Allies have an important role to play in supporting the LGBTQ+ community, but it is not the most important role…. as any ally, it is not about you! To be supportive, we must step back and listen, to the experiences the stories and the feelings. Never assume that you know what others are going through, because, simply put, you don’t. You can absolutely draw on your own experiences to be empathetic, but this is not the same. I don’t know how many times I have said “whoa, I didn’t consider that “ when supporting my friends and loved ones.
Through recognizing the privilege that we hold, we can begin to understand the experience of the LGBTQ+ community. Being a heterosexual cisgender individual means you hold the privilege of living in a society that supports your identity and relationships. Now, try to imagine what it would feel like to not have this. How would you feel? What would you want from your friends if this was your life experience? Be what you would want in a friend. Be fiercely supportive, but make sure your support aligns with what your friend wants. If your friend is questioning and just coming out, support them in how they want the process to go. Don’t run beside them with a rainbow flag if this isn’t where they are at yet! Give them unconditional support to navigate the process as they choose.
Make every effort to learn the terminology and use a person’s correct pronouns. It is in our actions that the support will be felt. Everyone makes mistakes. Own your mistakes and apologize, but if you are consistently making assumptions and mistakes this sends the message that you are not supportive and safe. Know your limitations; being an ally does not make you an expert.
That privilege we talked about above…. use it to create change! Challenge stereotypes and damaging language. Model language and actions that are supportive to the community. This does not mean that you have to fight it out with all of the ignorance you come across, but use your own level of comfort to change the conversation and create equality. Research suggests that allies are built through “normalizing experiences in childhood, to have met LGBT peers in high school or college, and to be empathic to the struggles of a peer in the gay community (Asta and Vacha-Haase 2013).” Being an ally is an opportunity to create more normalizing experiences, that in return will build more allies, until true equality is actualized.
Asta, E.L. ; Vacha-Haase, T.(2013). Heterosexual Ally Development in Counseling Psychologists: Experiences, Training, and Advocacy. The Counseling Psychologist, 41(4), pp. 493-529.