President Trump has been in office for a few weeks and already, anxiety is building about an executive order coming down which would roll back LGBTQ+ rights. It has many allies wondering how to show support for LGBTQ people in Trump's America, and there is reason to be hopeful. Given the heavy organizing that took place following an executive order to ban immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries in the Middle East, which was temporarily blocked last week so the courts can address the merits of the policy, the Trump administration wisely chose to back off the anti-LGBTQ+ order, for now.
Unwisely, however, it released a bizarre statement announcing that the protections enacted by President Obama on behalf of LGBTQ+ federal employees would remain in place, apparently expecting praise for...literally just keeping everything the same? Many allies knew better than to fall for it, but the question of how to mobilize for support remains. The simplest advice is to begin the work of tuning out what folks already in power have to say about LGBTQ+ rights, and start paying attention to actual queer activists who are already on the ground, doing the work. If you're a straight ally, this includes decentralizing your experiences, your opinion, and your feelings to make space for, listen to, and affirm queer folks. Here are some concrete ways to begin supporting LGBTQ+ people meaningfully under this administration.
When You Ask How To Help, Actually Listen To LGBTQ+ People And Do What They Ask
Story time! Once upon a time, a friend of mine posted a little anecdote on Facebook about how she had accidentally misgendered someone at her serving job, because she's required by management to use gendered honorifics with guests (ie., Sir and Ma'am). My friend got checked by the person she misgendered, felt embarrassed by her mistake, and pleaded with Facebook for crowdsourced answers about how to avoid this problem in the future.
Naturally, as a queer woman who has had approximately one thousand dates ruined by servers repeatedly referring to my party as "ladies," even when I am clearly and obviously the only ~lady~ present, I jumped in to confirm that it's an awful experience to have as a guest. I was relieved to see her feeling embarrassment, expressing remorse, and asking for help! Noticing when you're harming people of any marginalized identity — whether you intend to or not — is a great first step of allyship.
My friend performed another series of good steps, like apologizing to the woman, reflecting on her actions, allowing herself to sit with her own negative emotions about it, and then researching ways to avoid her mistake in the future. (Googling it would have been better than asking queers to expend emotional labor helping her, but at least she posed the question to a group to answer on their own time, instead of placing the burden on one person, or even worse, the person she hurt.) Unfortunately, this is when the good times stopped rolling.
We need a trans history month for the history of trans people that the gay rights movement tried to erase.— Peggy Sioux (@LaughingNoam) February 1, 2017
I offered up a variety of gender-neutral honorifics she could use for guests instead, based on words I use, hear, and pick up in queer spaces, and I gave her suggestions for what to say to her manager in hopes of changing the restaurant's outdated hospitality policy. Although these words and conversations are second nature to me, I realize that many straight folks don't necessarily have the gift of exposure to queer community that I do. My friend, and several of her friends, and several of our mutual friends responded to my resource guide with outright dismissal. My suggestions were "stupid," "no one would ever say that in real life," "there's no way that would fly with my boss," "who talks like that?," etc. Um, queers talk like that, actually, to affirm one another's identities, and we would love it if everyone else did, too.
The point is, if you ask for help because you want to do better, be prepared to listen to the advice that is generously being offered to you and take it, even if it feels unnatural to you. It will feel less weird the more you practice it, and the people who are helping you are already doing it with fluency. You can't be a good ally if you only practice allyship when it feels comfortable for you. We don't get to be queer only when it feels comfortable for us. We have to live with it all the time. In truth, your discomfort is only a fraction of that which queer folks face every day.
Cultivate a Network of Leading Queer Activists To Follow, Preferably Ones As Different From You As Possible
I see a lot of allies experiencing emotional overwhelm at the barrage of legislative orders and statements from the Trump administration explicitly targeting marginalized populations. With so many protests and so many representatives to call over so many issues, it can feel impossible to focus your attention amidst your horror, outrage, and sadness. An easy way to combat this problem is to set up a network of activists to pay attention to, then follow their lead.
Grab your social media network of choice and fill it with leading queer activists. If you are white, focus on queer voices of color. If you are a man, focus on queer women. If you are cisgender, focus on trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming voices. If you are able-bodied, focus on putting disabled queer activists in your feed. These voices are clear, motivated, and informed because this fight isn't new to them. They have been doing this work for years or maybe even decades and they know how to organize. Look to them to shape your own activism. They are admirable people to emulate.
Also, importantly, don't forget to give them credit when someone admires your work or your woke-ness. (Example: personal shoutout to Black Femme Twitter for teaching me literally everything I know about everything.)
Show Up Where Queers Ask You To Go And Listen
Once you follow a solid network of queer activists and organizers, you'll begin to spot which protests and rallies they unilaterally support, and which they oppose or find problematic. Show up where they tell you they need you to show up, rather than prioritizing the causes you, as an ally, believe are important. Consider, for example, if you are a cisnormative white woman, that your body standing firmly at a protest has the power to deescalate police violence. Use that power to help communities that lack your privilege at their protests and rallies.
Also, if you've just joined the fight, know your place. Know that these folks have been The Resistance long before it was even on your radar. Don't show up to protests, rallies, or other queer spaces shooting your mouth off about your feelings or your experiences or your desires as a straight person. The people you're surrounded by know more about their own cause than you do.
Support LGBTQ+ Organizations That Serve The Neediest Queers
It's been inspiring to see donations pouring in to Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union since the election. Both of these organizations do important work on behalf of all queers. But the truth is, these are huge organizations with a massive public platform and plenty of mainstream visibility.
Consider donating to smaller, grassroots organizations, which perhaps only serve your local community, but which set up the framework for larger movements to emulate. It's called "trickle-up social justice" and it's a term coined by Dean Spade, the founder of The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (a great org for your dollars, by the way!).
I love Planned Parenthood and the work it does. I 10/10 would recommend based on the one visit I made back in high school to get the morning-after pill (before you could buy it over the counter). But as an adult queer woman, my needs are best met by specifically queer healthcare providers, ones that spare me from having to teach my doctor how to care for me because they don't understand queer needs or how queer folks have sex. (Yes, I have literally had to explain the mechanics of my sex to straight gynecologists.) So I ask my friends to consider donating to my local queer health clinic, which in New York is Callen-Lorde. But there are local queer health clinics in communities all over the country with minuscule profiles where your funds could actually make a huge, tangible, immediate difference. Do some research and consider diverting your funds there.
I think everytime a straight person says "YASS" they should also donate to queer org or some shit.— Duchess👑Vickie (@YassIckyVickie) January 30, 2017
I SEE YOU pic.twitter.com/VXPfcA4aBX
Similarly, there are lower-profile, but super impactful legal and community-support organizations, too. There are organizations which work explicitly with the most endangered and marginalized of queer folks to make life safer for them. Here in New York, there's the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and the Audre Lorde Project. The Transgender Law Center is based in Oakland, but serves nationwide. Mijente is a queer-forward organizing group for Latinx and Chicanx communities. The Muslim Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversity supports folks at the intersection of queerness and Muslim identity. This comprehensive list of QTPOC organizations includes everything from support groups to film festivals and they're all important in the fight against discrimination. They could all use your help.
Notice that none of these tasks include changing your Facebook profile photo, penning a post vowing support for your LGBTQ+ friends, or sharing an article about whatever fresh horror has befallen the LGBTQ+ community with an accompanying caption noting your outrage. This is what activists colloquially refer to as "allyship theater" and it's basically meaningless to us.
If you're a safe person for your queer friends to process with, then they already know it. Because we're in some degree of danger pretty much all the time. You don't need to announce it. If you really want to check in on friends you feel scared for, then send them a text asking if you can help with anything they need right now. And if you really want to join the fight, start with these meaningful steps.