I grew up in a conservative community in the midwest. I remember one year students in my high school participated in GLSEN’s Day of Silence. I also remember that there were other students who wore T-shirts that day that said, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” My high school self thought that was pretty witty.
When I went to college, I began to examine my belief system. I attended a very conservative Christian university in the south. When the Equality Ride came knocking at our doors, the university responded by setting up events to teach us why homosexuality was a sin and even had a person who ran a conversion therapy camp come and speak to us about how conversion therapy has helped so many people. It made me angry, so I did my own research. I decided that loving the people around me was the most important thing that I could do, no matter their sexual or gender identity. Obviously an evolution from when I thought the joke about Adam and Steve was funny.
During my junior year of college, one of my best friends came out to me as a lesbian, and I realized that there was absolutely no way I could respond with anything but love and compassion for how she was feeling. She was obviously feeling out of place at our ultra-conservative university, and as though she couldn’t be herself. We had hours and hours of conversations late into the night, where we talked through her thoughts. She told me about when she knew she was gay (In kindergarten, she wrote a love note to another little girl, not yet knowing that was “outside” of social norms.), and we talked about the ways she was beginning to accept herself. At this time, I knew I needed to be a listener and a loving friend.
However, it wasn’t until a few years after I graduated from college that I had a breakthrough in my understanding of true allyship. In my mid-20s, I dealt with a severe bout of depression. I spent a handful of years in therapy working through issues of self-worth. Since then, I have come out on the other side of it, not knowing where I stand on religion, but having realized that I am good (in fact, great) just the way that I am. Furthermore, if there is a God, they would never, ever want me or anyone to feel the way that I did for those few years. By extension, if there is a God, they would never, ever want any LGBTQIA person to feel like they weren’t great exactly as they are.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be an ally. I was the opposite of an ally when I thought the whole “Adam and Steve” bit was funny. Although it was a step in the right direction, I was still not an ally when I began to believe that I should love instead of hate someone in the LGBTQIA community. I was beginning to become an ally when I began to listen, learn, and love, and when I had my personal realization about self-worth for all. I now know that to be an ally, it is not enough to simply show this love and compassion to your loved ones.
I have learned that I cannot truly be an ally to my friends and loved ones if I am not also fighting against prejudice that impacts them and fighting for their equal rights to marry, have full custody of their children, and be treated without discrimination in the workplace, in hospitals, and in businesses as they go about their daily lives. I have learned that being an ally is not a state of being, but something you do. This is why I am on the board of directors of SpeakOUT. As an organization, we are focused on ending prejudice and discrimination against the LGBTQIA community through changing hearts and minds. As a board member, I support the smooth functioning of the organization, through supporting fundraising, board recruitment, and volunteer speaker trainings. I hope the actions that I am taking to be an ally, even though I am far away geographically from my loved ones, have helped them to feel empowered to more proudly be who they are.
Jess Fick is a transplant from Michigan and joined the SpeakOUT board in the fall of 2015.