Allies: What They Are and How To Be One

The word ally comes from the Latin word, alligare, to bind. This “binding” has transformed from its military associations to mean more than a combatant partnership. Instead of being allies during times of war, in the lives of a LGBTQ+ person (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer), an ally helps fight LGBTQ+ struggles. An ally is a person that is a constant reassurance that there is hope in our scary world. Plainly, allies are those who are open, accepting, and willing to support the LGBTQ+ Community.

The Human Rights Campaign defines an ally as, “someone who is supportive of LGBT people. It encompasses non-LGBT allies as well as those within the LGBT community who support each other…” Allies aren’t superheroes. They’re the people that are there to listen, there to act, and there to be a true friend. And that is the thing with being an ally: it isn’t someone’s job title. It is a part of one’s identity and is a work in progress. To start off, here are some simple, yet effective, tips and tricks on how to be an ally:

How To Be An Ally: Out Loud

  • Participating in Marches
  • Speaking out against injustices
  • Voting for candidates and policies that help LGBTQ+ people

How To Be An Ally: From Home, Work, to the Local Coffee Shop

  • Asking pronouns when meeting new people
  • Adding pronouns to your email signature: it shows you are cognizant of their importance
  • Consistently using someone’s chosen name. It is difficult at first, especially if you knew them by a different name previously, but people are understanding if you are truly trying. It is important to note that when someone uses a previous name it may bring back triggering memories from their past. Not to mention it is basic manners.
  • Owning and reading an LGBTQ+ themed book. Here are my recommendations: 
    Stonewall Book Award List
    Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
    Call Me By Your Name
    A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them pronouns
    And Julian Is a Mermaid
    (this is a children’s book)

The things you do to support your LGBTQ+ folks are reassuring acts of acceptance and kindness. With that in mind, the things you might do, even subconsciously, can also send the opposite message.

What Not To Do & What To Do Instead

Do Not: Use/support entertainment that negatively reflects LGBTQ+ people

  • It is all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Race jokes, “Gay” jokes, and jokes of that nature are hard ground to trek. The usual consensus is that if you are gay, you can make gay jokes. (This is a form of reclaiming.) Instead, praise comedians that are allies and vocalize your opinions of those who are not.

Do Not: Use derogatory words and phrases that have traditionally been used to or currently tear down LGBTQ+ people

  • There are just some words that don’t belong in anyone’s vocabulary. Avoiding using those words, and speaking up when someone else uses them, are great ally practices. Be able to communicate to others why using these words is wrong and educate other when specific instances happen.
  • Here is a good article about how the community is reclaiming once offensive language.

Do Not: Knowingly supporting brands that are known to be anti-LGBTQ+

  • Doing your research on companies that you use. If you find something, it is your choice if you want to continue to support a brand or no. Research brands that actively advocate and promote societal improvement. From ads, public statements, and donations to charitable organizations, many companies prove themselves as allies. Here is a list of companies and their actions.

Do Not: Stand silent against anti-Gay politics and organizations

  • Being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community is critical in times such as these. Gay marriage, Trans military ban, and bathroom bans, have shown the ugly side of politics. As allies, we serve to help cope with these things and to oppose them. The Human Rights Campaign has a Your Elected Officials resource that allows you to see what policies your elected officials have voted for or against.

As an ally, you may also become a metaphysical safe space for someone that is part of the LGBTQ+ Community. As an ally, be willing to learn from and to communicate respectfully with a member of the Community. Be the person that won’t run away from someone after they come out. This is powerful. When someone decides to come out, which is their choice, it shows that they trust you with something so intimate, something essential to them, something core to their being. This moment in their story is a gift, and it is also a time to speak openly with them, if they decide to continue to share. Asking questions is okay, if you respect someone’s boundaries and ask in a sincere manner. Educating yourself from the source makes you a better ally. Educating yourself makes you an ally.

There are countless ways that can help you be an ally, but what is truly countless is the positivity that allies bring to people. It is hard to be a member of a community that does not always feel safe because of something so inherent as being attracted to someone. Even in places like Chicago, where many believe that because we are such a big city we must be progressive, there are still instances of hate and prejudice that put people’s lives at risk. Being an ally means you are a trusted and loved individual, and you reciprocate that love. Being an ally means that a member of the community can look to you for laughter, a good hug, and a shoulder to cry on. Being an ally means you could be the first in your social circle to bring acceptance. Allies make workplaces, restaurants, parks, malls and other public places feel safer. An ally can save a life.

There is an ally in me, is there one in you?