I experienced Pride for the first time this weekend on Curacao, the island I live on. As Curacao is a pretty secluded island, and has a majority Roman-Catholic population, I knew it wasn’t going to be like San Francisco or Sao Paulo. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. In reality, Curacao Pride was similar to how I had always imagined: mostly older gay men who liked to drink visiting from the Netherlands or the States. Apparently, an affinity for Caribbean partying is not exclusive to straight people. What was most disappointing however, was not the lack of diversity on an event so historically diverse, but a lack of enthusiasm on Curacao’s part. Pride was an event for gay people, by gay people, and that a supposed ‘ally’, as many like to call themselves, would put themselves in a position of momentary discomfort was unheard of. When I asked one friend why they hadn’t been interested in going to Pride, all they could say was they ‘would have felt very uncomfortable being the only straight person in a crowd full of gay people’. To say I knew how she felt would have been an understatement.
Let me introduce you to a topic so relevant to our society, and especially to marginalized individuals, that it has become something of a non-issue: guilt. People have become so guilty for past discrimination that rather than choosing to openly address it, they choose to hide it under a blanket of friendship and support. Many openly express their desire to be an ally to a cause to align themselves with the same struggle marginalized people have always faced. There are good intentions, but not very affective outcomes.
Rather than allies making marginalized groups feel comfortable, it is the other way around. Marginalized groups feel as though they have to ‘tone down’ their sense of identity and cultural background so as to be accepted. Should our voices be too loud, our emotions too strong, we come off as unapproachable, and oftentimes, not deserving of proper support and recognition. We become apologetic for the very reasons we wanted to be accepted. Even media intended for marginalized demographics have to accommodate to the needs of ‘allies’. Roland Emmerich, ‘Stonewall’ director, stated that he thought casting a white, male, heterosexual actor as the main lead would be an ‘easy in’ with heterosexual viewers, while the historical significance of the Stonewall riots is largely in part because of Marsha P. Johnson, black transgender activist of the time.
This is a common technique in cinema and literature – to have a character on the outside as the protagonist so as to be able to gradually introduce settings and characters. Why this doesn’t work for Stonewall, however, and much of LGBTQ media, is because it is further catering to a straight audience’s needs. It is prioritizing the comfort of the majority over proper representation of the marginalized group. Perhaps a black transgender woman being the figurehead for a revolution is frightening to some, but we have a moral responsibility to accurately portray history and give respect where respect is due. So the questions is, is there such a thing as a good ally? Of course there is, and the world would not be where it is today if people didn’t stand up for the rights of the less fortunate. To be one though, is to willingly put yourself in situations where you are not comfortable. It is to self-reflect and recognize that you, like any other human, have faults, and have made mistakes. Sometimes you are going to feel excluded, uncomfortable, and even embarrassed, but there is no fast track to acceptance. If it means you will become a better person because of it, then it is worth the struggles along the way.