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Sharda Sekaran Headshot

Ally Week: Equal Opportunity to Advocate for Equality

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Several years ago, I was at my college reunion when a guy whom I had had a little crush on as a student told me that he never asked me out because, as he said, "I thought you were gay." This was a fair thing for him to assume. I had been co-director of my college's LGBT Center. I took a freshman seminar class called "Men Loving Men." I was a witness at the commitment ceremony of two female friends of mine. I hung out with a lot of gay people, and it wouldn't be unusual to find me on our serene suburban campus with a conspicuously attired drag queen.

My passion for being an LGBT advocate as a straight-identified person came from my personal journey and recognition from a very early age that equality was important because it could affect me, someone I care for or any other human being. My framework for looking at the world is deeply rooted in the principles of human rights, which include an understanding that every person should be afforded dignity and the ability to reach their maximum potential in life. In my ideal world, everyone should be honored for what makes us unique as individuals and as part of a larger community.

We had gay, lesbian and bisexual people in my family, but no one would speak openly about this. Sometimes there were mild insinuations, but it was not a topic for discussion. Meanwhile, my Christian relatives made it pretty clear that they believed that being gay was not acceptable to their faith. I found this bizarre because, acknowledged or not, some of our loved ones were clearly gay. I thought sexual orientation was more or less the product of chance, so why should anyone be judged? This disconnect sparked a curiosity in me to better understand my own identity and the gay community.

In high school, I frequented the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in Greenwich Village. I watched gay movies and read books on LGBT issues. I came armed with facts and information to debate the anti-gay biases of family members and peers. I worshiped at the altar of pop diva Madonna and her message of personal freedom (am I giving away my age here?). I marched in New York's AIDS Walk wearing an Act Up tank top (that I still have). I went to Wigstock and Pride parades.

As I run inventory on my activities as a teenager, it wouldn't surprise me at all that people speculated that I might be gay. I didn't think that there should be a problem if I was or wasn't. Either way, I would be me. As I explored my maturing identity, I was open to the possibility that I could be questioning or bi. Regardless, I felt very strongly that I should be treated equally as a human being and accepted for me.

Getting tapped to run my school's LGBT Center was an honor, albeit an uncomfortable one, because I had a sneaking suspicion all the while that, at the end of the day, I would discover myself to be straight. Suspicion confirmed. Ultimately, I found myself sheepishly "coming out" as a straight person to friends, but honestly, no one seemed to care. My contributions were more important than my orientation. I'd organized LGBT events, speakers and our resource center. Straight people can, and should, be proud friends of the LGBT community as advocates and allies for equality. Fairness and justice are either for all of us or none of us.

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