Content submitted by BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner
Our individuality is our power. Yet, sadly, many of us are afraid or even ashamed to be ourselves. What many people don’t realize is that by hiding our true selves, over time we begin to erase parts of ourselves – the parts that make us unique and the parts that enrich our society and our world.
The Legacy of LGBTQ+ Pride Month is one that advocates the opposite. It honors our uniqueness and the audacity of our truths. It is a time for shameless self-celebration and proclamation to ourselves and the world. Although I am not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am and have always been an ally. In honor of Pride Month, I share my story – of immigration, understanding and alliance – and why we each need to take on the role of “ally” to propel our society forward.
I came to this country in 1984 as a first generation Chinese immigrant. Although we didn’t know any English and seemed different from most people in the small town in Maine where my parents dropped us off, we were warmly welcomed by the community. I started the first year in September under the direction of Mrs. Susan Grover. Mrs. Grover and my classmates were immediately accommodating. However, there were many instances where I felt out of place. For example, when you show up for the oath of allegiance. “Why is everyone standing like this, and what do the words they were saying mean?” I interrogated. Yohei, a classmate and immigrant from Japan, must have felt the same as me those early days.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, Mrs. Grover and my classmates were my first allies. Mrs. Grover was committed to helping me succeed and during the first week of school sent me home with a notepad where my mom and dad could address their concerns and their questions. Ms. Grover not only made an intentional effort to encourage communication and collaboration between parent and teacher, but also expressed her dedication to helping me assimilate and grow as a student. It was also my first experience in a truly inclusive environment. The faculty encouraged my mother to volunteer and offered opportunities to teach Chinese culture at school, while Mrs. Grover made me a priority in teaching English. In fact, Mrs. Grover also made teaching me English a priority for all of my classmates.
I always felt lucky to have this experience so early in my journey to America, but it wasn’t until adulthood that I realized the true impact of these allies and their actions on who I am. today.
Covenanting, by definition, is “an active, consistent, and strenuous practice of unlearning and reevaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group.” The alliance is not limited to the LGBTQ+ community, but, as mentioned earlier, also includes other marginalized groups of people such as immigrants, women, people with disabilities, black people, indigenous people and other people of color. Everyone can be an ally, especially when your identity places you in a privileged position with respect to a particular group. As my allies once stood by me as a first generation immigrant, I am now an ally for people from LGBTQ+ communities.
As the world becomes increasingly diverse, bringing together people from all religions, cultures and backgrounds, and our human rights are points of debate at the state and federal levels, it is important to begin to understand and appreciate each of our differences. Due to my experiences, I have a keen appreciation for differences and actively seek out conversations where I can learn and grow, both as an individual and as a leader. While these conversations can be daunting and at times difficult, they are critically important because they break down barriers, build alliances, and lead to improved conditions and problem solving. The alliance and subsequent communication creates stronger, more collaborative communities and businesses. In addition to these advantages, allyship:
- brings together large numbers of people to drive powerful change. Intersectional collaboration can be more effective in achieving goals than each group operating alone.
- provides an opportunity for community development. Each group has unique strengths, perspectives, ideas and wisdom that can enrich the community as a whole. Sometimes a new perspective from one community can solve an old problem for another.
- helps us understand each other to better overcome and prevent divisions. Misunderstandings or misconceptions lead to loss of opportunities (personal and professional), inequality, violence, etc. The better we understand each other, the better we can resolve key issues.
A powerful initiative that aims to cultivate alliance globally is The Human Library Organization. The human library is, in the true sense of the word, a library of people. The organization hosts events where “readers” can “borrow” human beings who serve as open books and have conversations they normally wouldn’t have access to. Each human book represents a group in society that often experiences prejudice, stigma or discrimination due to their lifestyle, diagnosis, beliefs, disability, social status, ethnicity , etc. The initiative is designed to challenge stigma and stereotypes and foster understanding between groups.1
Like The Human Library, every day we have the opportunity to better understand people and the world around us. I implore you to take them. This quote about the power of choice and the search for understanding by American writer and 1962 Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck really resonates with me: “Try to understand men. If you understand each other, you will be nice to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hatred and almost always leads to love.
Ally in the workplace
The alliance in the workplace can take many forms. Bringing more seats to a decision-making table or providing safe places, virtual or in-person, to discuss the realities facing a particular group engenders these connections between employees. Let’s first see why various opinions are needed at each table.
It is a fundamental democratic principle: the people affected by a decision must be involved in formulating the solution. For programs or policies to be effective, people from diverse backgrounds and roles need to be included in the decision-making process. This means allowing for ongoing opportunities for input during the development process as well as post-implementation feedback. With the support of relevant individuals and groups, wider follow-up and acceptance is more likely to occur. It also leads to a fairer and more productive workplace overall. For example, research shows that when management or leadership understand and appreciate their employees’ cultures, employees feel valued (or part of a community) and are therefore more productive.
Workplace alliance also occurs through employee resource groups (ERGs), also known as affinity groups or diversity groups. ERGs are designed to build community, provide support, and foster a diverse and inclusive workplace aligned with organizational values. ERGs are typically led by employees who share a particular characteristic, such as gender, ethnicity, or religious affiliation, but allies also have the opportunity to join. Through organized meetings, allies and members of a specific group fight for equality and create larger forums for everyone to share ideas for improving working and societal conditions.
There are many allies in my organization’s diversity resource groups. In our Pride group, there are black people, and in our women’s history group, there are Hispanic people. As an Asian, I’m part of the Pa’lante LatinX group. Understanding each other’s experiences and the influences these groups have had on our dominant history and culture is essential to gaining an accurate view of our society and communities and determining powerful paths forward.
The world we envision
What is the community or world you hope for? Is it fair, diverse and inclusive? As members of the LGBTQ+ community celebrate this month, remember to use your power as an ally to empower those whose voices are not heard as loudly and create the just world you want. . There are many trusted sources online to guide you on your journey to becoming a better ally, and there are many ways to start your journey today. Here are some ways to get started:
- Confront your own prejudices, prejudices and privileges
- Do research to better understand experiences different from yours
- Recognize inequalities and microaggressions in everyday life and explore their impacts
- Listen and try to understand the experiences of marginalized communities
- Advocate for systemic changes at work and in the community
Allies are needed now, perhaps more than ever before. Together, let’s use our privileges, challenge oppression of all types, and ensure that people of all genders and orientations are free to be themselves, inside and outside of organizations.