Allies. A topic of debate for many within the LGBTQIA+ community. Every June this debate comes up: should allies be allowed into queer events and locations and if so, to what extent? No matter what side of the debate you come out on, we all know that there are good and bad ways to be an ally. Sometimes allies can do more harm than good and it can be really hard to comment on that if you don’t have a suggestion for how to be a better ally. So go ahead, send this article to all your cis-het friends who want to support you and be a good ally but don’t know how. At the end, there will be a summative list of quick notes on how to be a good ally (in our perception).
As we near the end of Pride Month I took to the internet to ask fellow queers what makes somebody a good ally. I have compiled some of the best responses and added my own commentary after each entry.
#1. “A good ally is someone who accepts those around them no matter who they are, where they come from or how they identify… They are people who don’t compare themselves or others to each other based on sexuality or gender or anything at all because they understand and appreciate people’s differences. An ally is a person who marries off gay couples and who creates safe spaces wherever they go. It’s a person seen at pride (not protesting)[.] It’s a person who doesn’t simply accept others but one who celebrates people’s differences. An ally doesn’t have to prove themselves of not being accepting because they live and breathe through acceptance. They don’t have to prove they are supportive upon a person coming out to them by saying things like “I’ve experimented too” or “I support gays but…” because allies are people who can be as straight as a ruler yet still an ally and therefore don’t need to prove anything.” – Yaelle, 18, Toronto
Yaelle touches upon a few great points here that I think are really important. Her thoughts about not comparing the ally in question’s queer friends is a really good one. Often when somebody comes out, their friends think that they’re being good allies if they immediately connect them to every other queer person they know. While building LGBTQIA+ community is important and helpful, it can also be hurtful when you’re lumped in a group of others that you may not relate to at all just because you’re all queer. Also, the last sentence that Yaelle wrote is really important. A lot of people think that the way to be an ally is to try and be relatable, even if they can’t relate. In actuality, this can seem dismissive as if they don’t believe your identity and equate it to experimenting. She also mentioned the infamous “I support gays but…”. Nobody is fooled by this. If there’s a “but” tacked on at the end of your support statement, you’re probably not as supportive as you think you are. Imagine the emotional roller coaster of thinking you’re about to be supported and then hearing that there are criteria for them to accept you. Learn to let go of that “but” and truly accept people for who they are.
#2. Allies come in all shapes and sizes. From mothers to brothers, from friends to, well, other friends, almost anyone can be an ally. All it really takes to be an ally is to treat any member of the LGBTQ+ community as if they were your best friend. No, this doesn’t mean you need to, or even should, greet every queer person with shrieking hugs or assume they know all of your secret handshakes; it means you must value their emotions on a personal level. Would you let someone trash-talk your best friend? Probably not. Wouldn’t you ask your friend if it’s okay for you to say something about them before saying it? You probably would. Would you be there for your best friends if they got hurt? I would hope so. Ultimately, all you have to do is think like a best friend. – Gav, New Jersey, 16
One of the things I always tell (cis-het) people who decide they want to get more involved with the LGBTQIA+ community is to just treat us like normal people. Because we are normal people. There’s absolutely no need to “act gay” to try and make us comfortable or to only discuss queer topics around us. As Gav said, no shrieking hugs. However, this doesn’t mean that we can be the butt of your jokes. Find a happy medium between being overly into it and not caring about us. “You must value their emotions on a personal level.” This perfectly encapsulates what being an ally should be about. If you respect somebody’s emotions you will not put them down, you will stand up for them, you will be a wonderful ally. It really is that simple.
#3. A good ally… to me, is three things. They’re someone who will stand up for their queer friends and make sure they don’t feel excluded… like not laughing if someone makes a homophobic joke or less obvious things, like not assuming that everyone is straight and cis when they first meet. I think an ally should also not be afraid to do research or ask questions so they know about different identities and terminology – better that people should ask than awkwardly smile and nod and not communicate with their friends. And last but definitely not least, a good ally celebrates their queer friends’ happinesses the same way they celebrate other happinesses – squeaking over relationship milestones with you, or being annoying around your crush on purpose, or lending you their older brother’s clothing because you need an outfit and are feeling dysphoric. At the end of the day, an ally is a person who makes an effort to learn and care about queer people. – Anonymous, 16, Pennsylvania
It seems like such a simple and obvious thing not to do but self-proclaimed allies laugh at homophobic jokes all the time. “Well, it’s funny” or “But I didn’t say it” are not good excuses. At a base level, you are exploiting my identity as a joke, something to be mocked and laughed at and that is in no way acceptable. Moving on, I agree that not assuming that people are cis-het seems to be a really difficult thing for allies to do. And of course it is in this cis-heteronormative society we’ve all been raised in! Hard as it may be, it’s so important to recognize. Straight and cisgendered are not the “normal” even though they are the majority. It’s so essential to acknowledge that and keep that in mind when meeting new people. Another great point is that research is not only okay but encouraged. If we come out to you using a term you don’t know, instead of mocking us and saying that we made it up, ask us for a definition. Then go home and look into it. Read a few articles, maybe find a cool Youtuber that identifies in the same way. I’m sure your friend will really appreciate it. Also, if you plan on being an ally and backing us up when we need it, how are you going to do that if you know nothing about the community? It’s so much easier to have a coherent defence against homo/transphobia if you know the facts. Lastly, I’m going to mention normalizing us again. This seems to be a common theme of what an ally should be. Don’t treat us differently because we’re queer, embrace us for who we are and celebrate our happinesses as you’d celebrate a straight or cis person’s happiness.
#4. I think what makes a good ally is someone who doesn’t make it their “brand”, not someone who keeps making a big deal out of being an ally. [E]specially not someone who thinks they represent the LGBTQ+ community. [W]hat makes a good ally is someone who respects not just the L or the G in LGBTQ+ but ALL of the community. – Yulya, 14, Texas
I was really hoping this would be said. Allies who use being an ally to their advantage or build their “brand” around being an ally can be really frustrating. I appreciate the support from any ally but when they use it as a big part of who they are or to try and force themselves into the LGBTQ+ community just for being an ally it seems almost as if they are taking something away from us. Do not steal our community and use it for your personal identity. This is particularly seen when people say that the A in LGBTQIA+ stands for ally, as if they are just as much a part of the community as we are. This isn’t about being exclusive or trying to push them away, it’s about the importance of queer community and building a safe place for ourselves. This can be really hard to do when these spaces are overrun with allies or friends. Community building relies on having something in common and just appreciating that something in common does not equate being in the community. Also, Yulya’s last point about respecting all of the people within the community and not just gay and lesbian people is such a necessary thing to say. Often you hear people saying that they support the community but then they say things such as “Can’t bisexual people just choose a side?”, “I don’t believe in non-binary people; there are only two genders!”, and “Ugh why are there so many labels these days? You’re either straight or you aren’t!”. These are incredibly invalidating and upsetting to hear. If you don’t respect everyone in the community, you are not a true ally.
#5. I think what makes a good ally is someone who speaks up in favour not only in private but also in public setting. Someone who not only supports but is either willing to or want[s] to learn more… a good wingperson basically. – Anonymous, 16, Toronto
Again, this seems obvious, but so many allies think it’s fine to remain silent when the topic is brought up publicly and only show support on a one-on-one basis. They privately say that they accept you, but do not publicly stand up for you when you need it. They need to be willing to stand up for the community whether there are queer people around or not. We’ve also mentioned research before, but learning about the community, whether that be the history or the different kinds of people, is really important. It can be so reassuring when an ally knows information about the community so that you can really talk to them and not feel like you have to be their educator the whole time.
While these lovely young queers had wonderful ideas of what they think it means to be an ally, I myself have a couple points to add. If you are an ally, know your place. While support is great and necessary, we also need representation. If you’re at the forefront of our movements and always taking the stage it can leave little to no room for queer people to speak their mind and have a platform. Be there to support us but don’t overstep and start pushing us out of the way. Speak up but then stand back and let us lead. Also, check if we’re okay with what you’re doing and/or saying. Your job, at it’s core, is to make sure we’re okay and to be there for us, as a community. Being an ally is not about you, it is about us. Essentially, it’s about who we are, what we represent, and how we should be treated. Lastly, inclusion. Is. Key. If you are an ally (or trying to be one) your goal should be making us feel as normal and safe as possible. If you only hang out with us at queer events but don’t want to be our friend otherwise, that’s using us not being an ally.
- Don’t compare all your queer friends just because they’re queer. They are individual people and deserve to be seen as such.
- Don’t try and be relatable to your queer friends if you can’t relate to us about queer culture.
- Don’t say “I support the gays, but…” There shouldn’t be a condition for acceptance.
- Don’t be too into it and go into Gay Mode around us as if you’re part of the community.
- Value our emotions entirely.
- Don’t laugh at homophobic jokes, stick up for us.
- Don’t assume that everybody is straight and cisgendered.
- Research the community! Know our history and what terms beyond lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender mean.
- Just be normal! Treat us how you’d treat others, don’t make it different.
- Don’t remain silent: stand up for the community publicly especially if there is nobody from the community to represent us.
- Don’t treat us like it’s our job to educate you.
- Don’t overstep. you can support us but don’t force yourself into the community.
- Respect all of us, not just gay and lesbian people.
- Make sure we have room to speak for ourselves.
- Make sure we feel comfortable and safe as much as possible.
If you disagree with any of this or you have something to add, feel free to leave it in the comments!