How to be a good LGBTQ+ ally

Posted on 28 Oct 2021

As leaves redden and pumpkin spice latte sales go through the roof, the LGBTQ+ community says goodbye to a long and corporate pride season. Companies have ripped off their rainbow logos and pride events leave only glitter in their wake, but this does not mean that straight and cisgender - non LGBTQ+ - people can assume that homophobia and transphobia are a thing of the past.

This is far from the case. With a recent surge in LGBTQ+ related hate crime in the UK, it is vital that those outside of the community educate themselves to support a vulnerable group. We, more than ever, rely on the help of allies to protect ourselves from misinformation, stereotypes and violence.

But what exactly is an ally? For a quick definition, an ally is a straight or cisgender person who uses their privilege to actively fight against homophobia and transphobia. In turn, they amplify LGBTQ+ voices.

This sounds like a huge responsibility, but the good news is that there are many simple acts of allyship to help support your tired LGBTQ+ pals (some of which, you can do without leaving your sofa).

So without further ado, here are five steps to become an LGBTQ+ ally:

Be aware - being part of a minority means constantly standing up for our rights which is - and we cannot stress this enough - exhausting. The responsibility to call out anything from a simple mistake (such unintentionally misgendering someone) to blatant homophobia or transphobia, should not fall entirely on the community’s shoulders.

Be aware of these situations and don’t be afraid to gently correct someone, or explain why something they said could be harmful. Any LGBTQ+ people around you - closeted or not - will greatly appreciate this.

Alternatively: calling people out in person can be intimidating, so drawing attention to LGBTQ+ issues online is just as important! Sharing a positive article or putting your pronouns (he, she, they, etc) in your bio are small signs that you are someone the community can trust.

Reach out - at a time when LGBTQ+ people are twice as likely to experience mental health problems than their straight or cisgender counterparts, it’s more important than ever to reach out to your friends, family and colleagues.

If you see an incident of queer-phobic violence in the news, know that someone you love is in an unsafe situation, or simply struggling with their mental health, drop them a line and let them know you’re thinking of them, or offer to help them with something they’re struggling with. Knowing that they have support around them can be lifesaving for an LGBTQ+ individual.

Alternatively: big up the LGBTQ+ people in your life and beyond by promoting their art, events, or achievements. We love validation as much as the next person, and it is simple celebrations of identity that can be the most comforting.

Ask questions: most of the time, LGBTQ+ people are happy to answer questions and will be grateful that you’re making an effort to educate yourself. Numerous trans friends have expressed to me the impact of being asked their pronouns, or how they identify, in a world that makes consistent assumptions about the community.

However, think before you speak and be conscious of your surroundings. Your LGBTQ+ friend may not be ‘out’ in certain situations or around certain people, and your question may compromise their safety. Also consider whether you would like to be asked the question yourself: enquiring how someone has sex, or how they feel about their body - unless you’re a sexual partner - is invasive and will likely cause unnecessary discomfort.

Alternatively: If you’re unsure how to refer to somebody but feel awkward asking, look for visual clues. Trans people in particular often wear badges or clothing to signal their identity or pronouns to others. Be careful not to make assumptions based on appearance though (such as assuming that someone with long hair identifies as a woman) as someone’s gender expression can differ vastly from their gender identity.

Listen: sometimes, Google is your friend! While it’s important to ask questions, consider whether you could easily search for the answer yourself, without relying on someone within the community. There are plenty of resources and people offering up their voices to educate allies in training. Be critical of personal sources such as Youtube videos or blogs, as while these can provide useful information, they are often not as objective as they first appear.

Alternatively: if you’d like to learn about the community indirectly, check out books, music, or films by LGBTQ+ artists, or with LGBTQ+ representation. Remember to be similarly critical of the media you consume - a single book or film can only represent an individual’s experiences and cannot speak for the whole community.

Remember: we are people too! The media loves to fetishise, patronise, and alienate the LGBTQ+ community without giving us the chance to speak for ourselves. We are not defined solely by our gender or sexuality and - shock horror - have personalities and interests beyond these aspects of ourselves.

For various reasons, some members of the community are less visible than others. This does not make them any less worthy of allyship, and conversely often means they need increased support.

So look out for your LGBTQ+ friends and family — we greatly appreciate the smallest act of support.

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