Pledging allegiance: What it means to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community

Marcia Purdy describes her journey from prejudiced to proactive (Photo by Ashley Wall).

Marcia Purdy is finally living her most authentic life.

For decades, the Iowa State University human sciences professor was subjected to a culturally bred prejudice that kept her from accepting the role of sexuality in her own life, which, in turn, caused her to ignore the struggles of those persecuted for their sexualities. However, an experience in 1998, followed by her son coming out, taught her the meaning not only of acceptance, but also of the word “ally.”

In her talk, “How to be an Ally,” given in the Center for Inclusive Excellence on Tuesday, Sept. 26, Purdy presented a slideshow that began with the quote, “Strong people stand up for themselves, but the strongest people stand up for others.” The presentation focused on giving people the tools they need to act as better allies to the LGBTQ+ community.

“It is more than just saying it,” Purdy said. “You have to show it.”

Purdy combined her message with her life story. Growing up in a small town in Iowa of about 700, she noted, “there was no diversity in my life.” This affected her world view, limiting her perspective on what she considered acceptable or normal. However, she also said because of her siblings’ tendency to settle into their assigned gender norms, she was allowed to stray from the beaten path.

“I feel fortunate that I was just allowed to be me.” This involved playing outside – “a lot,” Purdy remarked, laughing. She even recalled driving the family tractor when she was 9.

Purdy traced much of her story along a historical tapestry of events, interwoven with moments of significance from her life. She remembered being in kindergarten when former president John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She spoke about her brother fighting in Vietnam, and huddling around the TV with her parents every night at 10 p.m. to hear the names of the deceased read on the news – a practice Purdy believes should be reinstated.

In her talk, Purdy also addressed the 1980s AIDS epidemic. She said fear was spread like wildfire by the media, which portrayed the unresearched virus as “the gay disease.” This panic brought on lasting stigmas and hatred toward gay people that have resonated through time and, unfortunately, still linger today, she added.

Purdy recalled 1998, and learning about Matthew Shepard, an openly gay Wyoming college student who was kidnapped, brutally beaten, and left for dead, until he was discovered by another student, Aaron Kreifels. She went to his candlelight vigil and felt the agony of those he had left behind, and her eyes began to open to her prejudice, she said.

Purdy said the most significant, life-changing event was when her son came out. In the moment, she was dumbstruck and couldn’t find the right words, but her husband could – “Randy Purdy does not miss a beat. He says, ‘Josh, I am so proud of you. You are going to be who you were always meant to be, and you will be one-hundred percent authentic.’ I looked up at him and I said, ‘Who the f**k are you? And those are my words!’”

Ever since witnessing her husband’s inspiring moment of allegiance with the gay community, Purdy’s mindset has continued to expand, and has evolved into a new mission in life: teaching straight people how they can be better allies.

Purdy sums up her philosophy: “People never remember the crowd. They remember the one person in that crowd who had the courage to say, and do, what no one else would.”

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