One Spark

CREATORS FIGHTING FOR EQUALITY

The fight for equality will make its mark at One Spark 2014

A photo of activist Gloria Steinhem coming out as a straight ally.
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We Are Straight Allies is a campaign that advocates for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and is entered as a creator project in One Spark.

Chevara Orrin developed the campaign in response to a human rights ordinance for equal treatment that failed to pass when she moved to Jacksonville in August 2012. The ordinance would have added sexual orientation to the list of factors that cannot be discriminated against.

Already on the list are things such as gender, race and religion. Orrin gathered two other co-creators, Dan Bagan and Laura Riggs, who share the mission to advocate and educate with the hopes of adding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the human rights ordinance come next vote.

We Are Straight Allies uses many different methods to connect with the community. Most notably is its print ad and video campaign that showcases people declaring themselves as straight allies.

“What we decided to do was use the voices of straight allies in this community,” Orrin said, “people who were already outspoken and those who were kind of on the cusp of wanting to become more engaged to raise awareness and also encourage other people to become engaged.”

The print ad and video campaign includes a wide range of people. There is a video of a 7-year-old proclaiming “love is love.”Another shows Jacksonville Rabbi Jesse Olitzky stating, “God loves you, no matter who you are.” Also included is a video from Pat Geraghty, the chairman and CEO of Florida Blue, who explains the importance of inclusiveness.

“We’ve been very intentional in selecting faces of the community that really reflect the community,” Orrin said.

Rachel Vitti, a social justice and education advocate who also happens to be the wife of Duval County Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, has always considered herself a straight ally and joined the campaign from the very beginning.

“It’s my responsibility as a citizen. It’s inhumane to deny someone their human rights,” Vitti said.

We Are Straight Allies also provides people with tools to engage and advocate in many other ways. The website includes the contact information of city council representatives so that people can write or call them and demand they pass the ordinance.

People are encouraged to take their own straight ally photos, purchase We Are Straight Allies merchandise and sign the equality pledge posted on the group's website. The campaign is designed to include everyone.

The website has changed “We Are Straight Allies” from English to Russian in support of the LGBT Olympic athletes. Supporters are also designing a print ad in braille and they have another in Spanish.

People are asked to become an advocate by speaking to friends, colleagues and even business owners about things like a form at a doctor’s office with limited options concerning gender, race and marital status.

“By simply raising awareness in the places that you are everyday and asking people to think a little more broadly about inclusiveness and what it might mean to a certain segment of their population, their customers, their clients,” Orrin said.

The group's main goal in entering One Spark is spreading information. “For us it’s raising awareness and building connections and finding out who else might we collaborate with,” Orrin said. We Are Straight Allies will have a booth where festival attendees will have the opportunity to take photos in front of a “I’m coming out as a straight ally” banner. Straight allies from the ad campaign will also be present at the booth each day and live music will be provided, primarily from the LGBT community.

This story was reported by Ignite Media, an independent news bureau created by University of North Florida students.

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