How To Be A Great Ally to Your LGBTQIA+ Friends
Before you start rainbowing all the things, please give this a read.
Being an ally is like having a nickname; it’s not really something you get to decide for yourself; your friends make that call for you. Being a good ally goes beyond putting up a rainbow flag, but if you’re willing to put the work in, your LGBTQIA+ friends will notice the outpouring of support that you're offering. Ready to get to work? Let’s go!
Learn the history...
Pride is celebrated in June to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots at New York City’s Stonewall Inn on June 28th, 1969. It was common practice at the time for police to raid gay bars and arrest anyone they suspected of impersonating a different gender.
As one such raid unfolded, the bar patrons took a stand and refused to cooperate with the police. Under threat of arrest, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn found solidarity with people on the street, and a days-long protest began. Early LGBTQIA+ rights activists like Marsha P. Johnson, Silvia Rivera, and Stormé DeLarverie led the charge for the right to exist.
Consider your privilege.
Are you able to walk down any street in broad daylight and hold your partner’s hand without considering the consequences? Can you use the bathroom of your choice without fear? Can you participate in school sports without the threat of a teacher “verifying” your gender? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, congratulations, you’re living with privilege. This is typically referred to as “passing privilege” because you “pass” as a straight or a cis identifying person. (That’s when your gender matches the gender assigned to you at birth.)
But being privileged in some ways doesn’t mean life isn’t challenging in other ways. It just means that you don’t have the additional challenges of being LGBTQIA+ in a primarily straight, cis society. Privilege can be a difficult thing to talk about, but recognizing one’s privilege is essential because if something isn’t a problem for the majority, there’s a misperception that a problem even exists at all.
Luckily, once you recognize your privilege, you can use it to help your LGBTQIA+ friends. Here’s how:
Listen to and amplify LGBTQIA+ voices.
LGBTQIA+ people are involved in literally every aspect of media. Share your favorite influencers with your friends. Start a book club featuring LGBTQIA+ authors. Introduce LGBTQIA+ artists that inspire you to your family. Spark conversations about gender expression and trans rights among your straight friends. Listen and carry these messages into aspects of your life that are lacking LGBTQIA+ inclusion.
Be an informed citizen and VOTE!
Politics determines whether LGBTQIA+ people can marry, start a family, or simply just NOT be harassed for existing in a public space. To be an ally, you need to be informed of the political decisions that affect the LGBTQIA+ community and know which politicians support measures that will improve or harm their lives.
LGBTQIA+ rights are human rights, and while it’s sad we’re still in the process of fighting for them, we DO have to fight for them, especially when the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQIA+ population are at risk.
Learn the lingo, but don’t make your LGBTQIA+ friends teach you.
What’s with all the “new” words, and why should you bother learning them? LGBTQIA+ people aren’t anything new, but our society and its terms were made with straight, cis-identifying people in mind. Only in more recent times are LGBTQIA+ people able to be open about who they are and who they love, and as a result, the way we speak about them is evolving. New words form because there is a societal need for them.
It’s okay not to know something, but it’s not the responsibility of your LGBTQIA+ friends to teach you. Fortunately, the internet has a wealth of resources! Add to your vocabulary with this starter list of words LGBTQIA+ people commonly use to express their experiences.
Normalize offering up your pronouns when meeting someone new.
Break the habit of assuming a person’s gender based on how they look or dress. Offering up your pronouns is easy, and it normalizes the act as part of a regular introduction. It can be as simple as, “Hi, I’m (name), my pronouns are (he/him; she/her; they/them).”
If the other person offers up their pronouns in response, make sure you use them correctly. If you do mess up, fix your mistake, apologize, and move on! It’s better than not trying at all.
If pronouns are really tripping you up, head over to this handy guide to understanding pronouns!
Donate your money or time to LGBTQIA+ organizations and businesses – and avoid ones that actively cause harm.
Donate to whatever cause moves you, but LGBTQIA+ black and brown youth organizations need some extra help right now because they’re disproportionately affected by homelessness and police violence. Most community organizations run on donation money, as well as the time and efforts of volunteers willing to help those who need it most.
On the flip side, avoid organizations and businesses that actively harm the community by supporting anti-LGBTQIA+ policies and legislation. Be conscious of where your hard-earned money goes and how the organizations YOU choose to support helps others.
Speak up and show up.
There are lots of ways to do this, though it’s not always easy. Attend rallies and demonstrations when you can. Support local elections and volunteer to help register people to vote. Be part of your LGBTQIA+ friends’ support systems. Speak up when a family member, coworker, or friend says something offensive or harmful, even though it seems easy enough to excuse it because someone is “set in their ways” or is a “really nice” person otherwise. Ask yourself: if you were an LGBTQIA+ person, would that “really nice” person still be nice to you?
Don’t call them out on the street – even in solidarity.
If you wouldn’t do it to a heterosexual couple or person, don’t do it to LGBTQIA+ people. Complimenting someone is nice, but it’s best not to draw attention to them while doing so, especially when they’re just out living their lives. It might seem supportive to yell a compliment to a queer couple that they look cute together or shout “Love is love!” as they pass by, but there’s a chance that
A. They know they look cute.
B. You just caused them unwanted attention from onlookers, which could now pose a possible safety risk for them, and...
C. ...they just want to be treated like anyone else!