Being An Ally
What is an Ally?
According to Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, an ally is someone “joined with another for a common purpose.”
Being an ally with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and issues is the process of working to develop individual attitudes, institutions, and culture in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people feel they matter. This work is motivated by an enlightened self-interest to end homophobia and heterosexism (J. Jay Scott and Vernon Wall, 1991).
An Ally is a person who works both to facilitate the development of all students around issues of sexual orientation and to improve the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Allies can identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, queer, or heterosexual.
An ally to LGBT individuals is a person who:
- Believes that it is in her/his self-interest to be an ally to LGBT individuals.
- Has worked to develop an understanding of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues. Works to be comfortable with her/his knowledge of gender identity and sexual orientation.
- Is comfortable saying the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” and “transgender.”
- Works to understand how patterns of oppression operate, and is willing to identify oppressive acts and challenge the oppressive behaviors of others.
- Works to be an ally to all oppressed groups.
- Finds a way that feels personally congruent to confront/combat homophobia and heterosexism.
- Similar to how an LGBT person “comes out of the closet,” an ally “comes out” as an ally by publicly acknowledging her/his support for LGBT people and issues.
- Chooses to align with LGBT individuals, and represents their needs — especially when they are unable to do so themselves.
- Expects to make some mistakes and does not give up when things become discouraging.
- Promotes a sense of community with LGBT individuals, and teaches others about the importance of these communities. Encourages others to also provide advocacy.
- Is aware that she/he may be called the same names and be harassed in similar ways to those whom she/he is defending. Whenever possible, a heterosexual ally avoids “credentializing,” which involves disclosing their heterosexual identity in order to avoid negative or unpleasant assumptions or situations.
- Works to address/confront individuals without being defensive, sarcastic, or threatening.
Benefits of Being an Ally:
- You open yourself up to the possibility of close relationships with an additional 10% of the world.
- You become less locked into sex role stereotypes.
- You increase your ability to have close and loving relationships with same-sex friends.
- You have opportunities to learn from, teach, and have an impact on a population with whom you might not otherwise interact.
- You may make a profound difference in the life of someone you love who finds something positive in their sexual identity.
When Someone Comes Out to You:
Don’t be surprised. Respect their confidentiality, they have placed a trust in you. A breach of this confidence can be devastating.
Be supportive. Explain that many people have struggled with these issues in the past. Admit that dealing with one’s sexual or gender orientation can be a difficult and confusing process. Recognize, too, that coming out can bring relief and excitement. There are no easy and fast answers. Keep the door open for further conversations and help. If you are feeling uncertain or don’t think you can be supportive, refer them to someone who can be.
Do not put words in their mouth. It is not our jobs to tell people what their issues are, but rather to help them deal with the issues they present. If a supportive environment is provided, people who would like to talk about issues of sexuality or gender orientation will know that this is all right. Allow them to define their own issues. Listen.
Remember that everyone is a complex and unique individual. Sexuality is only a part of the whole of a person. Other factors, such as race, culture, socioeconomic status, family history, geographic location, and many others, may also be important components of an individual’s identity.
(Information from: LGBT Ally Training Manual by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Ally Network)
To learn more about being an ally, register for an EIU Safe Zone Training.