As you may have recently noticed, there’s a new initial in town. LGBT, the standard abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, is now LGBTA – and the A stands for ally.
The straight allies who know and love us are the people who Brian Elliot hopes to rally in the fight for equality. To this end he created Friendfactor, an online community dedicated to political action – which has been called a gay social network for straight allies.
Fresh out of grad school in 2009, Elliot (who came out at age 16) discovered research that revealed a huge disconnect between people’s pro-gay attitudes and our anti-gay laws. “I pulled friends together and said, ‘what would it take to accelerate this rate of change?’ What we came up with was Friendfactor.”
On the site, LGBT people can create a profile and encourage both straight and gay allies to join them in the pursuit of equality.
A recent CBS poll revealed that 77% of Americans know someone who is gay and two-thirds of them have a close friend or family member who is gay. “We’re trying to change gay rights without calling them rights,” says Elliot — who often uses the word “gay” because it’s more widely understood in the straight community than “LGBT.”
“People don’t really care about politics, but they care about their friends. I don’t say, ‘support marriage equality,’ I say ‘support your friends.’ It’s the same reason you donate money to friends who are walking or riding for a charity, you do it for your friends as well as for the organization.”
But Elliot was surprised to discover that fewer LGBTs are willing to ask for help from their friends than he expected. “Most LGBT people don’t feel unequal on a daily basis. A lot of people don’t know the extent of the rights that they don’t have.”
When you sign up on www.friendfactor.org and set up a Friend-setter page, the site calculates the percentage of freedoms that you have, by state, compared to your straight friends. That number itself can be a wake-up call for LGBTs who may feel complacent.
“Our goal is to get everyone’s freedom index to 100% as soon as possible,” say Elliot. “If everyone grabbed two friends and said, ‘come to the ballot box with me,’ the change would happen.”
The Friendfactor community is currently lobbying for a marriage equality bill that’s headed for a vote in New York on June 20. “We’re more than quadrupling the amplification of people’s voices,” says Elliot, who sees these efforts as above and beyond traditional politics.
Broad political diversity is reflected in Friendfactor’s advisory board, which includes veteran gay activist David Mixner, former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, and Chelsea Clinton – who co-hosted the site’s New York launch. “I certainly believe that all of my friends, as Marc and I did, should have the right to marry their best friends,” said Clinton.
“It’s hard to argue with a statement that’s so personal,” says Elliot.
Friendfactor founder Brian Elliot addresses Pop Tech 2010. Watch it here.