Raised in a relatively liberal household, my parents both taught me to love everyone no matter how they look or sound, and to always get to know a person before I make a judgement on them. I was taught that there were very hateful people in the world and that stereotypes would follow us everywhere, but not to fall into the trap of the societal pressure of judging someone based on something they can’t control. As I got older, I started to experience the hate and the cruelty of the people in my town, especially against the LGBT community. I’ve always considered myself an ally to the LGBT community, and this year pushed me beyond my comfort zone, plunging me into the growing world of the OutCenter.

Being an ally is much more than simply accepting everyone for who they are; it’s pushing yourself to places you don’t see yourself being, and indulging in the community itself. Personally, if it weren’t for my senior service project, I would have never gotten involved in the OutCenter -- a non-profit organization that “ensures lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and their families are welcome, respected, valued, understood, and afforded the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else” -- or met the influential and inspiring people I have (outcenter.org). Holding a concert to raise money for a local “Pride Prom” organized by the OutCenter is truly what pushed me into more and more research and knowledge about the reality of the LGBT community not only in the nation, but right here in my hometown.

From my research on hate-crimes, I’ve found that people don’t get involved unless something detrimental happens or if they are required to. I am a prime example of this. Sure, I considered myself an ally, but none of these people knew I existed and I never went to any events held for the LGBT community and their allies. So why do we wait for this? Why is it the societal standard to wait until someone is murdered or someone kills themselves to push us to raise awareness? With this, I’m not denying the importance of raising awareness once someone has passed away, but these things should be happening before something horrendous happens to someone. People should be honored every day for the amazing, life-changing things that they do within their communities and the world. Even if someone changes one person’s life, that is influential and should be being done worldwide.

Another thing found from not only my research but from the concert itself, none of these people knew we existed. And they also didn’t know all of these other allies existed. We made it known that the concert would be a safe-zone, a place where every single person no matter gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. was welcome and ensured safety and entertainment. So once the people started to come in, it was interesting to see how many allies were truly here in Berrien County. Along with that, I truly believe that not every ally of the community showed up, and that hundreds more are present in our area.

Being an ally and supporting the people in your community is much more than liking a status on Facebook, or saying hi to someone; it’s about directly putting yourself in their environment and their activities– getting to know them, going to see things they’re in, going to things held by the local organization. If you’re worried about being judged for going to a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting or going to a Pride event, swallow your pride. Going to the Pride Prom encouraged me to get to know new people and learn their stories, and it truly was the best time I’ve had in a long time. Don’t be scared to go out of your comfort zone and become a stronger ally to the communities near you, and always honor someone for doing something influential. Societal standards will follow you everywhere, but if you take a stand and in the wise words of Jack Black in "School of Rock," “Stick it to the man.” You will be that person making a difference in someone’s life. You will be the one making a change and potentially saving someone’s life in the process.