Art by Samantha Miller
What does it mean to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community?
Junior Cameron Yarbrough, who is straight, said an ally is anyone who is not afraid to stand up for another person.
“I think a lot of people — behind closed doors — will let their friends get away with using gay slurs or homophobic jokes,” Yarbrough said. “Having the ability to say ‘That is not OK’ is one way to be an ally.”
Yarbrough encourages everyone to support artists who are queer because it is one of the easiest ways to show allyship. In particular, supporting movies like “Moonlight” financially can help queer people achieve greater representation in film. He said people should prioritize consuming LGBTQ+ works just as they should with women and people of color.
“I think any sort of discrimination against someone is a violation of human rights … whether it be because of sexual orientation, gender or race,” Yarbrough said.
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an ally is “a person who is not LGBTQ but shows support for LGBTQ people and promotes equality in a variety of ways.”
Junior Zeke Bongiovanni, who is openly gay, said, “You don’t even have to be an activist to be an ally, but just being one who supports people’s choices as their own and not being restrictive of who they can love or marry.”
Junior David Kellogg, who is not queer but served as vice president of finance administration for Pepperdine’s LGBTQ+ club, Crossroads, said he believes there are multiple levels to being an ally, noting the differentiation between an ally and an advocate.
Kellogg said being an ally is becoming involved with the queer community, whereas being an advocate is more political.
“Think of it like the 1960s,” Kellogg said. “The civil rights movement wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near where it was supposed to be without allies.”
Both Bongiovanni and Yarbrough said there is a need for allies at Pepperdine to stand up to Housing and Residence Life (HRL).
Bongiovanni served as a Resident Advisor (RA) both abroad in the London Program and in Malibu. He said that during the two-week-long training sessions, HRL spent fewer than five minutes addressing LGBTQ+ issues.
“Especially at a Christian school, do you know how many of these kids come here who are still closeted?” Bongiovanni said. “The [HRL] people will be like, ‘Yeah, we’re there for you — do whatever you want!’ but they won’t train their own RAs in how to help people.”
Bongiovanni said many of the underlying issues in queer representation go unnoticed. In a forum after his RA training, he brought attention to the fact that LGBTQ+ topics were not adequately discussed.
“Only one person in HRL, who also was openly gay, came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for finally saying something,’” Bongiovanni said. “No one notices it unless you actually have to think about it or it’s part of your life.”
Bongiovanni suggested that change on campus starts with HRL, since RAs are leaders who are employed to support students.
“Start there, and actually recognize that you have a gay population. Don’t just brush it aside with the gay club and be like, ‘Yeah, we’re f—ing fine,’” Bongiovanni said.
Yarbrough said it is important for RAs to tell HRL that they disagree with Pepperdine’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights so that HRL realizes students care.
“The language in the housing contracts is very — I don’t want to say homophobic — but I do think it’s not conducive to homosexual behaviors,” Yarbrough said.
Since Christians have a reputation of being homophobic, Yarbrough said Pepperdine should be cautious not to end up on the wrong side of history.
In the past, Pepperdine has been listed as one of America’s least-LGBTQ+ friendly schools. Kellogg said he thinks a reason for this is Pepperdine’s affiliation with the Church of Christ.
“[Church of Christ] very much adheres to what Pepperdine calls the ‘historical sexual ethic,’ or something to that effect,” Kellogg said. “That is basically traditional marriage: man, woman — monogamy.”
Kellogg said the Church of Christ sphere is an odd realm to live in as a queer person. In seeing his best friend come out in high school, Kellogg observed what this experience is like.
Pepperdine’s campus is no different. The Graphic conducted a survey in the fall of 2019, asking students if they think there is room for LGBTQ+ relationships in the Christian faith. 27.6% of respondents answered either “No” or “I don’t know.”
Bongiovanni described how Pepperdine’s on-campus Christian events exclude queer people. He said he feels people from the church would be upset by speakers bringing up LGBTQ+ issues during Wednesday chapel.
“There’re so many times I run into [President] Jim Gash and his wife, and I just want to walk straight up to him and be like, ‘What the actual f—?’” Bongiovanni said. “But sometimes I keep my mouth shut.”
How can straight students be an ally to queer students who feel their voices are not heard?
“From an activist standpoint, don’t be afraid to mess up and fail,” Kellogg said.
As far as how to get involved on-campus, Crossroads is a great place to start. The club has an open-door policy, so everyone is welcome. Kellogg explained how his growth as a Crossroads leader made him a better ally.
“I am not personally a queer person, but the community opened their arms and accepted me regardless of my sexual orientation,” Kellogg said. “I heard other [LGBTQ+] communities can be kind of exclusive and anti-heterosexuality, but Pepperdine’s Crossroads is just not that at all.”
Bongiovanni said that to be a better ally, it is helpful to learn about the history of gay rights and its recent progression.
“I mean, you can just look over the last 20 years and how far gay rights have come and make yourself aware of, like, ‘Oh, we’re actually not that far out from the legalization of gay marriage,’” Bongiovanni said.
Nonetheless, there is still progress to be made. The Human Rights Campaign found that 92% of LGBTQ+ youth said they “hear negative messages about being LGBTQ+.”
Yarbrough said people should pay closer attention to the way they talk about queer people. He said his experiences living in dorms with 50 or so guys exposed him to casual homophobia.
“I think a lot of straight people often say, ‘Well, I’m not homophobic, but … ’ and I think people use those ‘buts’ to provide reasons why they might disagree,” Yarbrough said. “I don’t really think there’s something you can follow that up with that doesn’t sound homophobic.”
One example of this is when people say they are fine with queer people but do not like it when those queer people make their relationships public, Yarbrough explained.
“This is ludicrous because so many heterosexual relationships are ‘all in your face,’ so the way we talk about them should be the same because, at the end of the day, people of any sexuality should be treated equally,” Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough, Bongiovanni and Kellogg all agree that being an ally does not have to be complicated, time consuming or demanding.
Bongiavoni said people should not feel like they have to be “24/7 representing”; they should simply live a prejudice-free lifestyle.
“If you see someone, don’t judge them solely on their sexual orientation — and if you already do that, and if you’re accepting, that’s already support,” Biogiovanni said.
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