What can an ally do to support and defend LGBTQ+ rights? And what if a loved one or friend is part of the LGBTQ+ community? How can you be a good ally to your LGBT friends and family?
Over the last few months, people have asked this question so much that Google searches for the expression "how to be a good ally", which are higher than "how to become an influencer". So, it seems like we are witnessing a change in values worldwide, as Google itself says: "people, compared to the past, are showing support and empathy towards those whose voices have long been unheard”.
In this article we would like to give you some tips and practical, yet timely, advice that will make you understand what you can concretely do as an LGBTQ+ ally to support the community ... in particular your loved ones, that are part of it.
Who is an LGBTQ+ ally?
You’ve probably come across the word ‘ally’ several times when hearing about the LGBTQ+ community, but you have no clue on what it actually means… Well, we’re here to get things sorted out.
An ally is an individual who stands up for, supports and encourages the people around them. This is a term that gets used frequently in the LGBTQ+ community.
In the LGBTQ+ vocabulary, an ‘ally’ or ‘straight ally’ is typically a heterosexual and/or cisgender (Note: someone is cisgender when their sense of gender identity corresponds to their sex assigned at birth) person who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBTQ+ social movements and challenges homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and any other discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Therefore, we could say that allies are people who aren’t part of the community, but do actively support it!
Learning to be a great ally is rewarding, but it can also be challenging and confronting at times.
As an ally, you must be willing to listen and grow in understanding and knowledge. Allies, in fact, are some of the most effective and powerful voices of the LGBTQ+ movement. Not only do allies help people in the coming-out process, but they also help others understand the importance of equality, fairness, acceptance and mutual respect.
Photo source – Wikipedia
There is a specific flag for allies which is called the ‘The Pride Ally flag’ with a clear meaning behind it:
- The A stands for allies, as “A” is the first letter of the word
- The rainbow colours represent the LGBTQ+ community
- The black and white bars represent the heterosexual and/or cisgender people.
Top 7 tips on how to be a good ally
1. Familiarise yourself with the right language and be educated on the LGBTQ+ issues
First and foremost, the most important thing you need to do to become a good ally is to read a glossary of terms so you can learn the right language to use when talking to LGBTQ+ people. This is a tiny, yet fundamental step you can take to educate yourself and make sure you are using the right words to be respectful to anyone around you, while at the same time helping yourself feel more confident when discussing LGBTQ+ issues.
So, take it upon yourself to learn about LGBTQ+ history, terminology, and the struggles the community still faces today. Read books and articles, listen to podcasts, or visit websites run by people from the community. Get close to their world as much as possible, and get a sense of what it’s like to live in their shoes. The Internet is a wonderful resource for this!
What does LGBT mean? Get to know the basics.
Get familiar with the different flags.
Have a look at an ally’s guide to terminology.
Guide to be a straight ally.
This will be appreciated by your family members and friends who are part of the community as they will perceive that you are making an effort to get closer to them.
2. Think of 'ally' as an action rather than a label
It is easy to call yourself an ally, but the label alone isn't enough. If you really want to get involved in the cause, staying at home on your sofa isn’t really helpful.
To be an effective ally, you need to be consistent in your support of LGBTQ+ rights and defend LGBTQ+ people against discrimination. It is necessary that you get out there and be active in the community.
Pride Month offers numerous events where members of the LGBT community can celebrate who they are. But June is also a good time for straight people to show support for their LGBT friends, relatives and co-workers. Here is everything you need to know about Pride Month.
Speak up and let your voice be heard! Even though it’s not always that easy and straightforward, these are the situations in which being an ally really matters.
3. Listening is key
Another relevant point to highlight is that if a friend or family member comes out to you - whether directly or indirectly - they are telling you that you are someone they value and that they want to be real, authentic and honest with you. Coming out is a very personal experience, and every individual may need a different type of support.
Remember that part of being supportive to your LGBTQ+ friends and loved ones means trying to fully understand how they are viewed and treated by the world around them.
It may sound obvious, but it can really make a world of a difference for them if you are willing to be truly open to listen to them. Listen to their personal stories and life experiences, be open minded, show some empathy, and ask questions respectfully.
4. Don't make assumptions
Don't assume that all of your friends, co-workers, and even family members are straight.
Don't make assumptions about someone's gender, sex, sexuality or pronouns.
LGBTQ+ people don't look a particular way and someone's current or previous partner(s) doesn't define their sexuality! Someone close to you could be looking for support in their coming-out process. So, not making assumptions will give them the space they need to express their real self and open up to you in their own time.
If you are curious to know more about how to help your LGBTQ+ family and friends, check out some additional resources.
And here is a valuable guide you can read for better understanding, supporting, and affirming LGBTQ+ children, youth, and families.
5. Make room for LGBTQ+ people to exist
Being a good LGBTQ+ ally also means supporting the community’s artists, hosting panels for queer sex educators, or providing a meet-and-greet space for the most marginalised identities. Making room for the LGBTQ+ community to physically meet up is a statement allies need to get behind.
Find places like Bluestockings, a “collectively-owned” bookstore and activist centre based in Manhattan (US) where inclusive events for marginalised people can be organised. Funders and allies should support and invest in these organisations so they can expand their efforts and services. In many cases, the type of work that ‘needs to be done’ in rural areas is already underway by local residents, but without the financial or logistical means to support their efforts.
6. Confront your own prejudices and biases, even if it is uncomfortable to do so
Being an ally means that you will often need to challenge any bias, stereotypes, and assumptions you didn't realise you had.
Think about the jokes you make, the pronouns you use and if you wrongly assume someone you care about’s sex or gender just because of the way they look and act. LGBTQ+ prejudices can be subtle, and transphobia and biphobia exist even within the community.
For instance, if you are not sure about someone’s pronoun, wait for them to mention their pronouns, or if it feels right, ask politely about their pronoun, e.g. 'What pronoun suits you best?' Then, when meeting new people, try to use inclusive language into your regular conversations - replace she/he with they - by using gender neutral terms like ‘partner’ and pay attention not to use offensive language.
So, being a good ally is also about being open to the idea of being wrong sometimes and being willing to become a better person.
7. Take care of your loved ones who need support and make some small gestures
Being an ally means being there for people when they need you the most. Offer your shoulder to cry on, give them space to vent or rage, and spend time with them doing something they love.
If you're the kind of person who doesn't feel very comfortable with being a protagonist, no worries! You don't have to do anything big to really show your support to those you care about that are part of the community. It only takes simple, little things like accompanying your son/daughter to their first Pride event, wrapping yourself in a rainbow flag or just holding one in your hand to show your loved ones that you are there for them.
Actions speak louder than words!
Being an LGBTQ+ ally is easier than you may think. If you actively support equality and fair treatment as well as inclusivity in society of people who identify as LGBTQ+, then already you can be considered an ally. But in reality, there is much more you can do as an ally. Allies are important and welcome supporters of the community, and therefore can be effective and powerful voices for LGBTQ+ equality.
We hope you have found these tips on how to be a good ally to LGBT friends and family helpful. Are there any others that you can share below?
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