10-14-2019 · Young Professional Leaders

Today’s guest blog is written by Vicki Witherington, United Way of Greater Atlanta Young Professional Leaders member.

LIVE UNITED is United Way’s tag line. To me, Live United means to not only embrace individual differences, but also the community as a whole. This is particularly important when identifying and addressing the needs of the community, regardless of how those needs may directly impact you. To Live United means acknowledging that collective impact is greater than the sum of individual acts. That doesn’t happen by accident. It requires coordination. It requires the willingness to seek out the most critical problems. It demands that we fight for the health, education and financial stability for every person in every community. When you choose to Live United, you choose to improve your community by giving part of yourself — whether it be your time, support or donations — to make a lasting impact.

During Atlanta Pride, United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Young Professional Leaders (YPL) built on LIVE UNITED with another tag line: LOVE UNITED. After all, who wants to LIVE UNITED if we can’t LOVE UNITED? Just as we share the struggles and rejoice in successes as a community, we should celebrate love together. Love should be unifying. It’s an indescribably beautiful thing that often brings out people’s most positive attributes. Society fails us when hate is allowed to create divisions among us. This is evidenced by the significantly higher probability of homeless LGBTQ youth compared to their straight counterparts. Fighting homelessness is a big part of the work United Way does, so it really is all intertwined. In addressing the issues that face the LGBTQ members of the community, YPL is following through on its mission to create a community that lives and loves united.

Being an ally to the LGBTQ community means that, although you don’t identify your sexual orientation within any of these categories, you believe in equality, fairness, acceptance and mutual respect. You believe civil rights apply to everyone and they are not meant to be enjoyed by only certain groups of people. Historically speaking, equality has unfortunately been a right that many groups have had to fight for, and the LGBTQ community is no different. We know from history that any civil rights movements cannot succeed without the support of allies. The LGBTQ community does not make up a majority of the population. For true change to occur, there must be support both inside and outside the LGBTQ community. Straight allies have a unique role in that we can speak hard truths to the straight community without the perceived agenda that can be interpreted when coming from a member of the LGBTQ community. I consider myself an ally and am so proud to be a part of an organization like United Way that takes a stance as an ally.

When a company supports these values, it shows the community that it values its employees. Your workplace is where you spend the majority of your time, so it’s important that you’re working in an environment that fosters acceptance and allows you to focus on your work rather than being preoccupied with how you are being perceived. Even more importantly, it’s the means to which you are earning your livelihood, so equality from a financial and benefits perspective is imperative. Ultimately, you want to be proud of the place you work. Companies should strive to encourage and celebrate diversity while also not defining an employee by their demographics, but by their contributions. That’s working united.

A company’s responsibility to its employees go further than creating a safe and equitable workplace. They must also support community initiatives that align with their corporate values. I value the opportunity that Atlanta Pride gives to advocate hand-in-hand with the companies and organizations in the community that share my values.

Atlanta Pride has a special meaning to me personally. My closest friend came out to me when we were in college. Admittedly, my reaction was less than ideal. Honestly, I was scared for him. I was scared that his life would be harder as a gay man than if he was straight. I didn’t want there to be any reason for him to face adversity in his life. It took me some time to recognize that my initial response was based in fear. His decision to have that difficult conversation with me was an act of bravery. What he needed from me was to be brave with him. I decided that instead of being fearful of how society would receive him, I would fight to make society one that would be accepting.

I researched and joined organizations that were taking action on issues facing the LGBTQ community and discovered Atlanta Pride in that process. I first attended with him in 2013, and we have been every year since. It was the first LGBTQ event that he had ever attended. For the first time, he saw an enormous amount of people putting aside any fear of judgment or rejection, while embracing every aspect of themselves and basking in that freedom. That was the first time he felt comfortable being gay in public, and it had such a positive impact on his journey in coming to terms with his sexual identity.

Imagine the impact you can have on countless people like my friend. Stand with us. Take action. Love united. Work united. Live united.

To learn more about YPL and how to get involved in your community, click here.