10 Ways to Be a Better Ally
Here we are, the last week of June - which means Pride Month 2019 is coming to an end (*sigh* bye, glitter - until next year). Pride Month 2019 celebrated many victories for the LGBTQ+ community: Education systems are implementing better training for teachers and counselors on how to combat the high rates of suicide amongst LGBTQ+ teens, more and more restaurants, event centers, etc. are implementing gender neutral bathrooms instead of the traditional "male" and "female" bathrooms, and, Arthur, a popular public cartoon TV show sparked national attention when a gay teacher's wedding aired!
Despite the victories the LGBTQ+ community celebrated this month, there is still work to be done, and it doesn't end June 30th. Each year, hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ teens and adults commit suicide (In Iowa alone, suicide is the second most common cause of death for ages 15-34, CDC, 2018). In addition to high suicide rates, LGBTQ+ members face higher rates of violence (hate crime, sexual violence, assault, human trafficking, etc.).
So how can you encourage change? How can you make an impact? For starters, you can become an ally, or someone who supports the LGBTQ+ people. Already consider yourself an ally? Great! Consider how you can be a better one! Here is a list of 10 very simple things you can do to be a better ally:
1. If you don’t know which gender pronouns to use, ask!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve personally asked someone their gender pronoun. I know, it seems uncomfortable when you think about it. If you are a straight, cis-gendered (someone whose personal identity corresponds with their birth sex) ally, you’ve probably never been asked for your gender pronoun – but this isn’t about YOU. This is about making the LGBTQ+ community feel safe and heard. I have never received a bad response when I asked for clarification on someone’s gender pronoun. Not comfortable asking? Feel free to refer to the person by their preferred name!
2. Educate yourself and others
Don’t ask an LGBTQ+ individual to educate you – do your own research, and utilize friends who identify with the community, or identify as allies. There is a difference between asking someone about their perspectives and asking someone to educate you.
3. Don’t pick and choose
You don’t get to pick and choose which sexual orientation/pronoun you support. If you support gay rights, but can’t support the trans community, then you’re not an ally. Which brings me to my next point…
4. Confront your own biases (even if it is uncomfortable to do)
Life is about constant and continuing growth. We are always learning and trying to do better, and if we don’t, we resort to closed-mindedness, comfort, and repeating mistakes. If you are having a hard time supporting a group, ask yourself why. Consider all the reasons why you have a barrier to supporting that particular group and how it started. Get really real with yourself. Listen to other opinions and keep an open mind to try your very best to understand different perspectives.
5. Defend your LGBTQ+ friends
If you are an ally your job doesn’t stop just because you’re not in front of anyone who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community. If you are with your straight, cis-gendered friends/family/coworkers, be brave and be bold! Being a true ally means defending this community when seemingly no one else is watching.
6. Stop assuming gender and sexual orientation
I myself identify as a cis-gendered, straight female. I am privileged because no matter where I go or what I do, everyone assumes this of me, and I don’t have to ever worry about correcting anyone.
This is not the case for the LGBTQ+ community.
Imagine this: The majority of the world prefers the color yellow. Everywhere you turn, people are giving yellow flowers, wearing yellow T-shirts, driving yellow cars (etc.). But you - you like the color blue and no matter how many people you tell, you keep getting yellow birthday gifts and throughout the year people keep giving you yellow cards for different occasions because they assume you love the color yellow too!
Stop assuming people love the color yellow – er, are cis-gendered heterosexuals.
7. Support safe spaces
Safe spaces offer members of a marginalized community the ability to be themselves without fear of discrimination or derogatory language. Safe spaces not only allow individuals freedom of expression, but also a network of support for individuals to discuss the many challenges of their social identity. Not only can members of these marginalized communities heal, but allies can rally together and gain insight into the issues others experience. Is there a local coffee shop that advertises as a safe space? Does your local college or university provide a safe space for students? Find out what safe spaces are in your community and if there aren't any designated, find out how you can create or encourage one!
8. Stop and listen!
It’s so important to not only HEAR what someone has to say, but LISTEN. There are many different beliefs on the topic of gender identity and sexuality. Being an ally means standing up for the LGBTQ+ community, but to do so, you have to listen to others’ opinions. Not everyone will agree with you, and that’s okay. By listening to someone with a different view, you’re showing that individual that you truly hear them and value their opinion, which in turn, will give you the opportunity to plant a seed. A seed is all you need to help that individual grow. And remember: it’s not your job to change people, so don’t get too hard on yourself if you strike out a few times.
9. Take politics out of it
A lot of this debate usually begins with political beliefs and values. These beliefs and values are SO important, but keep in mind that it is not your job to change a person’s political beliefs. More often than not, this leads to close-minded conversation on both ends of the debate. Make a point to remain calm and collected, and if political parties get brought up, let the person know that you’re concerned about the individuals, not the political agenda behind who does or doesn’t support these marginalized communities. Express that your effort in the debate isn’t to change their political or religious beliefs, but to have a healthy and open-minded conversation about the topic so both parties can leave with more information than they came with.
10. Actions are more powerful than words
Actions speak louder than words, right?
Growing up, a rival team’s football coach had a reputation for winning, but also a not-so-great reputation when it came to his integrity and anger management. He claimed to be a Christian, a man of God, and encouraged his team to pray before games.
I remember one day when a woman at the post office defended him after his temper caused a scene at a game and resulted in the coach getting kicked off the field – “But he’s such a good man, a true Christian!” the woman said (Did I forget to add that he flipped the bird to the opposing crowd and high school team while kicking and screaming off the field?).
My mother, who rarely engaged in any sort of conflict, big or small, responded, “He can claim to be a Christian, but he certainly doesn’t act like one.” Mom believed Christians make mistakes, but knew the value of actions over words.
The same is true for allies! You can claim all you want that you support the LGBTQ+ community, but if you don’t act on it, you’re failing as an ally. Attend pride parades, support safe spaces, learn your pronouns and encourage others to do the same. Allies are so valued to these marginalized communities, and your active support is what helps this community have a voice. Your support is important, memorable, and contagious.
Keep up the great work you rockin’ ally, you!