By Guest Blogger, Jorge Manjarres, Group Vice President, Commercial Real Estate Banking at SunTrust Bank
I consider myself to be a strong and proud ally to the LGBTQ community, both here at work and in my personal life. But I can’t say I was always conscious of my own biases. For many of us, we aren’t awakened to our own biases until we’re confronted in a deeply personal way.
When my cousin came out to our family, I was flooded with memories about my past misconceptions about gay people. I’ve realized that being a true ally often begins with examining our past and present beliefs so that we can make changes in the right direction. To be a good ally, you have to look inward at your own biases. Sometimes those biases confront you head on.
That’s what Héctor did for me.
My Cousin, My Teacher
Last year, my cousin Héctor became the first openly gay member of the family. Héctor and I had grown up together in my grandfather’s house. While I wasn’t shocked to learn he was gay, his words made me take a hard look at my biases. I’ve since realized that there was a lot of homophobic talk in our house. As much as I idolized my grandfather, during our childhood he would often use a Spanish slang word that meant gay when we did something wrong. I can only imagine how that affected Héctor.
I remember in college a fraternity brother I was close to asked me what would happen if I found out he was gay. I made horrible jokes and told him that I would feel betrayed, in essence making it clear that it would not be acceptable. I feel terrible about that. He started to isolate himself, and eventually left the fraternity.
Since then, many family members have been supportive of my cousin, others less so. I’ve had conversations with Héctor about his experiences. He’s helped me realize how much unnecessary pain we can cause LGBTQ teammates, friends, and loved ones through careless words. He opened my eyes to the importance of supporting the LGBTQ community and being an active member of my corporation’s teammate network, sometimes called an ERG or BRG.
What does it mean to be an ally?
Being an ally means that you help people feel safe. At work, it means fostering that safe space so that all of us can bring our “whole selves” to work, without fearing that we will not be accepted. Allies have the opportunity to make LGBTQ teammates feel welcome, heard, and supported.
But being the best ally you can be means acknowledging and understanding unconscious bias. Your beliefs affect your decisions and the way you communicate. I make an intentional effort to understand my beliefs to prevent causing unintentional hurt.
I display the rainbow flag in my office, and it leads to a lot of conversations. Some of the interactions are positive; others less so. I embrace all of them as an opportunity to share the good work that the teammate networks (BRG’s) are doing and SunTrust’s inclusion efforts.
5 tips to being an effective ally
My recent involvement in the Atlanta LGBT Teammate Network (BRG) has also given me the opportunity to assist with our blossoming ally initiatives. Here are a few guidelines to being a great ally:
- Instead of using the term boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife, use the term partner or significant other. For example, ask your colleague to bring their partner to the company event.
- Know the difference between sexual orientation and sexual “preference;” the latter is often perceived as offensive. Preference implies choice. Model the awareness and language of sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Speak up when you hear bias, inequities, or aggressions regarding orientation or gender identity. Sometimes these statements are on a “micro” level. Those micro-aggressions can be just as hurtful.
- Understand that “straight” and cisgender people have blind spots. Know that even the most well intentioned ally can make hurtful statements. If you do so, it’s an opportunity to learn where you have those blind spots and make things right.
- Show up, volunteer and attend events at your company that are sponsored by your LGBTQ colleagues. You will likely be glad you did.
The views and opinions in this Blog are those of Jorge Manjarres only and should not be interpreted as the views, positions, or opinions–expressed or implied–of his employer.