Manager for Publicis Health. She serves as Global Co-Chair of Égalité — Publicis Groupe’s business resource group (BRG) for LGBTQ employees and their allies.