June is Pride Month: a time to celebrate LGBTQI+ identities, drive awareness of key issues and create a sense of community among LGBTQI+ people and their allies. This week, we spoke to Natasha Fountain, Operational Risk Analyst in LeasePlan USA, about how allies of the LGBTQI+ communities can help ensure inclusive environments – at LeasePlan and beyond.

What does it mean to be an ‘ally’ to the LGBTQI+ communities?

For me, being an LGBTQI+ ally is about standing up for the people of these communities, making an effort to understand their particular challenges and supporting marginalised groups as and when needed. Being a true ally is not a label or a medal to be worn; rather, it’s the active process of educating oneself, being curious about other people’s experiences, amplifying unheard voices and challenging mindsets. Importantly, allies use their institutional, social and/or cultural privilege or power to advocate for people who may face discrimination.

How did you become an LGBTQI+ ally?

My journey as an ally began when I was about 10 or 11 years old. My cousin, who was about the same age, confided in me that he didn’t feel attracted to girls but did feel attracted to boys. We both grew up in a relatively conservative Christian environment, and it broke my heart to see the pain he had to endure on a regular basis, including rejection from our own family just for being who he was. The lack of understanding and empathy was terrible – I never wanted to see that repeated.

Later in life, after I got married, my stepdaughter came out to me before she came out to her father or biological mother – I guess because she knew I would support her, no matter what. It was a hugely emotional moment, and we were both crying on the phone, because it felt like a great weight had been lifted. Finally, she could be who she was, and I’m proud to have been able to help her in this way.

Today, I’m hugely supportive of my stepdaughter and it’s been a pleasure to get to know her girlfriend. At the same time, I recognise that being lesbian is not her entire identity: she is a beautiful, multifaceted person, and I love her for it! More widely, I try my best to offer my support to all LGBTQI+ communities by attending Pride parades and generally ‘being there’ for people who are going through a tough time.

What does LGBTQI+ allyship have to do with LeasePlan?

A lot! Most people spend a considerable amount of time at work, and it’s important that each and every one of us is able to be our true self and offer a unique contribution at our workplaces. Everyone – regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, background, or culture – should feel welcome and at ease when they come to work at LeasePlan. It’s key to our colleagues’ happiness, the LeasePlan culture and ultimately the performance of the organisation.

Allies play a crucial role in normalising inclusive behaviours, fostering a strong culture and calling people forward. It’s encouraging that LeasePlan actively supports Pride, from changing the company’s logo on social media to taking part in Pride parades. These actions mean a lot to people from the LGBTQI+ communities and beyond.

What can people do to be better LGBTQI+ allies?

For me, the first step is education. All of us should take time to learn about the culture and heritage of LGBTQI+ communities and marginalised groups. Read, listen, watch… Do whatever you can to deepen your understanding of the key issues and reach out to friends and colleagues if you have questions. It all helps when stepping into the shoes of others.

It’s also important to ‘own’ your privilege: being an ally involves recognising your advantages, resources and powers. Take time to reflect and consider; it will help you grow as a person, treat others with greater care and respect and be more empathetic to those around you.

My final tip is to speak up! Be a vocal ally – someone who calls people forward and helps create inclusive environments where people can be authentic. The world is a wonderful place because of its diverse people – it would be so boring if everyone was the same! – so let’s all shout messages of support for minority groups, loud and clear.

Any final thoughts you would like to share?

Together, we all need to continue the fight against any sort of discrimination and violence in our societies – at home, the workplace or beyond. By standing up for one another, we can multiply our impact. And even if we as individuals aren’t directly affected by discrimination, we still have a duty to respect and look after our fellow human beings. As the saying goes, ‘if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything’!

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