How To Be an LGBTQ+ Ally
Throughout the blog, I will be using 'LGBTQ+' and 'queer' as terms to encompass many different identities, sexualities, and genders. It is important to ask people in your life/ in general, how they'd like to be called or identified as. For myself, queer is the word I feel most comfortable identifying myself as. For others, queer may feel uncomfortable. Respect what people tell you they prefer.
- Privilege: Privilege can be seen as a system in our society that benefits some people over others. Our world, due to many different oppressive factors, grants privilege to people because of certain aspects of their identity, which includes race, socio-economic class, gender, sexuality, language, religion, and even geographic region.
- LGBTQ+: A collection of different sexual and gender identities. Sometimes this acronym is replaced with “queer.”
- Queer: Queer is a general term for genders and sexualities that are not cisgender and/or heterosexual. It's also a word with a frought history, and while some have reclaimed the word, others may not feel comfortable with it.
- Cis-gender: A term for someone who identifies as their biological sex that was assigned at birth.
- POC: Shortened term for 'people of colour' (anyone who is not white.)
I'm a queer woman who has spent many years thinking, studying and writing about queer people, queer history, and queer theory. When people asked me to write about how to be a queer ally, I had to sit back down and think about what being an ally to my community even means. As a white, able bodied, middle class, cisgender woman, I hold a lot of privilege, and therefore this blog won't be a comprehensive source of how to be the best ally to the LGBTQ+ community, simply because the community is too large, diverse and full of intersecting identities to lump in to one easy way of being an ally. With each intersection of the queer community comes different types of ways to be an effective and active ally.
I think it's important to first state that being an ally is not a label you can call yourself, simply because you have no opposition to queer people. Ally is an active term that requires an immense amount of work and is an ongoing processs. Allyship is about questioning and challenging yourself, and being willing to learn about the unintentional or intentional ways we contribute to injustice. It requires you having hard conversations, maybe even having hurt feelings, or uncomfortable realizations. You cannot be an ally simply because you state you're one. You must show up every day and do the work. I've created a non-comprehensive list of ways you can start being a better ally to the LGBTQ+ community. It's not intended to be all encompassing, but instead, a starting point to a lot of hard work.
The most important thing you can do is listen to queer people when they are talking about their experiences. Queer people don't need your comments, or advice, or that one story about your one gay friend. This is particularly important when queer POC (people of colour) are sharing their experiences.
2. Use your privilege:
Recognize the areas in which you hold privilege, and once you've sat and thought about the ways in which your privilege affects how you navigate around the world, do something with it. Use your privilege to challenge friends, family and strangers (this does not mean you can center your privilege in conversations and your allyship; how you feel, and your experiences shouldn't be at the center of attention when discussing and learning about queer issues.)
Some ways to use your privilege:
- If you overhear homophobic/transphobic or other ignorant comments, speak up.
- If your workplace isn't working to be an inclusive space, go to HR or your boss, and talk about what changes need to be made (ie: do they have any anti-discrimination policies? Are there non-gendered bathrooms? Are any forms that only have 'male' or 'female' options?)
- Put your body on the line when you see oppression. For example, many queer people whose gender expression is outside of the gender binary (male/female), are extremely visible on the street, and thus face the most harrassment. By paying attention to your surroundings, and noticing if any violence (physical, verbal, etc.) is occuring, you can put yourself in between the abuser and the person being abused.
3. Educate yourself:
Spend time educating yourself about queer history, queer terminology, and queer social justice issues. You cannot be an effective ally without knowing about the past, present, and current issues facing LGBTQ+ people around the world.
Some places to start:
- Learn what the (+) in LGBTQ+ represents. Many people know terms like lesbian, gay, or bisexual, but do you know what the rest of the letters mean? Do you know what being gender non-conforming is, or aromantic? How about demi-sexual or two-spirit? Spend time learning about the wonderful spectrum of genders, sexualities and identities.
- Knowing queer history can help you understand the leaders of the past and contextualize the current struggle of LGBTQ+ rights and liberation. Learn about queer history around the world. Learn about the violence the government imposes on queer people. Learn, learn, learn.
- Education will help you understand the complexities of queer oppressions. For example, black queer people have a whole other set of oppressions that white queer people don't have to face, like racism. When you educate yourself about the intersectionality of queer identities, you'll be able to be a more effective ally. For example, if you aren't sure why cops shouldn't be a part of pride, it's probably because you don't know the history between black people and the police, in and out of queer spaces.
4. Be aware of space:
Be aware of the space that you take up. When you are in a queer space - like a Pride event, or a gay club, etc., be aware that this space was not created for you. While many queer spaces are welcoming of non-queer people, they are not yours! An example of taking up space is when straight women have their bachelorette parties, or girls night out at gay bars.
5. Pride is not a once a year event:
If you only show up for the LGBTQ+ community at Pride parades, you're not an ally to the queer community. Being an ally requires 365 days a year support. If you're changing your facebook sticker to a rainbow, and donning a love is love shirt, you're doing the absolute bare minimum. Allyship isn't about these performative acts to show others how much you tolerate queer people, but about doing the work to dismantle oppressive systems all year round.
5. Pay us:
If you are looking for more resources, or asking queer people to educate you in any way, financially compensate them for their work. This goes for anything from sending a DM on instagram, to a comment on youtube, to educational materials and books. While there are many people out there who are happy to help you understand concepts and ideas, it is exhausting for queer people to constantly be educating non-queer people about simple google-able things. The least you can do is compensate them (even if they don't explicitly ask for it.)
So, I encourage you to sit down and do research, listen to queer voices, and pay queer people for their work, and also know that your work is never done.
- Emilie Maine