H/T Matkins. Harvey Milk was right when he exhorted queerfolk to come out. Nobody will work for the equal rights of invisible people. Only by making ourselves visible and telling friends and family why equality is important to us, their brothers, sisters, friends and children, will progress be made.
What was true in Harvey’s day is still true today, with a twist. Today it is just as important that our Allies to come out as such. Allies have the unique opportunity to “give permission” to their peers to support equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
But it isn’t always easy to come out at an Ally. It is a never-ending process for them just as it is for LGBT people, and they aren’t always rewarded for their honesty by their peers. This is part of what makes Allies so special: they have nothing personal to gain in terms of legal rights or social acceptance. They put themselves in uncomfortable situations for us simply because it is the right thing to do.
Today, in honor of the man who pushed us out of the closet and into the streets, I want to honor one particular straight Ally who is out as such early, and in force.
Her name is Rina Sundahl. Rina is a senior at Southridge High School in Beaverton, OR and co-president of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. If her name rings a bell, it’s because she helped organize the Respect Humanity Uganda March and Rally in January to raise awareness of Uganda’s gay genocide bill. I covered that rally in posts here and here.
For her senior project Rina chose to create this gay-affirming poster. According to Oregon Live,
“Basic unfairness has an impact on all of us,” she said. “Why would I just fight for rights that affect me directly?”
…Sundahl decided to combine her activism and her love of political art by producing a poster touting respect toward gays. She hoped her design — the phrase, “It’s okay to be gay,” on a pale blue background, the letters in “gay” filled with the faces of openly gay actors and musicians — might be useful for counseling centers or schools.
“We idolize celebrities so much, so I thought it might make kids think about how they treat people,” said Sundahl, the daughter of two schoolteachers. “I also really wanted to use the word ‘gay’ in a positive way.”
As you know too well, the most common use of the word “gay” in schools is in the epitaph “that’s so gay!”, implying inferiority or stupidity. The school’s reaction to Rina and her poster are after the flip.
She hung the professionally printed poster outside an art class. The vandalism began a day or two later.
Someone taped paper with the words, “It’s OK to Be Straight” below the poster, then a picture of another student, the implication clear. Finally, somebody wrote “Not” between the “It’s” and “OK.”
I bet you expected that. But here is where our Ally really shines.
…Sundahl isn’t surprised that her work was defaced, despite the support many classmates showed for gay Ugandans four months ago. She’s also not unhappy about the damage, which shows a political savvy well beyond her years.
“If anything, it sparked a lot of conversation at school. I’ve had people I didn’t know come up in the hall and say, ‘I’m sorry,’” she said. “It’s one thing to talk generally about gay rights. It’s another to see how dumb some people can be about it.”
Now there is an Ally! Creating room for her peers to react, think and to come on-board for equality. Rina Sundahl is my Ally of the Day. Who is yours? If you yourself are and LGBT Ally, tell us about an ally to you in other facets of your life.