Massachusetts Maritime Academy Safe Harbor Logo

Program Coordinators

Becky Norton
Faculty/Staff Coordinator

rnorton@maritime.edu
Office: 508.830.5000 x2238

Maya Stephani, Cadet 1/C
Student Coordinator

maya.stephani@maritime.edu

Elizabeth Benway
Dean of Human Resources

ebenway@maritime.edu
Office: 508.830.5086

Michael Ortiz
Associate Director, Office of Intercultural Engagement
mortiz@maritime.edu
Offiice:  508.830.5133

The Safe Harbor program is dedicated to educating the students, faculty, and staff on issues of importance to the LGBTQ+ community. It is our intent to provide information from the very basic (e.g., definition of common terms) to the more complex.

Download the Resource and Education Guide

Becoming an Ally

What is an ally?

An ally is a member of the dominant social group who takes a stand against social injustice directed at a target group(s) – for example, white people who speak out against racism, or heterosexual individuals who speak out against heterosexism or homophobia. An ally works to be an agent of social change rather than an agent of oppression. When a form of oppression has multiple target groups, as do racism, ableism, and heterosexism, target group members can be allies to other targeted social groups (African Americans can be allies to Native Americans, blind people can be allies to people who use wheelchairs, and lesbians can be allies to bisexuals).

Allies should keep in mind that members of minority groups facing oppression:
  • Do not always want to be “teachers” to allies
  • Do not represent all members of a particular group
  • May be members of more than one group that faces oppression
  • May not describe themselves the same way as other members of a particular group
  • Know what it feels like to be both targeted and made “invisible”
  • Can be prejudiced themselves
  • May tire of answering questions about their cultures and their lives
  • Often get tired of and resent stereotyping
  • Can become weary, anxious, irritable, or angry because of living in the dominant culture
  • Do not necessarily want to become more like the dominant culture in attitudes or behavior
  • May share some of the same values as the dominant culture
  • Do not appreciate appropriation of their cultures by non-members
  • Have been a part of history, art, science, religion and education, but their contributions have often been ignored or downplayed
Some benefits of being an ally to LGBTQ+ people:
  • You learn more accurate information about the reality of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
  • You open yourself up to the possibility of close relationships with a wider range of people.
  • You become less locked into gender-role expectations and stereotypes.
  • You increase your ability to have close relationships with same-gender friends.
  • You have opportunities to learn from, teach, and have an impact on a population with whom you might not have otherwise interacted.
  • You empower yourself to take an active role in creating a more accepting world by countering prejudice and discrimination with understanding, support, and caring.
  • You may be a role model for others and your actions may help someone else gain the courage to speak and act in support of LGBTQ+ people.
  • You may be the reason a friend, sibling, child, coworker, or someone else you know finds greater value in their life and develops a higher level of self-esteem.
  • You may make a difference in the lives of young people who hear you confront derogatory language or speak supportively of LGBTQ+ people. As a result of your action, they may feel that they have a friend to turn to instead of dropping out of school, using alcohol or drugs to numb the pain and loneliness, or contemplating or attempting suicide.
Some risks of being an ally to LGBTQ+ people (things discouraging some people from becoming allies):
  • Others may speculate about your own sexual orientation or gender identity. You may be labeled as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender “by association,” which you might find uncomfortable.
  • You may become the subject of gossip or rumors.
  • You may be criticized or ridiculed by others who do not agree with you or who consider offering support to LGBTQ+ people to be unimportant or unwarranted.
  • You may experience alienation from friends, family members, or colleagues who are not comfortable with LGBTQ+ issues.
  • You may become the target of overt or subtle discrimination by people who are homophobic.
  • Your values, morality, and personal character may be questioned by people who believe being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is wrong, sinful, or against their “family values.”
  • LGBTQ+ people may not accept you as an ally.
  • Some LGBTQ+ people may believe that you are actually LGBTQ+ but are not ready to admit it.
  • Due to past negative experiences, some LGBTQ+ people may not trust you and may question your motivations.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectional attraction toward others. It is distinguished from other components of sexuality including biological sex, gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female), and the social gender role (adherence to cultural norms for feminine and masculine behavior).

Sexual orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality. Bisexual persons can experience sexual, emotional, and affectional attraction to both their own gender and people of other genders. The term gay (preferred over homosexual) is used by both men and women who have an emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectional attraction towards someone of their same gender. The term lesbian is used by women who are attracted to other women. There are some people who identify as asexual, having little or no physical or sexual attraction towards others.

Sexual orientation is different from sexual behavior because it refers to feelings and self-concept. Individuals may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviors. As a result it is important not to make assumptions about people based on their identity or their behavior. For example, someone who identifies as a lesbian may occasionally have sexual relationships with men or may have had them in the past, and a man who identifies as heterosexual may occasionally have same-sex sexual encounters but not identify as gay. It may be tempting to make judgments about an apparent disparity between someone’s identity and behavior, but social identity is a complex and personal experience and it is much more productive to accept a person for who they are and understand that most people’s life experiences do not fit neatly into a box or label. For more information on issues related to coming out, bisexuality, common sexual orientation terms, and more, visit the Safe Harbor page on sexual orientation.

Coming Out Issues

The term "coming out" (of the closet) refers to the process of developing a positive lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity. It usually involves first coming out to oneself and then deciding how and when to come out to others. It can be a long and difficult struggle for many LGBTQ+ individuals because they often have to confront the homophobia and biphobia (and transphobia) they learned growing up (called internalized homophobia/biphobia). Before someone can feel good about themselves, they have to challenge their own attitudes and move from the negative feelings to feelings of appreciation and admiration. Not everyone experiences internalized homophobia, but for those who do, it can take years of painful work to develop a positive lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity. As a person overcomes internalized homophobia they need to decide when and to whom they will disclose their sexual identity. Coming out is a never-ending process throughout one's lifetime because our cultural standard is to assume heterosexuality. Over time it does tend to get easier to come out to others, but some people remain fearful over long periods of time due to the lack of acceptance that still exists in many places.

Heterosexual Privilege

Heterosexual Privilege: The benefits and advantages that heterosexuals receive in a heterosexist culture. Also, the benefits lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals receive as a result of claiming a heterosexual identity and denying a lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity.

If you are heterosexual (or, in some cases, simply perceived as heterosexual):

  • You can go wherever you want and know you will not be harassed, beaten, or killed because of your sexuality.
  • You do not have to worry about being mistreated by the police or victimized by the criminal justice system because of your sexuality.
  • You can express affection (kissing, hugging, holding hands) in most social situations and not expect hostile or violent reactions from others.
  • You are more likely to see sexually-explicit images of people of your sexuality without these images provoking public consternation or censorship.
  • You can discuss your relationships and publicly acknowledge your partner (such as having a picture of your partner on your desk) without fearing people will automatically disapprove or think you are being “blatant.”
  • You can receive tax breaks, health and insurance coverage, and spousal legal rights through being in a long-term relationship.
  • If your partner is a citizen of another country, he or she can apply for residency based on your relationship.
  • You can be assured that your basic civil rights will not be denied or outlawed because some people disapprove of your sexuality.
  • You can expect your children will be given texts in schools that implicitly support your kind of family unit and they will not be taught that your sexuality is a “perversion.”
  • You can approach the legal system, social service organizations, and government agencies without fearing discrimination because of your sexuality.
  • You can raise, adopt, and teach children without people believing you will molest them or force them into your sexuality. Moreover, people generally will not try to take away your children because of your sexuality.
  • You can belong to the religious denomination of your choice and know your sexuality will not be denounced by its religious leaders.
  • You can easily find a neighborhood in which residents will accept how you have constituted your household.
  • You know you will not be fired from a job or denied promotion because of your sexuality.
  • You can expect to see people of your sexuality presented positively on nearly every television show and in nearly every movie.
  • You can expect to be around others of your sexuality most of the time. You do not have to worry about being the only one of your sexuality in a class, job, or social situation.
  • You can act, dress, and talk as you choose without it being considered a reflection on people of your sexuality.
  • You can teach about lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals without being seen as having a bias because of your sexuality or forcing a “homosexual agenda” on students.

Progress continues to be made in many areas regarding civil rights for LGBTQ+ people but the progress is not consistent or widespread across the United States. Some states are beginning to provide benefits and protections, but other states continue to pass laws restricting and denying rights of LGBTQ+ people. Privilege can be used as a tool or a weapon. As a weapon it denies and restricts, as a tool it can be used by those in power to remove barriers to equal rights.

Recognizing how heterosexism, homophobia, and heterosexual privilege manifest themselves in our culture can be overwhelming. It is normal for those with privilege to feel guilty about having privilege. It is important for individuals to acknowledge the guilt and then move beyond it in order to use their power and privilege to make positive changes. Anyone can use their privilege to be a powerful ally to LGBTQ+ people. Please see the “How to be an ally” sections for ideas about using heterosexual privilege to make change.