Positive living: The importance of our straight allies

By : Greg Stemm
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GregStemmHeadshotI have a bumper sticker on the back of my car that reads: “I don’t mind straight people as long as they act gay in public.”

Now before you roll your eyes about my well-known snarky sense of humor, just let me say that bumper sticker was a gift… a gift from a straight ally friend. If you are like me, relationships with the “opposite sex” (hetero v. homo) are rewarding and treasured bonds. I adore my straight friends, and some of them are more “family” than any gay “family” members could ever be. As a community, too, our straight allies have time and time again rushed to our defense, stood solidly against the powers of discrimination and given us comfort and support at times when we’ve needed it most.

We are lucky here in the Tampa Bay area to be blessed with political leadership on both sides of the bay that fall squarely in the “straight ally” camp. Mayor Rick Kriseman in St. Petersburg has given that city the kind of leadership that the new San Francisco of the East deserves – progressive and outspoken with a rainbow flag flying proudly over city hall during the largest gay pride celebration in Florida. In Tampa, Mayor Bob Buckhorn has shown strong and consistent support of the LGBT community. You do not have to look far to find pictures of him with community leaders from the GaYbor district or marching in both St. Pete and Tampa Pride parades. Even in little gay friendly Gulfport, a straight gay ally mayor was recently endorsed by the Stonewall Democrats over an openly gay challenger.A friend of mine recently put it perfectly when he said, “Isn’t it great to live in an area where cities are actually competing to see who can be the most gay friendly?”

On a national level, our president may go down in history as the first gay president of the United States. While Michelle might have a word or two to say about that, his record as an ally of our community is unprecedented in American history. When he took office we couldn’t serve openly in the military and save for one or two states marriage equality was just a dream.

I live in Gulfport. Living in Gulfport is like living in a big social experiment. It’s like some mad social scientist said, “Let’s see what happens when we create a city where one-third of the population is gay, another third are mostly straight but funky, artsy, progressives and the final third are straight families with kids who live here specifically because of the LGBT influence and that the atmosphere of diversity and acceptance it creates.”Whether you are gay or straight Gulfport has been working hard to demonstrate that there shouldn’t be any barriers between our two communities. The result?Gulfport is flourishing.

Many of our local faith-based organizations are treasure troves of straight allies. I’m currently serving on a committee of grassroots faith leaders to put together the second annual Interfaith Pride Worship Service scheduled for Thursday, June 23 at the MCC Church in St. Petersburg. I’m brushing elbows with a number of open and affirming churches, temples and Meetinghouses, and it is uplifting to see such strong support among their straight members. When I was co-chair of St. Pete Pride in 2005, fully 25 percent of the entries in the parade were from faith-based organizations.

Speaking of Pride, St. Pete Pride is a perfect example of how important it is that the alliance be a two-way street. I believe one of the biggest reasons St. Pete Pride has become so successful is because the founders and the leadership which followed them have made that celebration family and straight friendly. Not too many Pride celebrations offer a children’s play area. And you may not know it, but in Pride celebrations around the world St. Pete Pride is often referred to as the “prudepride” because you won’t see any half-naked porn stars or floats trumpeting sexual lubricants in our celebration.

One of my favorite straight allies’ stories comes from Pride too. A couple of years ago, after we had unfurled the blocks long rainbow flag, there were literally thousands of people helping to hold it up. I happened to be alongside a block where the six misguided-but-outspoken protestors who always show up from their pitiful little church in Georgia were doing what they do best: misrepresenting God’s message of love and making complete fools of themselves.

This little group of anti-pilgrims was shouting things to those who were holding the flag in that block. Things like “one man one woman”, “God hates fags”, “You’re all going to hell.” Much to their surprise (and obvious consternation), the entire group of people holding the flag in that block turned to them and identified themselves as a group of straight friends. That spontaneous display of love showed me that the support we get from many of our straight friends is real and not dependent on who might be watching or listening.

Yes, I love our straight allies. Now if they would just stop embarrassing me and start acting a bit more gay in public.

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