On August 18, 2023, 66-year-old Laura Ann “Lauri” Carleton, identified in the media as a clothing store owner, was killed because she displayed an LGBTQ Pride flag in her clothing shop located in Cedar Glen, California. During her altercation with the murderer, 26-year-old Travis Ikeguchi, she refused to remove the flag after he unleashed a barrage of threatening homophobic remarks. Ikeguchi then shot Carleton, who died on the scene. He was later found by police, opened fire on the officers, and was killed when they returned fire.
Lauri Carleton was a wife and mother of nine children, a businesswoman, and a friend to countless people. She was also a staunch advocate and ally of the LGBTQ community, and she lost her life not only in defense of her commitment to displaying the Pride flag, but in support of the ideal that people should be able to live and love without fear or compromise.
Lauri Carleton’s tragic death represents a call to action—both for those who identify as LGBTQ and for allies of the community. Her murder highlights how the continued spread and promotion of anti-LGBTQ sentiment and rhetoric on social media, in our schools, and through our state legislatures directly impacts the lives of all people. It’s not just sad, it’s scary. It raises questions about our safety, and challenges us to think: How far am I really willing to go in defense of my beliefs?
Allyship Is an Action
Anyone and everyone can be an ally to someone. Being an ally to a particular community is something we all have the opportunity to do. There are so many different kinds of people we can align with and work alongside in a common pursuit of progress and change. But is it enough to simply call ourselves an ally? What is required to actually be considered an ally?
It’s not enough to simply claim that we are an ally to a particular group. Many would argue that the group itself should decide if an individual is actually an ally. For instance, there are examples throughout history of legislators who claim to be allies to LGBTQ folks, but then vote against measures that support the community. Ultimately, their actions did not line up with their words, so the community, in turn, called them out on their hypocrisy.
Allyship Means Confronting Bigotry
Calling people out for their bigoted views is a form of allyship. This can occur when someone assumes they are free to make racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or ableist remarks or jokes. Confronting them communicates that you do not agree with their beliefs or statements. This is particularly important because silence is often mistaken for tacit approval. It also counters the pervasive anti-LGBTQ narrative currently being pushed by the far-right haters.
Naturally, it can be uncomfortable to tell another person—either at work or in our social circles—that their statements are not OK. It is common to “freeze up” and struggle with what to say in response to bigotry. Typically, a hundred different responses come to mind after the moment has passed. There can also be feelings of guilt and regret over the failure to stand up for others.
One helpful strategy is to prepare in advance for the unfortunate, but inevitable, likelihood that you will hear someone say something offensive. Usually, people will back down after being challenged. Perhaps you can memorize a series of statements that feel natural and can be kept at the ready. Using “I language” and focusing on how offensive beliefs make you feel is a good way to challenge divisive beliefs, since it is not directly accusatory. It’s hard for people to argue with how you feel about something, because your feelings are your feelings.
“That type of language makes me uncomfortable.”
“I don’t agree with that perspective.”
“I am an ally to the _______ community, and I support their right to live and love as they see fit.”
Memorizing statements like these can be helpful in demonstrating allyship with other communities.
Each year, LGBTQ+ Ally Week is observed during the last week of September. Although originally created as a national effort to promote allyship among youth, we now recognize its importance and meaning for the broader community. It serves as a reminder that we can all take greater strides toward promoting equality for all people.
How will you demonstrate your allyship this month?