Welcome to an organization putting the word “friend” back into the idea of community, and “ally” into the struggle for equality. Welcome to Friendfactor, a startup that seeks to harness the power of allies to create a more LGBT-inclusive world.
Friendfactor was founded in 2009 by Brian Elliot, and then “re-founded” by Joanne Sprague in 2012. Sprague was in the process of launching her own ally program before finding Elliot and realizing their visions were traveling a mutual trajectory.
“I realized that our missions were aligned, and we could increase our impact exponentially by working together rather than separately,” Sprague told 429Magazine.
Friendfactor defines an ally as any individual who takes action to promote LGBT inclusion.
“We want to create a society where everyone who cares about LGBT equality, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, takes part in making it a reality,” continued Sprague.
Friendfactor has compiled different data points on a few notable statistics related to their mission. 96 percent of Americans are straight, according to a report from the Williams Institute. 73 percent of those straight people support LGBT inclusion, says a CAP 2012 survey. And yet an Out & Equal survey from 2012 shows that only 26 percent choose to identify as allies and do something about it.
Such numbers leave an organization like Friendfactor striving to bridge the gap between action and inaction when it comes to allies supporting the LGBT community. And like most movements, they do that by first empowering the leaders, who can then sally forth to empower others.
“We help straight people become visible, vocal, and active allies in the communities they are a part of every day – their workplaces and school campuses,” said Sprague.
“By meeting people where they are and showing them how their everyday actions can create a more inclusive culture in the immediate environment around them, we can turn the 73 percent of this country who care about LGBT equality into people who take action to actually make it happen.”
Sprague and her team do this by creating tutorials and initiatives to educate and inspire allies, showing them that their actions can create visible and effective change. Through a flexible five step process, Friendfactor seeks to educate allies, show them how they can align themselves with LGBT people in their work or community spaces, measure that community’s baseline awareness of LGBT issues, launch a series of ally events, and finally come back to a network of like-minded ally leaders to share best practices and inspiration.
“Our goal is to launch 1,000 ally programs by 2018, engaging over 100K individuals as active allies in the movement,” said Sprague.
Action can range from short conversations in office halls to larger scale initiatives within organizations or communities. The influence an ally can have on their peers is demonstrated on a large scale by many of the celebrities and public figures who have come out in support of equality.
Such straight stars, from James Franco to Barack Obama, Kristen Bell to Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton to Brad Pitt, have publicly advocated their support for the LGBT community. Their words, in a different way than their LGBT counterparts, have a resounding impact across the world, because they’re not simply saying, “love me and mine,” but rather “you, who are like me, love them because we are all alike.”
“It makes a difference when a non-LGBT person speaks up for LGBT equality – people aren’t able to dismiss that person as easily for focusing on their ‘own’ issue,” said Sprague.
“Look at the splash Clint Eastwood or Brendon Ayonbadejo have made when they’ve spoken out about marriage equality – those names turn heads, because they’re speaking up for what’s right, not what’s personal.
“People listen harder when they hear an opinion from someone they see as similar to them,” she continued.
“When an ally starts a one-on-one conversation – bro to bro, straight dad to straight dad, Christian to Christian – about why equality matters, the other person is going to re-think their opinion more deeply, because they can relate so closely to their friend who started the conversation.”
And Sprague feels that allies have the opportunity to serve as easily approachable teachers for those wishing to learn more about the LGBT community.
“I find that people are often more willing to ask me their uncomfortable questions about the LGBT community than my gay friends, because they know I won’t be personally offended if they use the wrong term or say something insensitive,” she said. “That gives me an opportunity to educate and start a dialogue that wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t as visible or vocal of an ally.”
At the end of the day, it comes down to education, visibility, and dialogue. Those working for and participating in Friendfactor believe that with knowledge comes understanding, with understanding comes acceptance, and with acceptance comes equality.
The power of the ally is something that cannot be ignored as the community works to move into a more inclusive future. With each new voice rising, the message comes through a little more clearly to those who remain silent.
To find out more about Friendfactor and how you can become personally involved in building and facilitating an active ally community, visit the organization’s website here.