So it’s Pride 2019 and you want to be an ally for your LGBTQIA friends. Awesome! But what does that mean? How does one be an effective ally?
1. Stop calling yourself an ally. I know, we want the credit for all of our super hard work! But hey, this fight isn’t about us, and let’s be honest, the stakes are always lower for the cishet folks. Call yourself affirming, supportive, whatever. But ally is a term we should let our LGBTQIA friends and family use for us. They will tell us if we’re doing the work of being an ally for them. And if you’re really doing the work, the LGBTQIA people in your life will acknowledge it.
2. Be an ally when LGBTQIA people aren’t around to see it. Defending someone who is standing right there can be hard, and it can be even harder to do it when you might not get a thank you after. But it’s the right thing to do. Use the correct names/pronouns when you’re speaking about your trans friend, and offer corrections if someone deadnames or misgenders them. It doesn’t have to be aggressive, just a quick insertion of the correct name/pronoun will do the trick. Speak against homophobic slurs. Tell people to use wife or husband or spouse rather than friend if they’re talking about a gay person’s partner. I know, you don’t get ally points when no one sees it, but it’s good anyway. (Note: Check with your trans friends if it is safe for you to use their names and pronouns in all circumstances. Sometimes people aren’t out, and we never want to jeopardize the safety of anyone else or out them before they’re ready.)
3. Use your pronouns/ask for pronouns when you’re meeting someone or in social media bios. It may be that you feel like it’s obvious that you’re a man or a woman if you’re cisgender, but obvious doesn’t mean much when trans people who are clearly presenting male or female are still constantly and purposefully misgendered. When I tell someone I use she/her pronouns, it helps normalize the practice. And if you’re not sure about someone’s gender, saying, “Hi, I’m Alise, she/her,” allows them to share with you. Or you can just ask, “I use she/her pronouns, how should I address you?” And maybe don’t say preferred pronouns. Just pronouns is fine.
4. If it’s not about you, don’t take offense. If it is about you, don’t take offense. It can feel like you are being attacked when your LGBTQIA friends post a “the cishets are at it again” type meme or statement. But ask yourself, is that you? And ask yourself why you feel attacked if you don’t do what is being depicted in the statement. Ask yourself what privilege you have as a straight, cisgender person that is causing you to find offense at someone calling out bad behavior by people like you. Feeling your feelings is totally fine, but maybe examine them before you respond. And if your LGBTQIA friend calls you out directly? Same story. Trust the people you want to ally with to tell you when you’re not doing your job. Remember point one – they are the ones who decide if you’re an ally, not you.
5. Learn when to speak and when to elevate LGBTQIA voices. Most of the time, if there’s an LGBTQIA person who is willing to speak, you need to give them the floor. We always want to allow the people who are affected by homophobia to speak to it. But it can also be exhausting to have to stand up for yourself nonstop, so be willing to speak when someone needs a break. Sometimes you might make a mistake and speak out of turn. That’s when it’s good to remember number 4.
*Bonus for the Church ally: Tell your pastor. The Church is really in a season of change with the issue of inclusion, and pastors are the ones who, for better or worse, will be leading much of the conversation. And they really need to know that they have congregants who are affirming. For the pastor who is loudly affirming, they need to hear from cishet folks that they are appreciated. For the pastor who wants to be affirming, but is afraid to talk about it, they need to know that they will be supported if and when they do the right thing. For the pastor who is not affirming, they need to know that it’s not just LGBTQIA people who are hurt by their words, it’s you as well.