How To Be An Ally
"Being an ally is the process of working to develop individual attitude, institutions and culture in which people who are different feel that matter. This work is motivated by an enlightened self-interest to end oppression"
— J. Jay Scott and Vernon Wall, 1991
What is an Ally?
According to Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, an ally is someone “joined with another for a common purpose.” The Gender Education Center defines allies to the LGBTQ communities as “people who support us who may or may not be a part of our community. These are people who believe in the human rights of all people. Who demonstrate by their presence and actions, their acceptance and celebration of diversity among people.”
- Is a person from a majority or socially privileged group who advocates for a minority or underprivileged group. In this instance, an ally is someone who identifies as straight and advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersexual, queer and questioning people
- has worked (or is currently working) to develop an understanding of heterosexism and transphobia (fear of crossing gender boundaries)
- chooses to align with queer identified people and responds to their needs
- believes that it is in her/his self-interests to be an ally
- expects support from other allies
- Is the backbone of the queer rights movement. Fighting for a cause while their efforts are seen as selfless by others.
- is able to acknowledge and articulate how patterns of oppression have affected their lives
- Is a “safe person” to speak with for someone who is queer. This means that one is committed to providing support and to maintaining confidentiality. This commitment extends to people with a queer roommate, friend, or family member who may wish to speak with someone.
- Can refer someone to another ally if they feel they can’t assist them with their particular concern.
- expects to make some mistakes but does not use it as an excuse for non-action
- Knows that as an ally, they have the right and ability to initiate change through personal, institutional, and social justice.
- Tries to remain aware of how homophobia and other oppressions exist in her/his environment.
- does not put down other groups of people on the basis of their race, religion, culture, gender, social status, physical or mental abilities
- speaks up when a homophobic joke or stereotype is related and encourages discussions about oppression, or looks within herself/himself to unlearn the “myths” that society has taught
- promotes a sense of community and knows that they are making a difference in the lives of others
Becoming an ally does not have to be a difficult task. By education and familiarizing yourself with issues, using inclusive language, and knowing some history, you begin the process of becoming an ally. Another part of becoming an ally is knowing resources and sharing them with others; perhaps the most important piece is being a safe person to talk to and someone who will stand up and fight for diversity.
Steps to Becoming an Ally
- Awareness / Accessing Resources
Become aware of who you are and how you are different from and similar to LGBTQ people. Such awareness can be gained through conversations with LGBTQ individuals, reading about LGBTQ people and their lives, attending awareness building workshops and meetings, and by self-examination.
- Knowledge / Education
Education on the issues, Knowing facts, statistics, laws, policies and culture.
- Creating an Open and Supportive Environment
Encourage and promote an atmosphere of RESPECT. Acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate differences among individuals and within groups. Be a safe and open person to talk with.
- Teach Others / Action
Teach, share your knowledge. Action is the only way to change society as a whole. Stand up for and fight for human rights. Once you have become an ally, you now have the power to educate and teach others what you know. After all, what good is knowledge if it is not shared?
When Someone Comes Out to You
- Don't be surprised
Respect their confidentiality, they have placed a trust in you. A breach of this confidence can be devastating.
- Don't be nervous.
Chances are that you have dealt with LGBTQ issues before. Youth and your peers will be able to determine if you are uncomfortable talking about issues around sexuality and gender orientation. Be honest.
- Be Supportive.
Explain that many people have struggled with these issues in the past. Admit that dealing with one’s sexual or gender orientation can be a difficult and confusing process. There are no easy and fast answers. Keep the door open for further conversations and help. If you are feeling uncertain or don’t think you can be supportive, refer them to someone who can be.
- Don't put words in their mouth.
It is not our jobs to tell people what their issues are, but rather to help them deal with the issues they present. If a supportive environment is provided, people who would like to talk about issues of sexuality or gender orientation will know that this is all right. Allow them to define their own issues. Listen.
- Remember that everyone is a complex and unique individual.
Sexuality is only a part of the whole of a person. Issues of sexuality and gender do not replace other issues.
- Be someone who cares!
DO's and DON'T's: How Can One Be a Good Ally to the LGBTQ Community?
There is no one way to be an ally. There are as many allies as there are ways to be allies, but here is a list of do's and don't's that can be followed to give the reader a good idea of what being an ally is all about.
- Laugh at or tell jokes about LGBTQ people.
- Make fun of people that don’t fit traditional notions of gender roles and sexual identity.
- Engage in verbal and/or physical harassment, i.e. "gay-bash"
- Work for anti-LGBTQ legislation, i.e. employment and housing discrimination, etc.
- Passively accept actions by others that demean LGBTQ individuals. i.e. walking away and /or not confronting, behaviors.
- Ignore the needs/feelings of LGBTQ, i.e. lack of programming, discussions, training.
- Adopt a liberal attitude of "What people do in the privacy of their own bedroom is none of my business. I just don’t want to hear about it."
- Be friendly before you knew someone was LGBTQ and ignore them after. Nothing has changed. They were LGBTQ before you knew, and they're LGBTQ now.
- Just not laugh at hateful anti-LGBTQ joke; confront the person who told the joke in dialogue such as "That offends me. I have good friends who are LGBTQ.", etc.
- Be uncomfortable but not confronting. i.e. notice something on the exterior of a door which is inappropriate but not say anything.
- Label individuals based upon stereotypes.
- Confront individuals who tell offensive, hateful anti-LGBTQ jokes and stories, (i.e. "Jokes that put down LGBTQ people are not funny.")
- Choose to participate in activities regardless of what others might think.
- Be aware of and confront statements such as "I am not prejudiced, but . . ."
- Expand your LGBTQ education by readomg books and journals by, for, and about LGBTQ people.
- Be aware of and sensitive to issues that LGBTQ people face.
- Attend cultural events like Pride Parade and Festivals.
- Listen to LGBTQ music, attend LGBTQ films, etc.
- Educate yourself; don’t rely on LGBTQ people to be the experts.
- Make yourself aware of individuals, organizations, agencies, staff, faculty and courses which deal with LGBTQ issues.
- Educate others, engage people in dialogue about the issue.
- Present programs to others.
- Be "out" and public about your support for LGBTQ individuals and issues.
- Be willing to speak on behalf of the person(s)/group being targeted
- Recognize the efforts of others to confront inappropriate behaviors.
- Encourage and promote an atmosphere of RESPECT.
- Acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate differences among individuals and within groups.
- Create a climate where individual and cultural diversity is recognized and celebrated
- Work for LGBTQ positive legislation. (i.e. human rights, civil rights, etc.)
- Address LGBTQ issues through training.
- Support "Out" LGBTQ people who can serve as role models for others.
- Change discriminatory institutional practices.
- Identify and work to change such practices. (i.e. employee benefits, etc)
Portions from Metro State ally training program