As someone who is continuously growing and educating herself on ally-ship (is that a word? Oh well it is now!) I will not pretend to know-it-all or be really good at this. What I can tell you is that I love making people feel heard, seen and acknowledged for who they are, which personally I feel is the foundation for being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. The main thing I want you to take away from this post is a giant slice of humble pie. Let it digest & then go out into the world to be better for those we share this earth with. For one reason, it’s what we’re meant to do.
I will preface these tips with, I’m a heterosexual woman who in no way has experienced half of what the LGBTQ+ (or BIPOC) community has. What I have seen and heard has astonished me at the narrow minds I have been around so far in my life. So to say I’m afraid to know what it actually feels like to live through it, that shit is an understatement. How do you support or help a community that you aren’t a member of and it still mean something?
Check your privilege.
If you are not a member, don’t act like you know what it’s like. Don’t claim to understand what they go through, every single day. Don’t tell them that you feel their pain. I promise you, you have no idea. The quickest way to make sure that the community knows that you don’t truly “get it” is by trying to be someone you are not. Tone it down, take a seat and just listen.
Now I’m not telling you that you can’t participate in meaningful conversations or be empathetic. What I am saying is know your audience. Understand that the intricacies of the community require quite a bit of knowledge to have a stake in genuinely representing them. So don’t dive into the deep end if you know you can’t tread water. Take your time in the shallow end and learn first. Look inward and see what underlying childhood teachings may be clouding your mind. Do you have any bigotry that lies within? What about micro-aggressions? Are you properly communicating inclusivity? Do you allow others around you to speak in a way that degrades the community? How can you be better at transforming your previous notions?
Be a sponge.
This should be your first step. You’re a guppy in a sea of sharks when it comes to equality and fighting for it. So the biggest thing you need to do is absorb the surroundings. The culture, the vibrancy, the love. All of it is so important to see and hear. If you don’t understand what you’re seeing or hearing, ask. The community LOVES to spread education and share who they are but you have to give them the opportunity to do so, safely. When you ask, it better be from a place of love, understanding and acceptance. Otherwise, you’re seeking the education with the wrong intentions and I promise you will make yourself look like an ass in the process.
A few questions you can ask that will help open that line of communication:
“What are your pronouns?”
“Do you have a gender identity or are you gender fluid?”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say __insert whatever it is____, can you explain that to me?”
That whole saying, “what I don’t know, won’t hurt me,” no longer applies. When you don’t know something and fail to try to learn, you’re blocking your own blessings. The community is one hell of a vibe and they love to share with genuine people.
Don’t over do it.
Trust me when I tell you, it is VERY hard not to want to go rainbow-crazy after you start experiencing the culture of the community. It’s exciting, it’s fun and so full of life. What I don’t want you to get swept away in is the ideology that if you’re an ally that you have to parade it around 24/7. You can make it known but you don’t need to go over the top to be supportive. What I’ve seen is that when you over do it, it can be perceived that you are trying to seek validation that you belong IN the community or want attention for your ally-ship. If it is part of your brand identity (like mine) keep in mind that moderation is key. The vibrant colors, flags and things of that nature were not brought together to create the pride of the community for allies to flaunt (we actually have our own flag). They were designed for the community to showcase coming out, be unapologetically themselves and sharing it with the world just like anyone else. Remember, you warm the bench in this game, you’re not a first-string player.
Educate yourself on the history.
I highly suggest doing your research on equality and what it’s taken to get the community to where they are now. It wasn’t that long ago (2015) that same-sex marriages became legal in the United States, to this day there are countries where being queer is illegal and in some places you could be killed for it. One of the main stories you need to read up on that snowballed the LGBTQ movement for equality is the Stonewall Era. Also known as the Stonewall Uprising. It took place in the beautifully diverse city of New York in 1969 and the activists that followed are legendary. If you want to learn about them then read up on 15 LGBTQ Activists of Past and Present.
Pride Month isn’t the only time to show up.
Being LGBTQ+ isn’t “just a show” to put on during Pride Month and then they jump right back into the closet the other 11 months of the year. Neither is being an ally. If you’re about it, be about it year-round, on all levels. Check your co-workers, friends and family when they make -phobic or bigoted comments. Things like “that’s gay, I’m not a fairy, that’s not how it’s supposed to be” etc. when you’re mute in those moments, it speaks volumes. Not saying something enables the segregation to continue. Don’t be apart of the problem because you’re afraid of the potential backlash (imagine living in their shoes). Being an ally means that you stand for something that is more than just you and your beliefs. You’re helping fight for safety, love and equality in a society that has historically been resistant to change. If you’re afraid to speak up or show the community that you’re there for them in moments that require integrity then don’t expect to be welcomed when it comes to Pride Month.
Additionally, Pride Month is for the community. Not you. If you want to dress up in bright colors, rainbow patterns and be apart of a parade, go to a rave. You can support Pride parades and Pride month by showing up in (or even waving) the straight ally or progression flag but don’t be the goofball that tries to jump into the parade. This is their time to shine the brightest, so let them. Cheer them on from the sidelines. Hype them tf UP. You’re their Vanna White and the best way to show your support is to own that role like a damn pro.
Like I mentioned in the beginning, being an ally requires you to seriously humble yourself. You have to look intrinsically and extrinsically. Know that it takes grit and integrity to truly be an ally. It’s constant growth and being ready to accept you may have it all wrong sometimes. Don’t cut yourself off at the knees by not applying every single one of these tips to being a better ally. It can be daunting to look at the mass literature and opportunities to learn about the community and their culture. Take it in strides. No one expects perfection but be malleable.
Thank you for joining me here & I look forward to seeing you out there being a medium/supporter for the LGBTQ+ community. Feel free to share this with anyone you think it might resonate with.