How to Be an Ally
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
So, you want to be an ally. But what is an ally? How should you practice your allyship?
This guide will show you how.
What is an LGBTQ+ ally?
An LGBTQ+ ally is a cisgender (someone who identified with the gender assigned at birth), heterosexual person who stands by LGBTQ+ people, championing and defending their rights.
These people become allies in society by displaying their support for LGBTQ+ people in many different ways, namely through actions and languages.
But what actions and language should you adopt if you want to be an ally?
Where should I start?
The first and foremost important thing is teaching yourself about the people you’re supporting.
This can done be through asking questions (with permission of course), finding information on the internet, and even subscribing to educational LGBTQ+ social media accounts. You don’t have to stop here either. With online forums and more LGBTQ+ books than ever, the opportunity to educate yourself on how to be an LGBTQ+ ally is greater than ever.
Keep in mind that your LGBTQ+ friends have no obligation to teach you themselves, some questions can often feel invasive, so be sure to be respectful when asking them.
Your friends are also not walking encyclopaedias (though some pride encyclopaedias would be very pleasing), some LGBTQ+ folks just won’t know much beyond their own personal feelings.
What tools should I use as an ally?
Sometimes, all the support someone wants is to be listened to. Although you might not be directly able to relate to your friend’s experience, being there to tell them that they are loved and supported is something a true ally and friend should do.
What do you do when your voice is needed, and not just your empathy?
As an ally it is important to spread the word and to help educate others.
For example, this means correcting people when they make assumptions about sexuality or gender.
It means correcting them when they use pronouns incorrectly. But above that, it is about teaching people why those things matter, so that they can go forward understanding the importance of inclusive and respectful language.
Let’s break this down.
It’s good knowing that a recipe needs a litre of stock in it, but if you don’t know why it’s important, you can’t apply that knowledge to other recipes. The same goes here. You can teach someone the pronouns for one of your friends, but they’ll be lost elsewhere if they don’t know anything about gender identities, what different pronouns are suitable for, and when to ask for someone’s pronouns!
The same applies for assumptions about how people feel. Knowing the basic definition of asexual is a good starting point however, most sexualities are a spectrum. So, don’t let people assume stereotypes or assume people of a sexuality are the same. Remind them that feelings differ within sexualities.
Always ask for permission.
Asking questions is good and can help you to learn as an ally, but it is important to ask for their permission beforehand.
This doesn’t just apply to those who have not come out. With any questions you may have for your LGBTQ+ friends, you need to make sure they’re comfortable with answering the questions.
It is also important to remember that not every LGBTQ+ person knows everything about LGBTQ+ matters, everyone is still constantly learning how to best support each other, even within the community.
Whether they’re passive to questions, or clearly dying to answer, once you have your friend’s permission, questions about how they feel, about how to address them correctly and more are welcome.
Not only does this help you as the ally to be more confident in supporting them, but sometimes answering specific questions on their feelings can help someone LGBTQ+ to understand themselves better.
Make a habit of asking someone’s pronouns.
Some things take adjusting to, and most likely, an LGBTQ+ friend won’t get offended if you accidentally use the wrong pronoun, these things happen.
By asking for pronouns every time you meet someone new, you’re not only getting yourself into better habits, but you’re eliminating the habit we all have of making assumptions.
Even if you assume that someone is cisgender, it is always best to ask for their pronouns as it reinforces the importance of pronouns and removes the need for someone to correct you, which can be quite daunting for them.
Not only will this help you get into good habits, but as an ally, it is also a fantastic way to set a good example for others.
Public support is equally important. And not just for when you are in front of your friends. As an ally, you are now supporting everyone in the community in some way or another and this requires public action (nothing crazy like starting a riot, don’t worry).
Public action includes teaching others, correcting them and setting a good example. But it also includes defending the community.
In reality, some people just don’t know what is appropriate, some people discriminate, and there’s lots of people in between. As an ally you have a responsibility to correct and even challenge backwards attitudes, language and actions for your LGBTQ+ friends and the community.
Even if your friend is not out, defending how they feel and their right to life is important to make it safe for them to come out if and when they are ready.
Fighting discrimination is something anyone can do. All it takes is courage, friendship and support. So, when you hear something that’s not right, say so. Speak up. Educate. Challenge backwards attitudes.
As an ally you are announcing that you support LGBTQ+ folks, not just your friends, and not just privately, but always.