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September 24, 2015


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Advice to Allies: Just Listen

September 24, 2015

On the hot summer day of June 26th, 2015, I was working as a freelance journalist at my local newspaper office, when one of my coworkers spoke up from her desk, “The gay marriage ruling just came out: gay marriage is legal!”

In that moment, I felt completely surreal. I didn’t know how I was supposed to react: jump up and down? Scream in excitement? Call my mom?

I did feel a small burst of happiness – yes, something great had just happened in the United States, a slight amount of progress had been made in my life and in the lives of other LGBTQ individuals in the country, but I still didn’t, and still don’t, feel safe to be queer in America.

Erick Aguilar BN Duke Scholarship Head Shot Point Scholar and Duke University student Erick

I saw various Facebook friends, Instagram and Twitter followers post about the new decision. Most of my friends from my high school were ecstatic about the decision; most of my good friends were celebrating the decision. Another group of these acquaintances were “straight” people that in my eyes had never done anything to allow myself to feel completely comfortable as a queer person. Let me clarify, I am not here to police people’s sexual identities, but when these individuals had previously stated to me off-putting things like “I go gay for [so and so famous person],” I felt that their celebration of marriage equality was not really genuine.

Aside from this microaggression, these people had never made an effort to make me feel safe at the boarding school that I attended. They never went out of their way to stop someone from making a joke about sexual orientations that did not fit the scope of heteronormativity, they were not people who would stir away from racial and culturally insensitive jokes (both that also offended me as a Mestizo, Latino person), and most importantly, they were never there to listen.

I’m not saying that everyone has to be an advocate – march at Pride, devote their whole lives to LGBTQ rights– but I feel that just because you might be okay, it doesn’t mean that you should turn away from helping the person next to you.

Months have passed from this decision, but it’s still a thought in my mind. Yes, it’s important that the victory of marriage equality is shown on social media, but I feel that if these individuals aren’t making a change in their daily lives, placing themselves in the uncomfortable position of questioning the norms of what society has placed on us that dictates our perception of gender and sexuality. Their pat-on-the-back rainbow-kaleidoscope profile picture isn’t going to make things better for people like me.

It isn’t going to change the fact that my partner and I are apprehensive to show even the slightest amount of affection in public. It isn’t going to change the fact that I’m always hesitant to tell classmates or new friends about my sexuality. It’s not going to change the fact that some people seek out my friendship in order to fit the category of a “GBF” (gay best friend). Most importantly, it’s not going to change the high suicide and homelessness rates found within the LGBTQ community.

casey ally week Point Scholar Casey (L) celebrates GLSEN's Ally Week

To these allies, I ask that you hold your LGBTQ friends closely, become educated and be aware of the wide spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities, and, most importantly, listen to your queer friends.

Whenever they have to vent, complain, let go of what the world has put on them, be there to listen. Don’t just listen so that you have a new story to tell, or to wear it as a medal. Be there to attempt to empathize with what their experience is being shared with you. I’m sure that this will be more helpful to them than changing your profile picture to a rainbow-esque filtered image of yourself.

This post was written by Point Scholar Erick Aguilar

Erick-AguilarErick Daniel Aguilar was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras where he lived until he was six before moving to the rural town of Mount Olive, North Carolina. He was an undocumented student in the United States for almost 11 years, and he encountered various obstacles due to his “illegal” status.

Read more about Erick here.

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