How to be an Ally, by Wash Silk
What is an Ally?
On our fabulous definition page you might read the words, “An Ally is a person who considers themselves a friend to the LGBTQ+ community.”
But what does it really mean?
To me it means knowing people have my back. For example, last summer I was being harassed in a parking lot and out of nowhere a voice interrupts telling the bully to back off. They did, because their power was taken away in one swift, effective motion. It turned out to be a co-worker from many years ago who wasn’t afraid to say something when I felt too scared to. Ally power!
It also means I feel welcome. When I was a young queer, I use to go a LGBTQ2+ community potluck to try to meet others in the community. To my surprise, an elderly straight couple showed up at the potluck, saying they wanted to support the community and get to know people. I kid you not, the straight couple turned out to my great aunt and uncle who I hadn’t seen since I was nine! They were able to talk to my grandfather with me and helped me to feel more accepted in the community and in my family. Ally power!
These are just two small examples from dozens in my life but if they say anything at all, it is that allies are important people in the lives of LGBTQ2+ people.
They are so important that sometimes they become our families or help create safer spaces in our schools or at work! I would like to share with you 10 Awesome Ways to Rock Being an Ally!
10 Ways to Rock Being an Ally
- The first step in becoming an ally is educating yourself on the issues. You should understand the basic history of LGBTQ2+ people, the challenges they face, and what their needs are. This is important because you need to know what is going on before you can make a difference. For example, research that’s been published by Egale Canada shows that (64%) of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school. This is the kind of thing you need to know if you are going to make a difference in your school! You can also read about the local OutLook Study here.
- Listen! Listen to the LGBTQ2+ people in your life to hear and understand their stories and let them tell you specifically how you can be an ally to them. This especially important to do around times of stress, for example if you have discovered homophobic graffiti in your school or if there is a larger event like the Orlando Shooting.
- Understand yourself! What prompted you to want to support LGBTQ2+ people? What is your own background and social location? Do you have a certain privilege that means maybe you don’t notice what LGBTQ2+ people experience in your community? It could help to look into the history of your own culture (or cultures) and find out about the interactions between your culture and LGBTQ2+ people. Understanding this history is crucial to your being able to understand how LGBTQ2+ people might perceive you and it might inform the way that you become an ally. To me it is really important to know about and honour the Two-Spirit Indigenous people that celebrate and honour different gender identities. It is also important for me to know that colonization has erased and obscured Two-Spirit history, so I can better understand how to support and listen to my Two-Spirit community members and be an ally to them.
- Share your gift! Everybody has different gifts to share with the world! For example, if you are an artist you can use this to raise up concerns or ideas that need to be heard or maybe you’re a great athlete and you can squash homophobic comments on the field. Each person’s gift gives them a different way they can be an ally. The next part of understanding yourself is asking yourself what you hope to achieve as an ally and setting some reasonable goals to get it done!
- Build relationships! You probably already have LGBTQ2+ people in your life: family members, friends, and co-workers, for example. Are there other people you would like to get to know? Building relationships and connections is the responsibility of the ally. It will take commitment to build trust with people in the rainbow community. Demonstrating that you understand the history of the situation is a good first step. Listening to the LGBTQ2+ people you connect with is the next step. It’s an honour to have someone share their personal story with you. There is a level of trust that this requires.
- Centre spaces! This means that you help to create a space where LGBTQ2+ voices are at the centre of the conversation. It is important to note that you cannot speak on behalf of all LGBTQ2+ people. You are speaking as an ally; someone who wants to make the community safer and more accepting. When an LGBTQ2+ person is speaking up for themselves you should support them and make sure their voice is at the centre!
- Get comfortable with uncomfortable! As with most things, becoming an ally is a process. You should continually educate yourself and participate in conversations. You should be willing to make mistakes and keep on trying to help. There could be situations where you are the “odd one out” or you are learning new information that challenges previously held beliefs.
- Perhaps the most important thing to continually do is confront your own privilege! We might not even know we have certain privilege until we ask ourselves some really important questions. For example, a question from unpacking the invisible knapsack activitiy: “ If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, can I be certain my sexual orientation or gender identity will be represented?” If the answer is yes, then you might have straight or cisgender privilege. In order to create change in society, where everyone is accepted and supported, we have to understand the ways sometimes we may benefit from an unequal system (aka privilege) and how we can intentionally decide to challenge this by being aware of our privilege and challenging the very things that decide to privilege one group of people over another.
- Put your money where your mouth us! Consider supporting local LGBTQ2+ owned or friendly businesses. Support organizations that are inclusive and intentional policies that support the LGBTQ2+ community.
- You are important and you are needed! Remember that allies have been incredibly important in the fight for LGBTQ2+ rights!
“Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on.” – Anne Bishop, becominganally.ca
If you are moved to become an ally to LGBT2+ people, thank you! As mentioned above, allies are important people in our lives. We are grateful for your support and friendship and we appreciate you going out of your way to help us continue to fight for equality.