Diversity Matters: Be an LGBTQ ally
June is LGBTQ Pride Month, a time to celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community and a great opportunity to learn how you can become more understanding and supportive of all individuals within the organization.
“Many people in the LGBTQ community have experienced discrimination or mistreatment because of who they are or who they love,” said Adam Eickmeyer, a senior research and quality improvement specialist in pediatric urology and a lecturer in LS&A. “Additionally, LGBTQ people face a myriad of health disparities — including higher rates of suicide and HIV — so providing health care in a safe, comfortable and affirming environment is vitally important here at Michigan Medicine.”
To help support this effort, Eickmeyer and medical student Hadrian Kinnear co-founded the U-M LGBTQ Health Network, which consists of faculty, staff, students and community members who are interested in improving LGBTQ health on campus.
Here are some steps you can take to be a supportive ally of the LGBTQ community at Michigan Medicine:
It’s important to be honest about your own feelings or the feelings of the person in your life who has come out. That means you ask them questions about what is important to them and find out what you can do to help them become more comfortable.
It also means you don’t pretend to understand issues that you may not.
“The simplest way to be an ally is to just listen to the experiences of LGBTQ people and learn from them,” Eickmeyer said. “You don’t need to be perfect in what you say or how you say it … just convey your love and support as often as possible.”
Send positive signals
An individual’s feeling of comfort is often based on simple signals they receive from others.
Demonstrate behaviors and display body language that is not considered defensive or judgmental. For example, avoiding eye contact with whomever you are talking to, crossing your arms or legs and clenching your fists may all be interpreted as signs that you are uncomfortable.
And if you do ask questions, make it clear that you are sincerely listening to their answers.
“Such subtle signals will let LGBTQ people know that they are important to you and your team,” Eickmeyer said. “And it will make it easier for them to be honest and open with you.”
It takes courage for anyone to come out to friends and family; It also takes courage for allies to speak up and speak out on their behalf.
That could include supporting the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion strategic initiative or — on a more personal level — correcting any attempts at “humor” you hear at work or home that mocks members of the LGBTQ community. Let your friends, family and coworkers know that you find such jokes offensive.
Join a group
The U-M LGBTQ Health Network includes more than 100 members of the Michigan Medicine community, but it is always looking for more.
“The team is made up of a wide array of community members,” Eickmeyer said. “Queer, straight, students, faculty … we’re open to anyone interested in helping us tackle important issues here at U-M.”
Members receive an email newsletter and are invited to attend quarterly meetings where LGBTQ initiatives are discussed, such as how to create a more welcoming environment at Michigan Medicine.
Whether or not you join the group, any of the steps listed above that you take to support the LGBTQ community will make a difference in the lives of those around you.
“Becoming an ally isn’t something that you can achieve in a few hours or even a few days,” Eickmeyer said. “But if you take small, valuable steps every day, you can become somebody who members of our community can trust.”
Click here if you are interested in joining the U-M LGBTQ Health Network or would like to receive more information on becoming an ally at Michigan Medicine.