When you hear the word “ally” what springs to mind? The official definition of an ally is actually undefined - as many have a different interpretation of what the word can mean depending on its context. However, we’re going to use it in terms of being an ally toward the LGBTQIA+ community and unpacking some of the things you can do to be an ally if you’re not sure where to start.
“A straight ally or heterosexual ally (often simply called an ally) is a heterosexual and cisgender person who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, and LGBTQ+ social movements.” [source]
In essence, being an ally for the LGBTQIA+ community involves more than just calling out phobic behaviours; it runs deeper and requires consistent effort and education.
Don’t let the above statement worry you, though. Many individuals can feel paralysed knowing where to start, worrying about saying the “wrong thing” and in turn, doing nothing for fear of being called out. However, it’s important to note that being an ally is a constant work in progress, and even those within the LGBTQIA+ community still make mistakes when being allies towards each other! It isn’t an exclusively “straight” or “cisgender” duty - it’s a duty for us all.
For example, there can be a lot of phobic behaviour within the LGBTQIA+ community. Bi-erasure (which is the elimination/not recognising Bisexuals or invalidating their sexuality) is prevalent among the Gay and Lesbian community and is stigmatised just as much as it is in “straight” society. Equally, transphobia is still rife and just because someone identifies as LGBTQIA+, doesn’t absolve them of having internalised homophobia or transphobia.
In fact, many gay, lesbian, bi and transgender folk have to deal with their own internalised homophobia daily. It’s all a learning process.
Stonewall has created a ton of resources for those who want to learn more about how to become a better ally for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Here are some of our favourite takeaways:
1. Familiarise yourself with the language
You could begin by doing something as easy as reading a glossary of terms and teaching yourself the right language to use when talking with LGBT+ people. It’s a tiny but crucial step you can take to educate yourself and make sure you are using the terminology to be respectful to everyone around you and help yourself to feel more confident when discussing LGBT+ issues.
2. Educate yourself on the history of LGBT activism
While you’re already on Google getting to grips with every letter of the LGBT+ alphabet you can explore the history of the LGBT movement. Getting to know the history of LGBT activism is an empowering act in becoming an LGBT ally. As well as honouring the effort and sacrifices of those that have come before, it’s important to appreciate how far we have come in the struggle for equality to fully understand how far we have left to go.
3. Discover the challenges facing the LGBT community today
Once you know the history you can help to shape the future. Do some research into the specific battles that are being fought now, and find out the obstacles that the LGBT community is facing. Discover specific campaigns that resonate with you so you can get active and focus your support to help really make a difference.
4. Get involved in the community and show your support
Sitting at home on the internet is the tip of the ally iceberg. If you really want to get involved in the cause it’s essential to get out there and be active in your community. With the Stonewall season approaching it’s easy to find LGBT events near you that welcome allies.
Let the LGBT community know that you stand with them because your presence at events is a significant show of solidarity and support. Joining the conversation and listening to the experiences of the people you meet will undoubtedly broaden your understanding of what it means to be an ally and better your awareness of how to help to achieve equality for all.
5. Stand up for what you believe in
It’s easy to imagine that when you come across discrimination or hateful language you will whir into action, righting wrongs and effortlessly challenging the behaviour and views of people speaking and acting in a hurtful manner. The reality can be very different and truthfully, sometimes standing up against discrimination can be an intimidating experience.
The important thing is to let your voice be heard and although it’s not always easy, these are situations where being an ally really counts. It’s important to let those with bigoted views know that they are not in a world where they can marginalise or bully those that need our support - and this is really the essence of what being an ally is all about.
How can you support the LGBTQIA+ community at work?
We have created an introductory guide for employers on how they can best support LGBTQIA+ folk at work.
Download your guide here.