Meet Berkshire Bank Ally Ben Strauss
Good Afternoon; we are back with another interview in our Pride Profiles series at Berkshire Bank. Today, we are joined by Ben Strauss, Senior Vice President, Associate General Counsel. Ben has a different perspective to add to our conversations as an Ally.
So, we are going to get right to it. Ben, why did you decide to be an Ally?
Well. I am at a point in my life that I want to be an ally because it is the right thing to do and because there are many people I care about who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. I want to use my unearned privilege as a white, cis, straight man to benefit and help amplify the voices of those who do not have those privileges and make our society more equitable for LGBTQIA+.
Thank you for that first answer. That was very refreshing to hear and see that so many people are willing and ready to “amplify the voice,” as you stated.
Now, knowing that is your reason, how do you make yourself more approachable to lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people?
I try to remember to use my pronouns when introducing myself and writing emails or letters, especially when I meet someone new. When I ask someone about their family, I try not to presume that every couple is hetero, using the language of “spouse” or “partner” unless I already know how the person identifies. When writing, I always use they/them pronouns to be inclusive of all genders. I also try to avoid presuming a person’s gender identity based on voice, name, looks, or expression. I also include our Berkshire Bank progress pride X in my email signature line from work, and I am proud to hang a progress pride flag on my house.
As an ally, we are sure you have had many encounters and conversations through work and beyond. Have you found there are challenges, or is your take a bit different?
Thankfully, I have not encountered overt homophobia or transphobia in the workplace. However, I do experience microaggressions based on cis- and hetero-normative culture and biases all the time. In those moments, as an ally, I step up and speak up and try to educate people about the meaning and impact of the words they choose to use and that words can hurt even if harm is not the intention.
Along with those thoughts and to expand a bit, have you had to respond to rumors that someone is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender? How do you converse on this topic and get people to be more open?
No, I have not directly had to confront rumors. But, if I were approached with a rumor like that, I would try to shut it down. I would respond that it isn’t any of our business to try to guess someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Rumors like these are based on often hurtful misconceptions and stereotypes. Plus, I would try to educate the person approaching me with the rumor that it is always up to each individual to tell their own story in their own time — it is not appropriate to assume what is in another person’s heart and mind.
I often ask questions designed to help people understand what it is like to be misunderstood. I also try to keep it simple. For example, when speaking with a cis woman who asks how a trans person knows they are trans, I will reply, “The same way I know that I’m a man and you know you’re a woman…you just know.” I also try to personalize it.
Ben, thank you for your time and the conversation. Also, thank you so much for stepping up to be a voice for the LQBTQIA+ community. We look forward to spending more time with you and hearing more about your efforts.