Be a Good Ally for Ally Week

October 16, 2012 By Josh Steichmann

There’s often a misconception that the only people who care about equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are those LGBT people themselves; it plays into the notion that LGBT concerns are somehow “special rights” and serves to marginalize an already marginalized population. It’s a myth, and a harmful one.

Allies are an important part of the work that we do at Equality California, and they’re integral to every ballot campaign, making sure every school is safe, and ending decades of discrimination. EQCA has always been a broad coalition, and allies are part of that.

As part of the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s Ally Week, here are some tips on being the strongest ally you can be.

1) Listen
The concerns of LGBT people are often ignored, misunderstood or even mocked. Just starting out by listening openly to what your friends, classmates, relatives or even strangers are saying both gives you a good start on learning what LGBT people want and how they feel. That means they’ll be more open to talking to you about more complex stuff, and specifically how you can help.

2) Try not to generalize too much
Not all LGBT people are the same or want the same things. Obvious, right? But people often cherry pick what one LGBT person said and don’t realize that just because, say, your neighbor doesn’t want to get married doesn’t mean that no LGBT people think the freedom to marry is important. Likewise, remember that no one person speaks for all LGBT people, or that because your gay friend says certain things that other LGBT people wouldn’t be offended by it. Each LGBT person is a person, not a representative or a stereotype.

3) Speak up
Often, people say ignorant, discriminatory or hurtful things about LGBT people when they don’t think that there are any around. This is one of the best opportunities to check negative attitudes, by speaking up and letting people know that what they said offends you. Not on behalf of any LGBT person, but because we all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Don’t only be an ally when it’s convenient — if someone insults LGBT people, call them out.

4) Educate yourself
One good resource is the Movement Advancement Project’s “An Ally’s Guide to Terminology.” The MAP Project bases their guide on focus group and study data, and it’s not all-encompassing, but it is a good start for how to start talking about LGBT people and issues.

5) Stay teachable
It can sting to get called out when you’re trying to be helpful, but remember that as an ally, you’re talking about and to a significant part of many people’s lives. They live it, you don’t. Because of that, you’ll probably say some stuff that’s ignorant or unintentionally hurtful. When someone corrects you, it’s usually best to apologize and make a mental note — straight people arguing that they know better than LGBT people about LGBT people’s lives is a regular part of the opposition’s tactics. Don’t be that guy or girl.

6) Get organized
Supporting full equality for LGBT people should be the norm, but not everyone’s there yet. We may have a friend in the White House, but that doesn’t mean we have one in your neighbor’s house. Getting involved with organizations like EQCA and GLSEN or your local Gay-Straight Alliance is a great way to turn the growing number of supporters of LGBT equality into real progress.

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