What is an Ally? Why be an Ally?
An ally is an individual who speaks up and stands up for a person or group that is targeted and discriminated against. For the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) community, an ally is a person who supports and respects members of the LGBTQ+ community. Active allies take action in supporting equal civil rights, gender equality and stand up against discrimination. Anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, can support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
At an institute, all students are at risk of being bullied, harassed or called names at, but LGBTQ+ students face particularly hostile environments. Lack of an inclusive environment can seriously hamper growth of these students. Many of them may possess talent and potential that is hindered by the challenges they face in college. Your visible support for these students will have a significant impact on the students and the university as a whole.
Thus, allies help students feel safer and more included in the college, resulting in a more positive and successful college experience.
And do remember, you don’t have to be LGBTQ+ to be an ally.
Assessing your personal beliefs
People aren’t born prejudiced, so where does it come from? From the moment we are born, we are inundated with messages, spoken and unspoken, about different types of people. Often we learn stereotypes and prejudices without even realizing it.
Try to remember
When was the first time you can remember learning that some people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer?
Where did most of the influence of your initial impressions come from? (e.g., family, friends, television, books, news)?
Were these positive references or did they have negative connotations?
It is important to understand your own beliefs to become an ally. It makes you realize if you have internalized homophobia, biphobia or transphobia. It’s important to be aware of your stand and recognize & challenge your own biases.
How to be an Ally?
Part of being an ally means being there for people when they need you. Like everyone else, LGBTQ+ individuals need to feel comfortable expressing themselves. If your friend or a batchmate comes to talk to you about feeling excluded, an unfortunate event or just about their life in general, bear in mind that you may be the only person they feel safe speaking to. Be there to listen.
Break down the internalized biases that we all hold, which includes recognizing and working to not judge or make assumptions about people’s identities, experiences, or relationships. Be open to the variety of identities and expressions and show others that you understand there is no one way a person “should” be.
It is wise to brush up on the issues that currently affect various members of the LGBTQ+ community. Educate yourself by reading articles or books, listening to podcasts, or watching videos by queer people about their experiences.
If you’re having trouble understanding specific topics, like the importance of using gender pronouns, find resources that will help you navigate those concepts. Listen to queer people, but don’t necessarily require queer people to educate you on their identity.
Respond to anti-LGBTQ behavior when it occurs or when you hear about it. If you hear or see something damaging towards the LGBTQ+ community, gently point out the problem. When you speak up, it educates others, lets them know their words and actions are unacceptable and may give others the courage to speak up.
One of the best ways is to simply start a conversation. At times, the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t get heard; thus, it’s essential for us to realize our privilege and start a conversation. Helping educate others reinforces your learning. This could take on the form of engaging or respectfully bringing issues to the attention of family members, friends, and colleagues when something happens and informing them about anti-LGBTQ bias. Using inclusive language will help LGBTQ+ people feel more comfortable being themselves. Through casual conversations & during classroom or work time, make sure the language you are using is inclusive of all.
While getting better acquainted with the LGBTQ+ community, you might make mistakes — and that's okay. Acknowledge that and aim to do better next time. That is the essence of being a good ally.
How to respond to someone coming out.
Simply put, coming out is a means to publicly declare one’s identity, whether to a person in private or a group of people. In our society, most people are generally presumed to be heterosexual and cisgender. That’s why a person who is LGBT must decide whether or not to reveal to others their sexual orientation or gender identity.
To come out is to take a risk by sharing one’s identity, sometimes to one person in conversation, sometimes to a group, or in a public setting. The actual act of coming out can be as simple as saying, “I’m gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender,” but it can be a difficult and emotional process for an LGBT student to go through.
That is why it is important to respond appropriately when someone comes out to you-
Let them speak and listen
Allow them to tell you at their own pace. Be patient. Let them determine what is needed. Allow them to talk to you about everything because chances are they have put a lot of thought into what they would say and you want to allow them to speak with small reassuring gestures and words. Let them know you are there to listen.
Appreciate their courage
Coming out to someone is a big step because they’re being vulnerable with you. Choosing to tell you means that they have a great deal of respect and trust for you. So, make sure you let them know how proud you are. Help them know that they made the right decision in choosing to tell you. It need not be a big deal, especially if they’ve been out for a while, but it’s still kind to acknowledge them.
Remember that the person has not changed
The main fear for people coming out is that their friends and family will reject them. The person probably feels that coming out will change everything in their life, and this is frightening. They are still the same person you knew before the disclosure; you just have more information about them, which might improve your relationship. Be the friend you have always been. Do what you have always done together. If y’all loved going out to that cafe nearby, then continue that.
Assure and protect the person's privacy
The person told you and may or may not be ready to tell others. Let them know that the conversation is confidential and that you won’t share the information with anyone else unless they ask you to. If they want others to know, doing it in their own way with their own timing is important. Keep their confidence and respect their privacy. Offer and be available to support them as they come out to others.
So just keep calm and keep being their friend. If there are questions you can’t answer, or if the person does need some emotional support, refer them to a professional queer-affirmative counselor, a hotline or your institute’s LGBT support group.
For IITB, you can suggest the person talk to a counselor at SWC or contact us at SAATHI.
Thank you for reading till the end. Your actions can help others live to the fullest free of any prejudice. We hope the actions you take make you a great ally. This article is curated from Guide to BEING AN ALLY TO LGBTQ+ YOUTH by Anchor (Gender & Sexuality Cell), BITS PILANI and The Safe Space Kit: Guide to Being an Ally to LGBT Students by GLSEN.
Guide to being a straight ally by PFLAG