A good friend of mine came out to me a few years ago. In the quiet of my kitchen, she told me she was gay. And in that moment, everything changed. And in that moment, everything was the same. For me, that’s the paradox of being an ally. By definition, as an ally, you’re supposed to be an advocate. You’re meant to be a supporter. You’re someone who defends and promotes. But those words—advocate, support, defend, promote—they are words of doing, words of action. And, sometimes, as it was for me with my friend in the quiet of the kitchen, it’s more about being than doing. Being present. Being mindful. Being aware. Being what a friend needed me to be. I needed to be a good listener and a holder of space for another person who needed to speak her truth.
I’m neither a perfect person, nor a perfect ally. I don’t want to offer homespun advice on what an ally should or shouldn’t do. I can simply share what I know worked in that moment, and in the days since:
- Respect what she wanted to talk about, who she wanted to talk to, and when she was ready to share more.
- Honor who she was as a person—all of her—in all facets of her life.
- Recognize decisions about who else she wanted to tell and how she wanted to tell them had no right answers, was something she needed to decide, and something I needed to support.
- Check in periodically to see how things are going and let her know I was there for her.
- Celebrate the relief that she felt in her ability to be authentic with someone close to her and the fact that she chose me as that person.
Maybe these words are too soft for a leadership blog. This isn’t the “tough stuff” we need to feed leaders to make them successful. Or is it? We talk about creating an environment of psychological safety and the very tangible benefits in terms of innovation, contribution, and productivity. These issues—respecting each other, honoring our differences, recognizing individual differences, and checking in with each other—are ways we can create psychological safety, not only in our kitchens, but in our offices and Zoom rooms, so that, ultimately, we can celebrate. Celebrate the right we all should have—to live our authentic lives. Celebrate the humanity. Celebrate love and acceptance. Celebrate the pride that has come not only to define the LGBTQ+ community but those who are lucky enough to call themselves allies.