by Liz Dyer
Online communities where real people make real connections
Becoming a good LGBTQ+ ally is a process that includes learning and growth. Becoming a good LGBTQ+ ally takes time and practice. These tips are things I have been learning over the years about how to best support and advocate for LGBTQ+ people that I love and care about.
#1 - Good allies are always learning.
The only way to be a good ally is to arm yourself with knowledge. As an LGBTQ+ ally developing a true understanding of how the world views and treats members of the community is of the utmost importance. Listening to personal stories and asking questions respectfully is a great way to learn. But keep in mind that we don't want to make LGBTQ+ people feel responsible for our education. So, we must take it upon ourselves to do our own research and learn about LGBTQ+ history, terminology, and the struggles that the community has faced in the past and still faces today.
#2 Good allies are intentionally and thoughtfully inclusive.
Of course, it's important to include LGBTQ+ friends and colleagues, making sure they are invited to events and social gatherings. But that is only the beginning of inclusivity. Being inclusive also includes the evolution of the way we think, speak and behave to ensure that our LGBTQ+ neighbors, colleagues and friends have the same rights, protections and privileges as we do. Some ways we can be more intentional and thoughtful about being inclusive include making sure our language is gender affirming and inclusive, creating physical environments that are safe and inclusive of LGBTQ+ people, creating traditions that work for everyone no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity or family structure, avoiding intrusive questions and inquiries (if you wouldn't ask a heterosexual or cisgender person then don't ask an LGBTQ+ person), and finding teachable moments to help others stop harmful behavior (which is often unintentional).
#3 Good allies are visible!
Good allies show up and speak up. They don't hide their pride. The saying is "there are no silent allies." One friend of mine always says that a good LGBTQ+ ally is always standng close enough to the LGBTQ+ community to get hit by the same rocks that are being thrown at them. Being an ally is not for the faint of heart. If you are doing it right you will ruffle some feathers. I like to think of being an ally as more of an action rather than a label. It's easy to call ourselves allies but to be effective we need to be willing to take action and stand up for LGBTQ+ rights and protections, to defend LGBTQ+ people against discrimination, to let others know that anti LGBTQ+ comments and jokes are harmful and offensive to LGBTQ+ people and to you as an ally. It will take all of us to create a world that is kinder, safer and more loving for all LGBTQ+ people to live. I believe it can happen if we are all open and consistent about our support of the LGBTQ+ community.
#4 Good allies confront homophobia, transphobia, prejudice and misinformation.
This is one of the hardest things we must do as allies, but it is so important. I like to keep in mind that a lot of homophobia and transphobia and prejudice is unintentional and a lot of it is based on misinformation. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove me wrong, so I usually assume that someone who is saying or doing something that is transphobic or homophobic is misinformed and/or doesn't realize the harm they are doing. If I hear or see anything that is transphobic or homophobic I often say:"I'm sure you don't intend to say or do anything that is harmful to LGBTQ+
people, and I didn't always know or realize this either, but that behavior or those words are actually homophobic or transphobic, and here's why and here's a better way to say that or think about that or do that" I think it's important for us to remember that our confrontation can be done in a civil and peaceful way. Of course there are those who won't listen or don't care and in those cases we can confront, share good info and move on. We can't change other people's minds. People have to be open minded and open to learning in order for them to change their perspective or have a change of heart. All we can do is keep sharing the good knowledge and information that we have gained on our journey.
#5 Good allies know that our words are extremely important.
We form human connections through language. Just like we would respect someone who asked us to use a nickname (for example in my case I like to go by Liz instead of Elizabeth) we should accommodate LGBTQ+ people's names and pronouns. If we aren't sure about someone's pronouns we can try to listen and learn or, if we are alone with the person, we can quietly ask them what their pronouns are. I like to avoid the term "preferred pronouns" as that can imply that a transgender person is choosing their gender rather than being their true self. So, instead I would simply ask "what are your pronouns?”
In addition to using an LGBTQ+ person's name and pronouns we should also integrate inclusive language into our regular conversations and vocabulary by using as many gender neutral terms as possible and remaining aware of any unintentionally offensive language that we might use. Instead of a policeman or stewardess we can use police officer and flight attendant. Some things to avoid that have been used to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people include phrases such as “same sex attraction” and “homosexual lifestyle.” And of course we never want to say things like “she's too pretty to be gay” or use the word "gay" as a negative descriptor.
And then there are all the terms. The terms can be overwhelming as there are a lot and the meanings are often evolving and changing, and new terms are often being introduced into the conversation. That's why I published a glossary of LGBTQ+ terms. It has more than 140 LGBTQ+ terms in it with definitions and a long list of non-binary words. It is a very helpful tool, and you can find it on Amazon by searching for “Mama Bears Glossary of LGBTQ+ Terms" or click here. I think every LGBTQ+ ally should have a copy of this book and I encourage parents of LGBTQ+ students to gift a copy to their student's teachers.
Our words matter. Words can harm and words can heal. They can create bridges or barriers. We need to use them with care.
#6 Good allies know they will mess up.
We will all make mistakes and we will all find ourselves being corrected at times. When that happens it is tempting to want to defend ourselves especially if we feel like we are being misunderstood. BUT, if we are being misunderstood that probably means we need to do a better job at expressing ourselves. So, when we make mistakes, my best advice is take a breath, apologize, ask for guidance if it's appropriate, and make adjustments. Once we know better we do better. If we defend ourselves too much it can sound like we are resistant to changing. If we apologize a lot we put too much attention on ourselves. It's best not to make a big deal about it. We should never expect ourselves or anyone to be perfect, but as LGBTQ+ allies we should always demonstrate humility and be open to learning and changing.
#7 Good allies respect the privacy of others.
Good allies never "out" anyone or pressure anyone to come out. Coming out is usually a process for most LGBTQ+ people but it seldom looks the same for any two people. Different backgrounds, work environments, family dynamics etc. all play a part in how and when someone comes out. The important thing is to show support and respect to anyone who comes out to you. Never share someone's story of coming out with anyone else without the person's specific permission. If someone asks you if someone is LGBTQ+ it's ok to say, "I don't know and, even if I did, I wouldn't feel comfortable talking about it, because that would not be my place." We also don't want to ever pressure anyone to come out. Everyone must consider their own situation and come out when it works best for them.
#8 Good allies encourage others to join them in becoming LGBTQ+ allies.
Good allies take advantage of opportunities to invite others to be LGBTQ+ allies. Some opportunities include inviting others to LGBTQ+ events, asking others to support organizations that serve the LGBTQ+ community and having conversations about the discrimination that LGBTQ+ people face. Many people don't realize how much discrimination LGBTQ+ people still face. Sometimes, once people learn about the discrimination that still exists they will want to help in some way. I believe we are living in a time when many times a few friendly conversations can often lead to positive change, so don't be afraid to bring the subject up with your friends, colleagues and family members.
#9 Good allies remember that the little things matter.
Sometimes we think that the only difference we can make is by doing something big, but I believe that some of the most important things we can do as LGBTQ+ allies are small everyday things. Adding our pronouns to our signature in emails, hanging a Pride flag in front of our house during Pride season, hosting an online fundraiser for an organization that serves the LGBTQ+ community, complimenting someone on their new look or wearing a rainbow bracelet are all little things we can do that can have a positive impact. When someone is a member of a group that often faces a lot of discrimination and exclusion they notice these little things. Mama Bears often tell stories of neighborhood kids stopping by to say they like their Pride Flag or of someone at the grocery store stopping them to say they like their rainbow bracelet - in other words they are saying "I noticed your support and wanted to say thanks." So, don't neglect the little things. They really do make a difference.
#10 Good allies support organizations that serve the LGBTQ+ community.
We are fortunate because we live in a time where there are a lot of good organizations that serve and support the LGBTQ+ community. At the same time, it can be difficult to know which organizations are reputable and using the money they receive in a meaningful and responsible manner. That's why I partnered with the nonprofit organization Legacy Collective and created the Mama Bears Giving Circle. The Mama Bears Giving Circle is a group of monthly donor who award grants to nonprofits that serve the LGBTQ+ communit. All the nonprofits that receive our grants are well vetted and our members nominate and vote for the nonprofits that receive our grants. Being a member of the Mama Bears Giving Circle is a great way to demonstrate your LGBTQ+ allyship. Click here for more info about the Mama Bears Giving Circle.
Those are some things I have been learning over the years about how to be a good LGBTQ+ ally. I hope the tips are helpful to you.
Thank you for your desire to be a good LGBTQ+ ally.
Together we can change the world!