Ally. It's a word that gets thrown around a lot, especially in the age of Trump. People are feeling really motivated to step outside of their own privilege and get involved in movements that are lifting up oppressed people. And that's great! But allyship is complicated and, unfortunately, it's pretty easy to do more than harm than good if you're not being conscientious about it. So, in honor of Pride month, I'm asking: What can
straight* people do to be better allies?
The answers I got were as varied as the gender and sexuality spectrums of the people I spoke with, but one thing that stood out is how important it is to take ego out of the equation. A great ally is there to support and amplify, not take the spotlight themself or try to bring attention to their own issues. Another big one was not relying on LGBTQA+ people to educate you on the issues when Google is a thing — and it's free. Be conscientious of the emotional labor that goes into
constantly explaining things to and do your own research.
But those were just two highlights. Here are responses from 19 Millennials who fit all over the LGBTQA+ spectrum on how straight* people can be better allies is Pride month.
*(or non-LGBTQA+ people because — as I was thoughtfully reminded by an awesome trans person — trans people can also be straight.) Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images Open minds and deep conversations. Normalize it! Ask the questions you want answered and don't perpetuate falsehoods. Correct people when they do. I was making out with a dude in front of some new friends of friends. ”Isn't she gay?" they asked our mutual friend. "Most of the time,” was the mutual friend’s response. These sorts of interactions help folks understand there is more than one way and all the ways are OK. Probably don't use this word for word but you get the gist.
Kelly Verity: I'm A Queer Non-binary Transguy
Seek out your own education. There are a lot of resources online that LGBTQIA+ people have worked very hard to create so that you can educate yourself. I see a lot of self declared allies demanding on-the-spot education from LGBTQIA+ people. This is very inappropriate behavior and basically makes you not an ally. I also see a lot of allies using the term as an identity. Being an ally is not an identity; it is an action you have to be performing. You will know you are an ally because we will tell you you are. You don't get to decide that you are an ally. I see self-declared allies being argumentative with LGBTQIA+ people when instead they should be listening. We have life experience that you do not; there is no way that you know better than us about our own experiences. Even when it seems like some of us are telling you things that conflict with what others have told you, it's not your job to decide which one of us is right. It's your job to listen and support us as best you can. I see people declaring themselves as allies because they are close to someone who is LGBTQIA+. It doesn't matter if you were married to a gay person or you are a parent to a trans person. If you yourself are not part of the LGBTQIA+ community, simply being close to one of us is not enough to be an ally. Once again, being an ally is an action that you have to be constantly doing and we will tell you when you're doing it right. It's not an identity you get to claim for yourself. My friend Amy is an amazing Ally. She is a cisgender straight woman who is very good at listening and doing her own research. She is constantly looking for ways to support LGBTQIA+ people, and does so by listening directly to LGBTQIA+ people and offering tangible support. She asks respectful questions and really listens to the answers. She does not tokenize me as her friend and never uses me as an example of her allyship. Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images "Stop claiming that the A stands for Ally, and stop acting like you are entitled to our spaces."
Zay, 25: I'm Gay And Gender fluid
"[People can be allies] by remaining fully aware of the struggles and hurdles that LGBT+ people have to face. Knowledge is half the battle and understanding is a battle well-won. I would use my family as a whole [as an example of great allies] because they are truly the greatest, but I'm not. I'm in the military and my superiors are probably the most supportive. I'm in a rough and tough career field and you'd be surprised how aware they are about me being openly and gay and gender fluid. Whether I need advice about work or even a relationship they are always there and usually biased to my views on dating. I've had a hard time accepting myself as gender fluid and they all eased me into it."
Anonymous, 30: Male, Gay
Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images "Just remember I'm a real person and not an unreal “other.” [One time] I was drunk and my voice got really high and queeny and I said something gay but they just kept looking at me and treating me like a full human being who was a person, not a piece of cardboard who symbolizes something ugly and uncomfortable, even though I was feeling that way reflexively about myself in that moment and they could probably tell. So I guess I appreciate it when someone helps to maintain my personality as a full person even when I can't and don't feel like one. When you grow up with people fixated on your sexuality since before you even knew what it was, it can definitely warp you. I think I still struggle with feeling authentically myself even to close friends."
SK: Transmasculine non-binary queer
"Learn how to use people’s pronouns. Practice it with other people if you need to. It's really not a big deal, but you tell a cis someone you use they/them pronouns (and probably any other pronoun besides she or he) and most people act like you've just asked them to do intense calculus or something. I get that it's different and doesn't flow naturally at first, but I can assure you it gets easier if you practice!"
Alaura Mae, 27: Asexual/agender
Zach Gibson/Getty Images News/Getty Images "Listening to and hearing us. Not talking over us, or taking our conversation to make their fragility seem more important. Through not erasing asexuals by thinking they belong in alphabet soup. Additionally, if you self-proclaim as an ally, I'm going to have serious questions about why you feel the need for a cookie. An ally doesn't shout about being an ally; they shout about equality. My Facebook feed is incredible. So many friends come to do emotional labor and education for people who don't remember that Google is free. The best example of an ally can include people coming together to educate and protect each other from the a-holes online."
Carly, 32: I am a queer woman
"Listen. Read work by queer women, especially queer and trans women of color. Stop perpetuating the idea that marriage is the end-all gay issue. If you can, contribute to organizations supporting trans youth, who are our most vulnerable constituency. One of my closest friends, herself straight and ensconced in the Deep South, has been mediating a conflict inside her family involving a youngest daughter, a proposal to a long-time girlfriend, and a Baptist mother-in-law. My friend has pushed back hard on her mother-in-law’s bigotry, while maintaining open lines of communication and keeping her own cool. That's something allies can do — it's somewhat less personal, so there's space to talk to try to bring someone with pretty toxic ideas around. She has invested time, care, and real emotional labor. She's done her reading. She reaches out to queer friends to make sure she's not overstepping or making things worse. And when she reaches out for advice, she recognizes that she's asking for someone to do emotionally difficult work to help her, and always gives me the explicit option of not getting into it, without hard feelings. She's a fantastic example of informed, empathetic advocacy."
Anonymous, 20: Bisexual woman
David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images "Make less jokes about non-binary genders — I've seen some people do it because they just seem to be uneasy with not being familiar with more inclusive language. It's better to pause or ask questions than to make fun of what you don't know. Also, I wish that some straight women would stop using lesbian sex as a punchline. I've had straight women that I'm out to make jokes about having sex with each other in front of me, where the implication is that it being "lesbian" makes it funny or not "real" sex. I've also had straight women I'm not close with "joke" hit on me in very sexual ways. Sex with women is something I actually do, and it's weird that woman-woman sex is used specifically as a joke. I've been fairly privileged and lived in liberal areas, so the little things come to mind more than big moments. It's really nice to have cis hetero friends that will bring up LGBTQ+ issues themselves, and friends that I feel safe to talk to about dating women."
Joy, 22: Female and woman
David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images "To an ally I would say, educate yourself. I just had a straight friend comment on a post about allyship and say "Wow, I had no idea the history behind Stonewall.” The idea of you didn't come for the riots but you came for the party idea pisses me off and almost disappointed me. Also being a passive member in society doesn't not an ally make. My stepfather [is a great ally]. He always gets excited when I tell him about my partner; he is just as excited for Pride as I am and the knowledge he has regarding the history of the LGBTQ+ community."
Melody, 25: Woman, bisexual
"Stop talking over the experiences of actual LGBTQ people and tone policing when real issues are discussed. [An example of a great ally is] when my bisexuality is accepted by others instead of questioned and challenged."
Heidi, 25: Queer, queer, gender non-binary
"Education, self reflexion, awareness, and most importantly, realize that not all human beings are not created equally, and that's OK. Instead of trying to "accommodate" them, straight people need to acknowledge all existence as worthy of taking up space, and that straight people need to stop taking up so much damn space, and understand their role in systemic oppression. I think a great ally is someone that's, more than anything, honest about where they are. I'd rather be with someone that will openly say "I don't know what X is like, feels like, or is experienced like,” and will not try tokenize your existence to validate their "open-mindedness" or edginess, than someone that says the right things but when probed, they are fake, space-swallowing allies that can't understand how damaging they are to our fight. While my partner is sh*t at taking action, I appreciate how he is willing to learn, and to do self reflection, but will not accept something because "I told him so.” He will ask, probe, and ask some more, while being cognizant that my experiences are vastly different than his. "
Monica, 35: Female, Queer
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images "Don't attempt to tell us how we feel. Just listen!"
Anon, 27: Queer across the board
"Stop telling us our anger is invalid or inappropriate when we're literally dying out here. Stop telling us that we just need to participate better in these broken f*cking systems. The handful cis het allies in my friend group work to fight discrimination, both in their political engagement and in their day-to-day lives." Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images "They can help by not assuming heteronormativity with every person, and that queer/bi are not the same and again, not assuming it's a “phase.” My best friend is straight but the most understanding of being poly and queer, she has so many questions because whenever she thinks she might be unsure she asks instead of assuming."
Anonymous, 26: Neutrois, panromantic asexual
"Stop making excuses for your bigoted friends. You need to hold them accountable for their actions, instead of letting them be abusive to your LGBT+ friends, then saying you don't agree with them in private only. Stop misgendering trans people — it's super f*cked up when we correct you, then you misgender us the same sentence. Listen to us, understand that our opinions on LGBT+ issues are the only ones that matter — allies are there to support not to lead. Allies don't get to decide what is homophobic/transphobic/etc. Don't argue with us about what does and does not hurt us. My partner [is a great ally]. He doesn't pretend to understand what he can't, but he listens to me when I'm in pain and does his best to cheer me up. He educates himself in his spare time, and defends other LGBT+ people, not just me. He shuts people down when they are bigoted, but respects my boundaries when I would rather get on with my day."
Nick, 24: Cis male, gay
Rob Kim/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images "Recognize and respect the radical, activist roots of queer and trans communities — organize with us. Volunteer at our community centers, work with AIDS service organizations, make our struggles a part of your life."
Erika Ruppelius, 21: Female, bisexual
"Listen. Cheer us on. Don't act grossed out by our lives and our stories. Don't fetishize us either. Allow us to have our queer spaces. Ask questions to understand, but don't ask questions that are inappropriate. My closest friends are wonderful allies because they treat me just like any other person. I'm not different because I'm queer. And when my rights are being threatened, or I'm struggling with acceptance, they are there standing up for me."
Alex, 29: Non-binary femme, Queer
Rob Kim/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images "It's pretty simple. Listen! Listen to what QT people say their needs are, and don't make a bunch of assumptions. Don't make any assumptions if you can help it. Make as few assumptions as possible. Also know that Q+T people are going to need their own spaces. That sometimes they won't feel 100 percent comfortable at an event or party that includes mostly Cis+Het people. Don't take it personally. As a femme who looks to most people like a cis woman, I also have to respect that trans friends and community members need their own spaces too."
Not sure where to begin bettering yourself as an ally? As so many folks mentioned above, it all starting with listening.