Posted on September 21, 2017

Three Ways to Be an Effective LGBT Ally (and One Important Reason to Be One)

By Tony Khing

Today, eight in 10 people personally know someone who’s gay or lesbian (compared with four in 10 in 2007).

PG&E PrideNetwork President Jeremy Laurin addresses the crowd at the ally event. (Photo by Tony Khing.)

In the workplace:

  • 72 percent of Americans think LGBTs should have protection from workplace discrimination.
  • 81 percent of non-LGBT employees don’t think LGBTs should hide their identity at work.

Who can help LGBT employees feel comfortable at work? Allies — colleagues, neighbors, classmates — who aren’t LGBT but who support that community.

Recently, PG&E’s PrideNetwork employee resource group, along with Straight for Equality, hosted a two-hour workshop (“The How and Why of Being an Ally”) at PG&E’s headquarters.

“Simply put, there are more allies than those who are LGBT. The sheer number of allies creates a lot of potential for change,” said Jean-Marie Navetta, the director of learning and inclusion for PFLAG’s Straight for Equality project. PFLAG has more than 400 chapters throughout the United States dedicated to advancing equality through its mission of support, education and advocacy.

Jeremy Laurin, president of PG&E’s PrideNetwork and a senior environmental scientist, has firsthand experience with allies.

“I was the only gay person in my hometown and one of two ‘out’ folks at my college,” he said. “When you’re in a situation of being in the minority, having an ally bolsters your confidence. Without my straight ally friends, I would’ve been further ostracized and outcast.”

“Allies make their coworkers and friends feel welcomed and included,” said John Galloway, a PG&E employee who organized the workshop for the PrideNetwork. “Allies play a vital role in setting a positive tone in the workplace. They speak out when something isn’t quite right.”

There are numerous ways allies can help in the workplace and in the community. During the workshop, three stood out:

  • Becoming Educated. “There are a lot of people out there who say they can be supportive, but don’t know what they need to have conversations comfortably or maybe educate others,” said Navetta. Allies can learn about the issues affecting the lives of LGBT people through websites, articles, books and by attending LGBT-based events and discussions.
  • Engage Other Allies. “Allies listen to other allies. Allies can relate to each other,” said Navetta. She also recommends initiating conversations from what people see on the news to situations happening at work.
  • Listen to Others Who Are LGBT. “As allies, we constantly want to speak up, but sometimes we need to listen, step back and have our ears open and our mouths closed,” said Navetta.

Showing support by being speaking up when hearing offensive language or jokes in conversation is one thing. But there’s another important reason to be an ally: helping others feel safe in the work place.

“According to the Human Rights Campaign, 27 percent of those surveyed said they couldn’t speak up and share ideas with their work teams if they weren’t comfortable being out at work,” said Galloway.

“You can’t bring your whole self to work when you’re trying to cover up part of who you are,” said Navetta, who ran the workshop. “When LGBT people feel more included in the workplace, they’re more likely to stay in an organization, more likely to be committed, focused on their work and more innovative.

“There’s a big win-win for LGBT and allies when it comes to creating safe spaces — whether we’re talking about inclusive spaces or spaces exhibiting all of the characteristics of a safe workplace,” Navetta said. “When people feel included, feel they know each other and feel engaged, they tend to watch out for each other a little more.”

“I still have so much to learn,” said Britta Bradshaw, a PG&E renewable energy analyst. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to provide as inclusive a workspace as possible to make PG&E a truly collaborative and great place to work.”

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