As an LGBTQ ally, I am a work in progress. I don’t know firsthand what it’s like to be rejected or marginalized — even by family and friends — because of who I am, so Pride Month is a time for introspection.
My brother and I don’t talk much about being Latino, or about being raised in a small farm town, or having an immigrant grandfather.
Because those are experiences we share. Instead, we talk about the thing that separates us: his sexual orientation.
I asked my brother, who is gay, what he wants from allies, including me.
“I expect an open mind, a willingness to learn, and unconditional support,” he said as if he had waited for this question for years.
“But most of all, I expect action,” he said. “If you’re going to talk the talk, then make sure you walk the walk. Show me action.”
What kind of action? I asked.
He immediately referred to what has become known as the Pulse nightclub massacre.
Three years ago — on June 12, 2016 — a 29-year-old Muslim American security guard named Omar Mateen entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, with a high-powered rifle. He killed 49 people and wounded 53 others.
The FBI considers the shooting a terrorist attack. But, in the LGBTQ community, this was a hate crime — two times over. Pulse was hosting a “Latin Night” at the time of the shooting, so most of the victims were Latino.
Whatever you call it, this was the deadliest attack on LGBTQ people in U.S. history. And even 3,000 miles away in West Hollywood, the tragedy had a dramatic effect on my brother and his friends.
“It was paralyzing,” he said. “And yet, for many of my straight friends, life went on. Most of them didn’t reach out, and say: ‘Hey, how are you doing? Are you OK?’ Maybe they didn’t even realize the significance of what had just happened.”
So, I asked, does it have to be some public declaration of support?
“No!” he snapped. “It doesn’t have to be public. It can be private. Send a text. Reach out to a friend, and check on them.”
Fair enough. I dropped the ball. It didn’t occur to me, when the Pulse massacre happened, that something that happened so far away could be so traumatic to my brother and other gay Latinos.
So now I wonder: Can straight people still be true allies to LGBTQ family and friends, even if we can’t fully identify with their struggle?
I sympathize with what my brother must go through. But I can never truly put myself in his place.
I bet the same goes for many other LGBTQ allies. Their support is superficial. They “like” a gay pride meme on Facebook, or buy a rainbow cookie at a coffee shop. They probably think: “I’m a good person. I’m not homophobic. I support gay rights.” And that’s good enough.
But it’s not good enough. These days, Americans are running low on empathy across the board. I think that’s because, by and large, we’re too self-absorbed and too focused on our own lives.
LGBTQ allies need to learn what the community goes through — not just for one month but throughout the year. We need to understand how unfair life can be to those who feel they can’t be open about who they are — and whom they love.
As a Mexican American, I can relate to those who have been discriminated against based on skin color. Every week, I get emails from readers who assume — because of my Spanish surname — that I must support an open border with Mexico. You can bet that white columnists don’t have to put up with that ignorance.
Yet when it comes to sexual orientation, there’s an empathy gap between my brother and me. We live different lives. He has worries, anger, and frustrations that I can’t relate to — no matter how supportive I try to be.
Finally, I asked him: “What do you think straight people need to hear?”
“If you’re going to be an ally, be a 100% ally,” he said.
Pride month isn’t just about the proud. More and more, it’s about their allies. It’s a time to reaffirm our commitment and demonstrate that we’re totally behind the cause.
When our LGBTQ friends and family members stand up for themselves, they shouldn’t stand alone.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group