Problematic use of straight allies in LGBTQ organisations

While The Trevor Project purports to celebrate LGBTQ people, organisations such as You Can Play offer a real example for how organisations ought to support, promote and empower those in the LGBTQ community.

Trevor Live took place last night. Which means that, once again, there are plenty of comments on the proportion of LGBTQ people actually at the event, and how many of the performers are straight allies, rather than being LGBTQ themselves.

For an example of an organisation that handles LGBTQ support properly, look at You Can Play, and the actions of their former President, Patrick Burke.

Founded in March 2012, YCP is aimed at tackling homophobia in sports. The group was founded by, among others, Patrick Burke (@BurkieYCP on twitter) whose brother Brian, who was gay, passed away in a car crash in 2010.

Patrick Burke is a straight white guy. Not all that unusual for prominent sports-focused organisations to be led by straight white guys. But given the fact that YCP focused on ending homophobia and abuse of LGBTQ people in sport, a bit of a problem.

So what did Burke do about it?

Whenever booked for a speaking engagement with a professional sports team, he finds a YCP supporting athlete who is LGBTQ to accompany him and speak at the event, since they will be able to share experiences that he will, by his own admission, have no first hand knowledge of.

He resigned from his position of Executive Director of YCP. His replacement, Wade Davis, (@Wade_Davis28) is black, openly gay and a former NFL player.

Writing about his decision, Burke observed how easy it was for the media to chose him, a “clean-cut, media savvy, straight white person” like himself or an entertaining character like Chris Kluwe (he of “lustful cockmonster” fame), rather than booking an LGBTQ athlete like Brittney Griner.

He publicly challenged the idea that while allies are important to the LGBTQ movement, they aren’t the most important part: “We’ve created professional allies (or, as the history major in me would call them, mercenaries). We’ve created famous allies. Think of how absurd that concept is. I have a public presence because I treat gay people with respect.

“Part of it is the fault of the allies. Part of it has been the unwillingness of the LGBT athletic community to stand up publicly and say, “Thank you for everything, but we’ve got this now.” A major part of it is that the leagues, media, and major financial donors are still more comfortable working with straight white men. This is often true even when dealing with members of the LGBT community, who donate to or otherwise empower straight voices over LGBT athletes.”

Yes, think of how absurd the concept of famous allies is. Then look at the stage at Trevor Live. Look at how many of the people on that stage are allies, in a room mostly comprised of allies, all being feted for, essentially, not being homophobes, while the actual members of the LGBTQ community who are there are clearly in the minority, and are nowhere near as prominent in their roles.

How does this help to empower the LGBTQ community? By giving some seriously talented performers bit-parts (and inherently only allowing them to perform as part of a salute to allies). The LGBTQ performers who attend are highly talented people, and there are plenty more who aren’t there – it isn’t tokenism to believe that others can be included over some straight performers.

So how does this help the LGBTQ community? Not one bit.


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