How to Be an Ally and Why it Matters

Any civil rights movement cannot thrive without the support of allies, and that’s what the fight for LGBT rights is – a fight for civil rights. In the legal profession, having allies can make all the difference. From the office to the courtroom, support for the LGBT community ensures that its members have an equal opportunity to succeed and that the challenges faced by those within the community are addressed.

The LGBT Bar is proud of the diversity that exists among its board members. We were lucky to speak with two of those board members, Rick Richardson of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Adeel Mangi of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, about why it’s so important for them to be visible allies to the LGBT community.

Both men spoke passionately about not standing on the sidelines and about how vital it is for allies to speak up when faced with opposing views, even from those within their own communities. “Straight and cisgender allies can speak hard truths to the straight and cisgender community without the perceived agenda that is sometimes attributed to the same message when it comes from a member of the LGBT community,” said Rick.

When speaking about allyship, it is also important to keep in mind intersectionality and how any diverse community can serve another. Our members are not just LGBT, they are also people of color, individuals of different faiths, and people who are differently abled. We see allies in our sister bar associations and other groups representing diversity in the profession. “I’m a Muslim. In my view, the Muslim and LGBT communities are natural allies. . . Many in our community are strong supporters of LGBT rights. For example, the Muslim Bar Association of New York was the only religious bar association to endorse marriage equality legislation in New York all the way back in 2011,” said Adeel.

While many allies work either on an individual level or through voluntary organizations, you can be an ally in your professional life, as well. Both Rick and Adeel are tireless advocates in their workplaces. At Patterson Belknap, consistently ranked as a “Best Place to Work” for LGBT employees, Adeel and the firm as a whole strive to create a safe environment where attorneys and staff alike can thrive. At GlaxoSmithKilne, Rick is a co-chair of the US Legal Inclusion and Diversity team and a member of SPECTRUM, the LGBT Employee Resource Group of GSK. Some employers still lag behind in terms of creating inclusive environments, but much can be done to rectify this. For example, creating resource groups can make a big difference in the lives of those in your working environment. As Rick points out, “If management is still hung up on the need for a ‘business case’ for diversity and inclusion, they can share with their management the substantial literature on this topic that leaves no doubt whatsoever that inclusive teams perform better and that inclusive companies are more successful companies.”

Allies help to create a more inclusive, understanding environment for all in the LGBT community. Through their personal and professional lives, allies like Rick and Adeel help to ensure that the legal community is a welcoming place for LGBT attorneys and other legal professionals. In discussing the importance of allies, Adeel said “No embattled minority community should be standing alone today. The issues at stake are too fundamental for our country and our identity as a nation. Only by speaking with one voice can we protect each other.”