Well before my teen years I held strong beliefs in equal rights for all. Having Terry Bean as a brother was wonderful and instructive, of course. But equal rights was an intuitive concept that just seemed to be a self-evident truths any 10-year old could see.
I became a quiet ally, albeit a young one. The things that some other kids and some adults would say I knew to be incorrect and mean spirited. This included comments on girls, certain religions, gays, and people of color. I stopped being friends with some folks because of what they said but I never explained why.
SPEAKING OUT: As I progressed through the ranks I became more vocal. I got fired from a job when I was 25 because a co-worker called my brother a faggot…and I expressed my disagreement in a workplace inappropriate manner, and hence to his skull.
I was 30+/-, I was the Branch Manager of an Industrial Products Distributor. 90% of our clients were boilermakers and construction workers…”men’s men”. One day a supplier’s salesman called on me and started out by telling me a joke that demeaned women, and then another one that demeaned gays and AIDs Victims. Before he could start the third joke I told him that I was offended. I told him that we were done for the day and that in a minute he would be asked to leave, but first I wanted to tell him why. I told him that the man I loved dearly and considered to be my brother-in-law had died of AIDs recently, and that for him to make light of the death of a wonderful man was not acceptable. I told him that if he came back in a month and there were no more racist/genderist/gay/etc jokes we would be fine, as if nothing had ever happened. I also told him that he was free to say anything he wished…but if it was patently offensive I would give all of his business to his competitor, and that I would write a letter to his company’s owner explaining why…and then send it to our other 10 branches. He apologized…and when he came back to service our account he never again said a thing objectionable to me. I suspect he may have chosen a different approach to all of his clients. It was obvious to me he was not a bad person…just one that had not thought clearly about the pain his words and actions might cause.
Back then I was nervous about being an outspoken ally–today being silent is what would make me uncomfortable.