When 18-year-old David Johnson came out to his parents over Thanksgiving break in 1985, his parents’ concern for his safety back at college eclipsed their initial sadness with the news. As the Johnsons embraced David’s new world and started to learn more about his life back at school, they found out their son was being harassed: his roommate had moved out; his towels were being stolen when he showered; he was told to keep his dorm door, which was defaced with graffiti, open to prove he wasn’t doing secret things.

Fearing for David’s safety, the Johnsons wrote the university’s dean of housing and succeeded in getting him off-campus to a safer place to live.

Nancy Johnson, now a board member and secretary of the Oak Park chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, applauds that times have changed for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. She points to on-campus support systems and thousands of allies willing to stand up for the rights and safety of gay students.

For such allies and other cheerleaders of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people across the country, PFLAG has a new grassroots initiative: Straight for Equality. The national outreach and education project designed to empower friends and advocates of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people at home, in the workplace and in the community was introduced last fall at PFLAG’s national convention in Washington, D.C.

There, Jeanne Phillips, the newspaper columnist better known as Dear Abby, was the first recipient of the Straight for Equality Award. And at that convention, human rights activist and award-winning singer and actress Cyndi Lauper was the first to sign the pledge.

“We are trying to reach as many people as possible to encourage them to be an active supporter of GLBT rights,” says Johnson, a veteran PFLAG activist. “Especially in gay-friendly Oak Park, some people might say, ‘Well, I support gay rights, but I don’t really know how I should go about doing it.’ “

Going on record for support of gay rights is a matter of going to a Web site and filling out a form or calling a local PFLAG chapter and getting a pledge card.

Beyond the pledge, Johnson suggests:

“If a gay couple moves next door to you, you would knock on their door and welcome them to the neighborhood … or you could be more sensitive to the fact that a single woman might not be interested in finding a boyfriend.

“Also, if you are a boss in the business and having a company party, making sure that you inform all your employees that it is OK to bring their partners, whomever they might be. Or it could be about paying attention to how a candidate stands on equality issues and making your opinion heard with your vote.” 

The Straight for Equality pledge

As a straight ally committed to supporting and advocating for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, I will

Come out:

I will acknowledge and work on any uncertainties I may have in “coming out” as a straight ally, and, as I grow in confidence, I’ll increasingly let my family, friends, and colleagues know that I support equality for GLBT people.

Speak up: Whenever I have an opportunity, I’ll say something supportive of GLBT people, whether I’m responding to a homophobic joke or remark, commenting positively about a current event, or making the case for equality in a discussion.

Join in: I will review the many recommended actions provided through Straight for Equality that will help me create change in big and small ways and incorporate those with which I am comfortable into my growth as a straight ally to help move equality forward.

How to get involved

In Oak Park, e-mail oakpark.pflag@gmail.com, go to www.oakpark-pflag.blogspot.com or call 708-386-3016.

To reach PFLAG in Chicago, call the Howard Brown Health Center chapter at 630-297-3658 or the Lake View chapter at 773-472-3079.

Learn more about Straight for Equality at www.straightforequality.org.

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....