THE BLOG
09/20/2010 01:49 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Vital Role of Allies

In our GeekNerdWonk Charitable Foundation's post, "On Our Nation's 234th Birthday", we discussed having traveled the country for Pride Month to fundraise for local charities, and to educate on the need for Americans to employ a "lens of integration" rather than a "lens of separation" towards persons of a different gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, citizenship status, disability, socioeconomic and/or educational status than oneself. There we briefly noted the pivotal role of Allies in Civil Rights Movements (e.g. LGBTQA), defining, generally, Allies as those courageous individuals or organizations dedicated to the equality of persons in a marginalized population, communities to which they themselves do not personally belong.

Here we further discuss the vital importance of the role of Allies, categorizing Allies into three important groups - Family Allies, Chosen Family Allies, and Activist Allies - and share our thoughts on these here with you.

Family Allies

During the Pride marches and festivals, we were especially moved by the power of universal American core family values. What resonated to us was that regardless of sexuality, all families seek the love, comfort and protection of its members. The recognition of these shared core family values readily trumped any "differences" between LGBTQA families and heterosexual families, and we saw family members of all sexualities come together as nuclear units.

Family Allies play a vital role in the LGBTQA community, fostering love, support, and share a common advocacy for equality. We saw heterosexual grandparents, siblings, and extended family out in force during Pride Month to support their LGBTQA family members. Both Ronnie and I had family members out in full support during the Pride events. Ronnie's mother, Charlene, and stepfather, Gary, were out with bells on in Ronnie's hometown of Chicago for the Pride march. Stephanie's 81-year-old Mother, Marjorie, was slated to ride in the parade (but was prevented from doing so by illness) in Stephanie's hometown of Los Angeles for the Pride Parade.

Our families' - all of our families' - willingness to publicly support our lives (our personal orientation - whatever it may be - as well as our academic and professional work in the LGBTQA field, as well as in other marginalized communities) underscores the power of Family Allies to express the same essential, principle American family values through the "lens of integration" by which they see their LGBTQ relatives. This phenomena bears out the research on "stigma reduction" which heralds that the single most effective method to eradicate stigma is through "personal contact" with persons different than oneself. Family allies serve as this loving, accepting, personal contact.

Chosen Family Allies -- Not-for-Profits

What about those in the LGBTQA community who have no Family Allies?

The first line of support is always within the LGBTQA community itself. Extraordinary not-for-profits tailored to the needs of the LGBTQA community such as Joe Solmonese's Human Rights Campaign and the Domestic Violence program at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center provide psychological, bio-medical, social, educational, housing, HIV-Care, addiction support groups, social support groups, and legal support utilizing LGBTQ-competent professionals and volunteers (of all different personal orientations) to step in to create a deeply caring environment of Chosen Family Allies.

These multi-disciplinary services at LGBTQ not-for-profits attend to the specialized concerns of those in the LGBTQ community who are either without Family Allies and/or who have Family Allies, but their Family Allies are not capable of dealing with the specific LGBTQ problems faced.

An example of one such LGBTQ-specific problem beyond the scope of Family Allies: LGBTQ domestic violence ("DV"). At the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, for example, Susan Holt, MA, CDVC, pioneered the "STOP Partner Abuse/Domestic Violence Program", (Domestic Violence) in which Susan insisted that all couples who came in for Mental Health resources had to also be assessed for DV - as individuals, not as a couple - as was the dangerous norm in Marriage and Family Therapy before Susan revolutionized the field. Susan has shepherded the "STOP" program throughout periods of funding cuts as mental health money has recently been erroneously directed to legal DV interventions when LGBTQ-identified community members prefer mental counseling help. Susan has studied, theorized, researched, designed interventions, and trained LGBTQ-competent doctoral interns and DV mental health counselors for twenty years; thus supplementing the role of Family Allies, or standing in the absence of Family Allies, where necessary. See Stephanie's analysis of Susan's STOP Program, as well as the seminal work of the NYC Anti-Violence Project - tracking national violence for THIRTY years(!), co-author, "LGBTQ Domestic Violence 2009."

Chosen Family Allies -- Friends

Chosen Family Allies not only includes not-for-profits and grassroots organizations, but also include those individuals who support the LGBTQ community, while not personally-identified as a member of the LGBTQ community. These Chosen Family Allies are individuals who identify the need for integration of all persons into the fullness of Equality under the Law, and enjoyment of Identified and Enforced Civil Liberties.

These Chosen Family Allies may be the best friend of a person who identifies with the LGBTQA community, who assists his LGBTQ-identified friend in attending community planning meetings to support LGBTQA causes, Festivals, and Vigils.

Chosen Family Allies also includes notable celebrities known for their strong support in the LGBTQA community such as the redoubtable Kathy Griffin whose Emmy-award winning "Life on the D List" has made Civil Rights a central theme. Alec Baldwin (with whom Ronnie Kroell's life partner, Taylor Proffitt, starred in Equus this summer in East Hampton) - spoke to Ronnie and Taylor of the "incomprehensibility" of codified inequality. Celebrity Allies are a vital force in the LGBTQA cause for the awareness they are able to raise.

And of course we would remiss in not noting the many brave celebrities, who are members of one or more stigmatized populations, who use their power and appeal to provide a "personal contact" with those who many who were schooled (family, church, politics) to summarily dismiss entire populations of people for being different than they are. These Out Celebrities serve not only as wonderful role models to the LGBTQ population, but as Chosen Family Allies as they intensely and with intention reach out to bring in more Chosen Family Allies. A special shout out to Ellen DeGeneres, the standard bearer of these brave celebrities.

The LGBTQA Civil Rights Movement would not have come as far as it has without these Family Allies or Chosen Family Allies - from family members, to not-for-profits, to friends, to everyday people, to celebrities.

Activist Allies

Yet to bring the LGBTQA Civil Rights Movement to full societal and legal integration, we need to add to our Allies list those that we term "Activist Allies." Activist Allies are those who do not belong to the marginalized community to whom they have dedicated their life's work.
We have met many extraordinary Activist Allies in the last few months, and to each we have asked: "Why do you do this work? Why do you dedicate your passion, your artistry, your political sensibilities, your very LIFE to the LGBTQA cause, when you are not a member of the LGBTQA population?"

We'd like to introduce you briefly to some of these remarkable Activist Allies:

Claire Buffie, Miss New York:

GeekNerdWonk has had the honor of working with the tireless, smart, and passionate Miss New York, Claire Buffie on her road to Miss America! Claire's answer to our questions were: "I consider my Miss New York platform to be one of American Civil Liberties first, which, then happens to be about LGBTQ rights. I was raised in a traditional midwestern home, where equality and fundamental rights are core "family values." As Miss New York it is my privilege to work with the LGBTQ community as an Ally in the march toward securing equality under the law."

Dreya Weber

Dreya Weber's "A Marine Story" - a heart-wrenching rendering of the human costs of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" - swept the awards at Outfest 2010 (Los Angeles) as Best U.S. Feature, Best Actress for Dreya, and Feature Audience Award. It also won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Colorado Film Festival. Dreya's husband Ned Farr directed, and the film was co-produced by JD DiSalvatore.

When Stephanie met Dreya at the Los Angeles Outfest Director's Awards and asked her why she is an LGBTQ Activist Ally despite being a married heterosexual woman, Dreya replied without hesitation, "I consider Don't Ask Don't Tell ("DADT") to be one of the most important Civil Rights issues of my lifetime."

When asked why she would put her passion, her artistry, and stake her family finances to produce a film championing a population to which she does not belong, she responded "I am baffled by the question. My husband's and my tax dollars subsidize the often specialized training of U.S. military personnel, only then to have our investment - and these human beings - thrown out under DADT, unable to serve? Why I worked on this film seems the least important part of the whole conversation."

Daniel Connolly

Our friend, Daniel Connolly, the Director of Fund Development for the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS is a white, heterosexual, married, HIV-negative man. When asked why he has devoted his life as an Activist Ally in service to the black, predominantly LGBTQ-identified, HIV-positive population, Dan responded "I have chosen a life and career dedicated to not only promote and preserve universal human rights and equality, but to challenge those who question or reject these values. I share the sentiment of John F. Kennedy that 'there are risks and costs of action (in addressing issues of social justice), but they are far less that the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.'"

Eleanor Jackson Piel

A great mentor of Stephanie's, the extraordinary Eleanor Jackson Piel, Esquire, has worked for several years with Stephanie and David Kaczyksi to shut down New York's Death Penalty through New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Counselor Piel, described as a No Accidental Activist last year in the Berkeley Law Magazine, possesses an "ambition....to make a difference in the world. Her stubbornness originates from a fierce, idealistic, desire that justice is served for everyone."

As an Activist Ally, Eleanor has dedicated her life to the rights of many marginalized populations to which she herself does not belong: Japanese Draft Resisters, a communist labor organizer, a Black Panther, capital defendants within a day of execution, victims of gender discrimination, among others. Thrillingly, Eleanor took a case against a restaurant whose white waitress would not allow a white teacher to place food orders on behalf of her black students. This blatant discrimination so frosted Eleanor that her one-woman office took the Kress case to Warren Burger's U.S. Supreme Court in 1969 and won! A full lifetime of being an Activist Ally!

In Closing

LGBTQ discrimination persists, and in a time in which thousands will travel to Washington D.C. to hear Glenn Beck co-opt the word "honor" as one exclusively applicable to heterosexually-oriented people, and busloads of people will travel with Fred Phelps (a disbarred attorney) to stage an anti-LGBTQ protest at the funeral of a slain Marine, members of the LGBTQ community dearly need the support of all Allies: Family Allies, Chosen Family Allies, and Activist Allies.

The LGBTQA-community is in a Civil Rights battle, in which we need to fight for fundamental human rights. We need young people choosing careers - and adults choosing to do volunteer work, and to donate their funds - to understand that when one is fighting for constitutional rights, your personal orientation, circumstances, ethnicity, and gender do not limit the scope of the work you can do. In fact, when GeekNerdWonk Charitable Foundation first launched, we did so with a benefit for two of Stephanie's African charities, populations to which neither Ronnie nor Stephanie belongs, but which are still recognized as a marginalized population required support from those who are not personally members of that population.

We all have the ability, as well as a calling, to be Allies to marginalized populations. With being U.S. Citizens comes a responsibility and a duty for supporting civil rights for all. We desperately need additional Ally help - across the spectrum. How can we help you get involved - as little or as much as you want? Write to us at geeknerdwonk@gmail.com.