An ally is an individual who speaks out and stands up for a person or group that is targeted and discriminated against. An ally works to end oppression by supporting and advocating for people who are stigmatized, discriminated against or treated unfairly (GLSEN, 2013: 5)
Allies are critical in helping and supporting LGBTQ2S youth. Allies act as a bridge in the conversations needed to increase awareness and acceptance on LGBTQ2S issues. Allies also show the LGBTQ2S community that they are not alone in the struggle for equality. Being an ally means speaking up and taking action when you witness a homophobic, biphobic or transphobic incident.
In activist cultures, an ally is a person who belongs to a group which has particular privileges, and who works alongside people from groups that are oppressed in relation to that privilege. The hope is to create change and increase social justice in relation to this oppression (Reynolds, 2010b: 13).
Reynolds explains that the role of allies is to work towards creating space for marginalised/oppressed individuals to speak about their experiences and have their truths listened to by others. Allies should not try to speak on behalf of others. Allies are able to choose when they are going take a stand. “When you are the queer, two-spirit or transgender person experiencing oppression you don’t get to choose to not be in those locations. An ally position is a voluntary thing I can sign up for and I always have the privilege of walking away. This makes it risky to trust allies” (Reynolds, 2010: 14). Allies need to gain the trust of marginalised/oppressed individuals and groups. We do this by being consistent. Allies are always becoming allies. If we are not being an ally, then we are replicating oppression.
It is not always safe to be an ally and allies need to selective about when they speak up. “For example, challenging a drunk and angry man on a bus shouting homophobic words may not be the most useful act of the ally. Accompanying the persons attacked, and inviting solidarity from other riders may be a more prudent response” (Reynolds, 2010b: 15).
To be an ally means being vulnerable. Allies need to be able to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers and that they do not understand the experiences of marginalised/oppressed groups. This means having empathy rather than sympathy. Please watch this animated video that shows the difference between sympathy and empathy with a voice over by Brene Brown.
Just as allies need to use the areas where we have privilege to create space, we also need to use the areas where we lack privilege to create common ground and empathy. We also need to be able to create spaces where oppressed/marginalised groups can express their frustrations and anger at the oppression they endure.
GLAAD went to three American colleges and asked LGBTQ2S youth what makes a good ally. Here is the video from these interviews.
These are a few tips to help you be a better ally for LGBTQ2S youth you work with:
- Acknowledge the privilege you experience based on being heterosexual and cisgender (among your other forms of privilege).
- Continue to take time to learn more about LGBTQ2S issues. A lot of homophobic and transphobic ideas are based in old thinking. Learning about LGBTQ2S history and the contemporary human rights landscape is important in being able to speak accurately to the less enlightened.
- Try to adopt language that is inclusive. Don’t assume someone has a boyfriend/girlfriend, instead use terms like partner or significant other. Also respect pronouns. Politely correct others when they use incorrect terms.
- Respect the identity of trans men and women. Use the name they share with you instead of what may be on the identification (it costs a lot of money to legally change a name and there are a lot of hoops to jump through, many trans youth can’t afford the costs, and the lack of a permanent address can make this nearly impossible).
- Avoid terms like “real” or “biological”. Instead use the term “cis”.
- Respect the confidentiality of LGBTQ2S people you meet. Do not out them. Just because someone has shared their sexuality or gender identity with you does not mean it is common knowledge. Do not disclose someone’s sexuality or gender identity without their consent. Many LGBTQ2S people are concerned for their safety and you may be one of the few people they have told. You should only share if it is relevant. For example, “I am taking Sally to the clothing room, because she is transgender” is not acceptable. “I need to refer a youth to a doctor that is trans-positive, can you recommend a clinic?” is acceptable.
- Learn how to identify homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and how it is prevalent in our society. Develop strategies to challenge homophobic and transphobic comments when you hear them. Share your strategies with others.
- Be willing to have your ideas of sexuality and gender challenged. Acknowledge that your ideas are shaped by your experiences and that others may not share your views. Sexuality and gender identity are social constructs and are constantly evolving. For example not all women want to wear dresses nor all men to play sports.
- Adopting inclusive language signals to LGBTQ2S people that you are aware of the issues they encounter every day and that you have taken steps to educate yourself to be an ally. You can still wear an ally button, but actions speak louder than slogans.
- Remember sexuality and gender are not the same thing. Sexuality is about who we find attractive and gender identity is about how we see our gender.
- Lobby for your workplace to be inclusive spaces. This is more than having posters of rainbows on bulletin boards. Read your organization’s policy and procedure manual and make recommendations on what sections need to be updated. Also look for ways your space can include gender neutral washrooms. Also ensure that if your organizations has women only spaces that they are inclusive of trans women.
This is list has been adapted from several sources, including: Bishop (2002), Reynolds (2010b), Revel Rio (n.d.), Safe @ School. (n.d.), Youth Environmental Network (n.d.).
Click here to read a list things to say when you hear something offensive.
The following text is from “Gender Pronoun 101 for Cis Accomplices” by Lowrah from the Grease Rag Ride & Wrench website. Lowrah uses Kacere’s “5 Ways Using Correct Gender Pronouns Will Make You a Better Trans* Ally” article from the Everyday Feminism website as the basis for their article.
I came upon this article which shows the basic reasons WHY using preferred pronouns is absolutely necessary, no exceptions… And after the five WHYs, I’ve included my own five HOWs at the end of this post.
5 Ways Using Correct Gender Pronouns Will Make You a Better Trans* Ally
Language Shapes Culture — When we use and invent new words to describe people who identify outside of a strict gender binary, we legitimize those ways of being, and participate in the larger struggle for trans* visibility.
Respect Others’ Realities — …remember that you do not know more about someone’s gender identity than they do, so it’s not up to you to decide who they are, what to call them, or to make assumptions about their body.
Hold the Media Accountable — When you see a news story about a trans* person that uses incorrect and offensive gender identifiers, call them out!
Fight Transphobia and Sexism — Being a trans* activist/ally means you’re also working for gender equality.
Educate Our Communities — Start an ongoing dialogue with the people around you about the issues facing trans* folks and why it’s so important to use the pronouns they’re asked to use.
5 Reminders about HOW to respect gender pronouns — Here are my own five points for HOW.
Once you accept that preferred pronouns are the absolute least you can do to fight transphobia and promote trans* inclusion, you might be in need of some actionable next steps. I do not identify as transgender, I do not speak for trans* folks, but these are some things I have learned on my journey toward becoming a better person. Friends, feel free to comment, and to correct me. I am also here to learn.
Take pronoun sharing seriously — “Please tell us your name and preferred gender pronoun if you feel comfortable sharing it.” Take it seriously, adhere to the format. Don’t giggle, don’t say “whatever you want to call me” (hellooooo, cis privilege), and don’t do anything but LISTEN intently and nod while internalizing people’s preferences. When introducing yourself to someone it’s the same thing. It can be so hard to “come out” over and over again when you are used to people misgendering you, and to have to validate your identity to complete strangers. Taking the situation seriously shows respect and support.
“Male” and “female” are sexes, not genders — When someone asks you about gender pronouns, examples of appropriate answers are… pronouns. That have to do with gender. “Masculine” is not a pronoun. Is it gendered? Socially, yes, but part of not assuming things about gender identity is accepting that both genders can be “masculine,” so this answer is not helpful. Possible answers for “What is your preferred gender pronoun?” could be, “She/her, they/them, ze/zir, he/him.”
Don’t correct people if someone is misgendered — This sounds weird, right? Misgendering is at the very least insensitive and sometimes feels criminal! How is it right to stand by and not say anything?! The rule for me is that other people’s genders are not mine to reveal. What if you embarrass or endanger the misgendered person? What if they are trying to pass? What if the misgendered person is going to talk with the offender in private and by speaking up you steal their power and thunder? But don’t worry, there are ways to support your friends when they are misgendered. Take them aside and ask, “I heard you were misgendered. Would you like me to talk to that person? In the future, would you like me to speak up, or is there another way I can have your back?”
If you make a mistake, acknowledge it and move on. — It is up to you to respect people’s wishes. It is up to you to practice, and to speak about them when they are not there with their preferred pronouns. But mistakes happen. Acknowledge it with an, “I’m sorry,” and move on. Being overly apologetic is self-serving because you make yourself feel better while intensely “othering” the person you misgendered. Awkward.
Introduce yourself and your preferred gender pronouns — Cis folks! When at a meeting or a potluck or a hockey game… start the gender pronoun ball rolling with your own introduction. Even if you are the only one. ESPECIALLY if you are the only one. It is also a good segue to asking, “Which pronouns do you prefer?” If cis folks ask you… why did you share that? It is a great opportunity for your elevator speech on how gender identity is an infinite spectrum, people choose to identify outside of a binary system, and how respecting preferred pronouns is a step toward inclusion and acceptance of trans* and genderqueer folks (Lowrah, 2014).
Bishop, A. (2002). Becoming an ally: Breaking the cycle of oppression in people (2nd ed.). London: Zed Books.
Kacere, L. (2013, September 23). 5 Ways Using Correct Gender Pronouns Will Make You a Better Trans* Ally. Retrieved February 6, 2015, from http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/09/correct-gender-pronouns-to-be-trans-ally/
Lowrah. (2014, December 1). Gender Pronoun 101 for Cis Accomplices. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from http://greaserag.org/user_blogs/lowrah/gender-pronoun-101-for-cis-accomplices/
Mount Sinai Hospital. (n.d.). The Are You an ALLY? Campaign. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from http://www.mountsinai.on.ca/about_us/human-rights/ally
Pires, C. (2015, February 11). Students talk about what makes a good LGBT ally #GotYourBack. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from http://www.glaad.org/video/video-students-talk-about-what-makes-good-lgbt-ally-gotyourback
Revel Riot. (n.d.). HO]ow To Be An Ally To LGBTQ People. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from http://www.revelandriot.com/resources/allies/
Reynolds, V. (2010b, October 1). Fluid and imperfect ally positioning: Some gifts of queer theory. Context, 13-17.
Safe @ School. (n.d.). Becoming an Ally. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from http://www.safeatschool.ca/plm/equity-and-inclusion/becoming-an-ally
Youth Environmental Network. (n.d.). Green Justice Guide. Retrieved February 8, 2015, from http://antiracist-toolkit.users.ecobytes.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Green-Justice-Guide-Part-1.pdf