Straight allies need to come out, too

Posted on 28 May 2010 at 12:59am
By Dwayne Bynum | Special Contributor

In the years to come, when you look back at the LGBT rights struggle, will you be able to say you were part of the fight, or will you have to say you stayed on the sidelines?

I have always been somewhat of a history buff and have been especially intrigued by the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. I think about the struggle led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and how I wish I could have been a part of it. But unfortunately, a coward’s bullet ended his life when I was 3 years old.

I see pictures of the marches and can’t help but notice the few white specs in a sea of black. Those whites were allies of the movement, but they couldn’t have been the only ones or the movement wouldn’t have made it anywhere.

Where were the rest of the allies? Why did they stay home instead of marching? Just imagine had they all come out, it could have been a sea of multiple colors instead of a few white specs in a sea of black.

I think they may have been worried about what their friends and family might think, or what it might mean to their career if they were seen by a co-worker. I think they were too scared to come out of the closet and show their support.

A lot of people have to go through an "ah-ha" moment as it pertains to LGBT people. You know what I’m talking about: The time when you have to face your prejudices and realize that LGBT people aren’t really all that scary.

I personally never had that moment. With me it was more of a gradual progression. Don’t get me wrong; back in high school, I have to admit, I was homophobic. But by the time I got out of the Navy and started college I had made it to the point in my life where I needed a real reason to hate someone.

I can recall when my younger brother had his "ah-ha" moment. He had been homophobic for as long as I could remember. After college he got a job with Lennox Air Conditioning.

I don’t recall the entire conversation when he told me about his co-worker of two years coming out, but I do recall him saying, "But I really like this guy," as he struggled with his own prejudice.

To which my wife and I replied, "Duh. And he’s the same person today that he was yesterday."

I joined Texas Instruments in 1999 and shortly after attended my first diversity fair. I remember seeing the LEGEND (former name of TI Pride Network) booth, and noticed how the vast majority of people walked around it.

Of course I wanted to walk up to the LEGEND booth and show my support, but what if someone saw me there? What would they think?  Might they make the mistake of thinking that I am gay? How could that affect my career at my new company?

Instead, I opted to follow the crowd around the booth with my head down and my tail between my legs. One thing I did notice was they were handing out magnets with a pink triangle inside a green circle that said "TI Safe Space." I knew I had seen a few of them around but was unaware they were a "gay thing" until I saw them handed out at the booth. I wondered why people would want to advertise they were gay.

A few years later, when working as an automation team lead in DMOS6, I saw the DMOS6 manufacturing manager working the LEGEND booth. Talk about being surprised! This was a well-respected leader at TI, and he was working the LEGEND booth? I thought to myself, "Is he gay? I don’t think he is. I know I have seen a wedding ring on his ring finger."

So I decided to finally walk up to the LEGEND booth and see what he had to say. He educated me on the Safe Space program. He told me how LGBT people often feel they cannot bring their whole selves to work, how it’s difficult to talk about what they’ve done over the weekend with their partner for fear of retribution.

He told me that displaying a Safe Space magnet or badge sticker indicates to LGBT people that you are aware of LGBT issues. It lets them know that they have nothing to fear from you and they don’t have to hide. They will not hear inappropriate jokes from you, and they can feel free to be themselves in your area or presence.

I took a magnet and placed it above the door to my office.

The following year, I had moved to KFAB to be the automation manager when the KFAB leadership team was asked to volunteer to work a booth at the Diversity Fair. It took about a microsecond to pick which one I wanted to work.

Yes, I was finally comfortable enough with who I was to not really care who might see me or what they might think. Instead, I thought about the impact it had on me to see someone I respected working the booth the year before and hoped I might have the same impact on someone else.

It was two years later when I found out that LEGEND had changed its name to the TI Pride Network. I also found out they had an e-mail list and a supporters page. I signed up for both immediately.

By now, you are probably wondering why LGBT equality is so important to me. Do I have a gay relative or a friend of 20 years that recently came out of the closet?

Well no, or at least not that I’m aware of. In fact, I didn’t really even know any LGBT people when I first got involved with the TI Pride Network. As I stated before, civil rights has always been a subject near and dear to my heart. How safe can any of our rights be if the rights of some are denied?

I may have missed out on the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, but I’m not going to miss out on this one.

Looking back at the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, I can’t help but to wonder how many people wish they had become active in the movement. How many people regret not being one of the specs of white in a sea of black?

Did they even realize it was a movement? Did they realize where the country was heading? And what about the people who were the white specs? Can you imagine the pride they must feel while showing their grandchildren a picture of a march and pointing to a white spec and saying, "That’s me?"

And now that we are in the middle of another Civil Rights Movement, what will you do? Will you stand up for the rights of others or sit quietly on the sidelines? Will you one day be proudly telling your grandchildren you were a spec or will you remain in the closet?

It is estimated that as many as 50 percent of LGBT people continue to hide who they are in the workplace. Even in a company that values diversity as much as TI, there are still people who are afraid to bring their whole selves to work. This can affect their productivity, which is bad for them and for TI.

You can make a difference by showing your support. If your company has a Safe Space program, you can display a Safe Space magnet at your work area or a sticker on your badge. You can join your company’s LGBT diversity initiative. You can speak up when you hear someone making homophobic comments or jokes.

Straight Allies, you can come out of the closet.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 28, 2010.

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