LGBT+ people are both your family members and your friends, which means that you should seize the opportunity to be an ally at home, university and work. An ally can be someone who supports and accepts an LGBT+ individual, or a person who actively advocates for the movement toward equal rights and treatment of the LGBT+ community. Allies are vital voices to the LGBT+ movement, as their support can help reinforce values of respect, acceptance and equality in coming-out processes and societal perceptions of the community.
Here are some ways you can be an ally to LGBT people and really mean it.
Be aware of the space you take up
Like Delphi Macpherson, the LGBT officer for the Edinburgh University Students’ Association, told The Student, the main points here are for allies to be aware of the space they take up in LGBT+ spaces and to not dominate discussions and conversations on queer matters or invade LGBT+ only places. Of course, positive engagement is encouraged, whether it’s going to a gay bar with your queer friends or asking questions to learn more, but, ultimately, the LGBT+ community is a safe-space where people who may feel different because of their sexuality can find comfort with other people of similar identities. Often allies can turn LGBT+ issues into an ‘issue for allies’, which may draw attention away from issues faced by LGBT+ people and the support they need. Delphi advises, “Do not attempt to explain the experiences of queer people to queer people. We know what homophobia feels like – we face it every day.” Usually, queer people know what would be best and safest for them. Listen to your queer friends, hear their experiences, and build from that.
We all know the stereotypes surrounding LGBT+ people, but they are not representative of what queer people look or act like. Media depictions of LGBT+ people tend to be unrealistic and they fail to embody the community’s diverse membership. Think outside of the box and accept someone for what they define themselves as, no matter how fitting or unfitting you think they are of queer stereotypes. Queer people can look like and be anyone, so be open-minded, take the opportunity to learn, and educate those around you on the negative impact of such stereotypes.
Don’t ask inappropriate questions and don’t make assumptions about someone’s identity and sexuality. Rethink gender normativity. Don’t minimize or exaggerate someone’s queerness if you don’t know how they define themselves. Don’t make harmful jokes, such as the “hah gay” comment, which from personal experience can be tiresome and hurtful. Remember that nobody knows everything. Don’t be scared to accept that you don’t know. Learn from mistakes and misunderstandings, ask questions and educate yourself. Homophobia and transphobia are institutional and sometimes you may feel prejudice, as this is something we are all susceptible to. So try to be reflective of your own behaviour and thoughts to become an understanding, respectful and much needed ally. Believe that all people, regardless of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation, deserve dignity and respect from their peers.
Be an active supporter
Defend your queer friends from discrimination and prejudice. It’s so important to call out discriminatory behaviour and it is tedious when this task is constantly left up to LGBT+ people. This should be everyone’s responsibility and not just the victims of such ignorant behaviour. There is still an overwhelming amount of work to be done until LGBT+ people are treated equally under law and policy. Therefore you, as an ally, should contribute to the movement whenever and however you can. Most importantly, allies’ help and support is usually needed in situations outside the legal system, for example in family rejection, public harassment, or belittling media representations. The truth is hard to face: even legal victories for the LGBT+ community will not necessarily improve the social conditions for its members.
Your job as an ally is not to be the LGBT+ community’s counsellor, but rather a good listener. Ask your queer friends how they are doing, offer support, and be aware of what they may have gone through, and are currently going through, to the best of your ability.
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