Anne Duran, a CSUB associate professor of psychology, arrived at her office one day in 2010 to find an anonymously posted biblical quote that seemed to advocate putting gay people to death.
Her first instinct was to ignore it, (I imagine after the pre-first instinctive urge to pack up and move far away), but then she decided to respond with another quote: "Judge not, lest ye be judged," she wrote on the original page, and reposted it on her door.
When she returned the next day, she was heartened to find additional, positive postings from her fellow professors, such as "The Jesus I know loves everyone," and "Say No to Bigotry." As word spread around campus, a student Duran did not know came to her office and asked, "What are you going to do? Are you going to have a rally or something? Can I help?" The first Ally Rally was thus born.
The fourth annual event takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Cal State Bakersfield in the Student Union's multipurpose room. It seems like it was only yesterday that Duran -- well-known on campus for her support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) rights -- launched the first one.
So who is invited? Who is an ally? In this instance, an ally is a person, often straight, who treats LGBTQ people with acceptance, respect and understanding. On campus, an ally may be a student or employee or administrator or faculty member who is a safe haven, a person who will welcome and listen without ridicule or judgment. An ally can be a resource, a shoulder or an advocate. An ally also speaks out against bigotry, malice, ignorance and even mean-spirited jokes. All are invited to the rally, especially those who feel called to be this kind of positive presence on campus.
Sponsors of the Ally Rally include the psychology department and a wide array of student clubs. Duran's students take an active part in the planning and execution of the rally. Their dedication and hard work are evident, from the initial arrangements and fliers to the refreshments and celebratory environment.
Duran's goals each year for the Ally Rally include debunking common myths about LGBTQ people, and demonstrating to the LGBTQ people on campus and in the wider community that they do have allies who support them. She envisions the rally as a model of openness and support for LGBTQ people, as well as a public opportunity to discuss LGBTQ issues. The rally is structured to encourage attendees to ask questions of a panel of allies. The questions can be posed either in person or, for those who prefer anonymity, in writing. In the past, the panel of allies has included professors, psychologists, campus directors, religious leaders, students from various LGBTQ organizations, parents from PFLAG (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and human rights activists.
As a PFLAG parent and a local columnist, I am honored to take part in the panel for the third time this year. The questions are wide-ranging and sometimes difficult to answer, but they come from the heart. In the past, the rally has become a satisfying conversation among 300 people, about 250 of whom are students.
As more and more LGBTQ people come out of the closet, and as more states accord them their civil rights, one may wonder: does the need for events like the Ally Rally still exist? I actually heard several people respond with, "Who cares?" to the recent news of the first NBA player to come out publicly. And I would agree with them if everyone in the LGBTQ community enjoyed equal rights and acceptance in all walks of life. But since that happy day is still in the future, I'll tell you who cares: anyone who has ever witnessed the same people saying "Who cares?" when they bad-mouthed or discriminated against an L, G, B, T or Q person.
As the mother of a lesbian, I care. Every time a person in the spotlight comes out, life becomes a little easier for some silently suffering teenager in a small town. In Kern County, I believe every event like the Ally Rally is a ray of hope and light for anyone who feels that he or she is alone on a perilous journey, without a single ally anywhere. While Hollywood may be supportive of the LGBTQ community, while many urban areas may be cool with it, there are still a lot of places where a true ally can make a life-or-death difference.
I pray that someday the Ally Rally will be obsolete, but for now I will participate with gratitude in my heart.
These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her firstname.lastname@example.org.