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Tuesday December 12th 2017

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Opinion: Superheroes and Allies Part 1

John Curtis

By John Curtis, board leader and past Co-President, GALAXe Pride at Work, Xerox’s independent LGBT employee resource group

This article is a TEDTalk given at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Philadelphia, with 4,500 business people working toward LGBT equality.

PART 1: When you think of Superheroes, perhaps you think of “Wonder Woman”, Gal Gadot or Lynda Carter. For me, I think of an Ally: like my Xerox colleague, Linda Fairchild!

Superheroes are modern myths, they are diverse beings. They reflect our – aspirations. They have their arsenal of super-powers: XRay vision, super speed, super strength.

Superheroes perform, but who has the real power to rescue them out of a jam? Sidekicks! BatMan AND BatGirl had Alfred the butler. IronMan had Pepper Potts. Sidekicks, or Allies, are often the brains –or just have some really cool tools. It is often the sidekicks who are rational; who can help the heroes find their way.

Superheroes are often loners. You may at times feel all alone, like you are in “The Fortress of Solitude”. Sometimes hidden in the shadows. Diligent. Saving the Day. But Doubt or Loneliness, like Kryptonite, can sap our strength, can diminish us. Heck, even in a crowded office or home, to feel all alone…. It is often our Allies who can check in and rally us. Who can see the good, see beyond our frustration or disappointment. But allies may not have Super-Sense! They may need to be called upon, need you to summon them. Send out the Bat Signal – a call for help!

I had begun this TEDTalk and Superhero theme over a year ago. So I was on my feet cheering during the Emmy awards this year, when screenwriter Lena Waithe spoke to us — her “LGBTQIA” family — and said:

“The things that make us different [ARE] our superpowers. Every day, when you walk out the door, put on your imaginary cape and go out there to conquer the world. … because the world would not be as beautiful as it is, if WE weren’t in it.”

Now, Superheroes may remain hidden behind an alter-ego, like Diana Prince or Clark Kent — a false front they put out to the world. We can be like that — cloaking ourselves in a costume. Our Allies or Sidekicks often don’t come with a cape and mask; take Lois Lane. Our Allies can look deeper. Can help to see behind our secret identity.

The power of Allies is crucial to achieving our goals: in our workplaces and communities and here — at our Out & Equal Summit in Philadelphia –with LGBT and our Allies – in “The City of Brotherly Love”! We need people who have agility in helping to lead change, who value positive organizations and who seek out a wide array of diverse perspectives. So let’s move from the imaginary Wonder Woman to some real-life superheroes… Like our Mothers, who can be the best Superheroes AND Allies. Through their care and their example: not in the Bat Cave, not in some Man Cave. A Momma Bear, there in the Mom Cave. A sign of a great Ally? They may rescue us, just in the nick of time, but sometimes exercise restraint. They help to let us flourish on our own.

I have benefited from so many allies. I want to share one astounding sidekick. It is my mother-in-law, Shirley Wikiera. When we adopted our son John David, we flew home 30 hours from Vietnam. My partner David had to return to his job teaching, and I took Family Leave to stay home: to help us all acclimate, and to bond with our new child. Now, I am no Superhero, but that little 6-month-old baby was. The Force was strong with this one! He could melt your heart with a single glance, and one smile could make me a ball of mush and love, and joy and wonder.

Now, that’s all well and good, but even SuperHeroes need to have a bath! And diapered baby SuperHeroes? Well, they really need baths! But I admit, I was nervous: What if the water was too hot? What if a huge new bathtub was too scary for the baby? But my biggest fear was doubt in myself. I had to rally — for goodness sake, we had a lot more years before this kid could learn to bathe in the tub!

So, I enlisted Shirley as my sidekick. A teacher, a Mother of five, (I know HOW to recruit top talent!). I asked her, “Would you just come up into the bathroom and just be there with me?”

Another tip? Sometimes an Ally doesn’t have to intervene. Instead, she let me build my own confidence. BUT she stayed by my side and she would not let me fail.

Stay tuned for Part 2, to follow next month.