Central PA's LGBT News Source
Some people are allies to the LGBTQ+ community based on a personal experience. Like a gay family member or loved one. Others are allies because they believe love is universal, identity is uniquely personal, and that neither the government nor people outside a loving relationship should have the ability to infringe upon that love or identity.
As LGBTQ+ individuals, we should remember to be our own allies, not only to our particular part of the alphabet, but to all of our siblings across the rainbow spectrum.
This story focuses on the voices of a few of our allies. Our goal is to better understand them and to know what drives their support for us. Hopefully, this will lead the region’s LGBTQ+ community to best utilize their voices and experiences to further our own social justice goals.
As Director of Lifespan Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, the reason for Matthew Shineman’s alliance is twofold. First, his experience with the queer community through high school and college. Second, Shineman’s religious beliefs as a Christian-leaning Unitarian Universalist.
As a participant in school theater, Shineman found himself with many queer friends and also on occasion, the target of homophobic slurs. These experiences and relationships helped him to recognize his own privilege.
“As a white, heterosexual, cisgendered male, I struggled initially on how to use my privilege,” Shineman explains. “I realized that it was not just about standing up for my friends, but doing the right thing.”
While Shineman freely acknowledges that he cannot say what it means to be queer, and that his experiences are not comparable to the discrimination facing many LGBTQ+ individuals, he learned how to use his privilege as a platform to center and raise up the voices of the queer community.
“The first step is not to speak for LGBTQ+ individuals, but to speak with them. Not to tell them how to speak for themselves, but to offer them aid in finding and sharing their voices.”
As an example of what he means, Shineman uses his privilege to raise up the voices of the LGBTQ+ community by silencing the noise of discrimination so that they may be heard and may feel safe.
“As a Unitarian Universalist, my faith teaches me to seek justice and promote equity and compassion in all human relations,” Shineman explains. Being an ally “does not ask me to sacrifice my privilege. It does not take away anything from me, but challenges me to use my experiences and voice to bring all up to the same standard, to center the voices of the marginalized.”
As a mother of a teenage transgender son, Mindy Waltemyer, has a more personal investment in being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community - to protect her child.
She recently spoke at the Central York School Board public meetings which debated whether or not the school district’s anti-discrimination policy should be expanded to include “Gender Identity.” When the school directors finally approved the measure to expand the policy, Waltmyer felt equal relief and exhaustion. There had been heated debate on both sides of the argument.
During the two meetings, the basis for many arguments against the expanded language came from religious voices, which is something that Waltemyer has witnessed before.
When the church Waltemyer was raised and baptized in voted not to support a close friend who had recently come out publicly, she saw rejection first-hand. Her response was to mirror rejection right back at the organization. In solidarity with a friend, she left the church.
With the more recent school board public discussions, and a transgender son in the picture, Waltemyer found herself reflecting. She was happy it succeeded in the end, but was disappointed that the vote was not unanimous. She was also not happy that those against expanding the policy, she thought, hid behind a narrow religious perspective while ignoring the basis of the Christian faith - to love one another.
For Waltemyer, being an ally means being willing to speak up against the public bashing and shaming aimed at the LGBTQ+ community.
“I try to be a safe place for queer youths, a judge-free zone,” she says. “I believe that every parent has a high responsibility to their child, and should ensure that they are treated well and fairly. So I become a ‘mama bear’ for queer youths without supportive families.” That is the reason for the safety pin tattoo on the inside of her right wrist - to signify that she is a safe person to whom queer youth can speak.
There are times when we as LGBTQ+ individuals only see our value and our beauty through our allies.
For Finnea Wagaman, her journey began with a visit to her psychiatrist. She asked to “be fixed.” She didn’t want to express the feelings she had felt since her childhood - of being in the wrong body. She also didn’t want to break up her family and was concerned for her ten-year-old daughter.
It was her therapist who had to convince her that there was nothing broken about her, and that she did not need fixing. What she needed was to accept herself.
“Prior to my transition, I found my greatest allies in my medical and mental health care professionals,” Wagaman says.
She also found support in her workplace. Wagaman’s Human Resource department brought in her therapist to give employees a presentation on gender transition followed by questions and discussion. Throughout her transition, she attended different transgender support groups in Harrisburg and King of Prussia and found strength and affirmation from within the transgender community.
Once she had completed her medical transition, Wagaman helped others just beginning their journeys by promoting education within her community. A significant experience for Wagaman is that she eventually dropped out from many of her support groups. “I found that I kept most of the friends who had shared outside interests while losing connection with those who I only shared transitioning with,” Wagaman explains.
Her hope is that one day the whole idea of LGBTQ+ individuals, and especially the ‘T’, will be a non-issue within our society, which she currently sees as very restrictive. With her now young adult daughter as her biggest advocate, Wagaman believes that it is the older generation, people in their fifties and older, that are holding society back.
Even so, Wagaman lives as her authentic self with no apologies to anyone - a true woman whether she takes the time to put on makeup or to feminize her voice or not.
“I live by the mantra ‘To hell with you, this is me - love me or go away’.”
The LGBTQ+ community has made gains, in part, because of our allies. While we rely mostly on ourselves and our queer siblings, we cannot walk this path alone. While we do not need the hetero, cis-gendered society to speak for us, we do need them to listen, understand, and help us continue thriving and succeeding in creating a world where love and personal identity in all forms flourishes.