Going to Venture Out as an ally? Here’s 6 tips to level up your solidarity.

Photo by russn_fckr on Unsplash

You’re coming to Venture Out? We’re simply thrilled. Out of all the things you plan to do March 15 and 16 2018, you’re choosing to spend it with us, and we love you for it!

Now with that, a quick note about allyship before kicking things off. Allyship as a verb, not a noun, because it’s not something you cannot have or be. It’s not something you just ‘become” — it’s what you practice every day, the same way you might practice kindness, generosity, or respect. Let’s begin with a recap:

Still unsure how it applies to Venture Out? Here’s our 6 additional tips (and trust, it’s worth the long read):

  1. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR ASSUMPTIONS.

The LGBTQA+ community is really, really REALLY diverse, which means there’s going to be a lot of different people in the room with different experiences from your own. While this is exciting, it also means we’ve got to respect these differences.

Thinking about what kinds of assumptions you might be making, and where they come from. This might mean taking an extra moment to think how you phrase your question, or checking someone’s name-tag before using gendered pronouns. Check in with yourself, “Am I talking over this person? Is someone from the LGBTQA+ community going to be hurt by my question/comment, even if that’s not my intention? What do I actually know about this topic”?

We’re not asking you to not have assumptions (as we all have them, it’s cognitively how human brains process things), but we are asking you to just be mindful of your assumptions. With that, if you don’t know the answer, it’s also ok to say you don’t know! Part of allyship is just simply recognizing your own biases. When you can call a spade a spade, it’s just a more productive place to start.

2. HANG BACK AND LISTEN.

As much as we know that “you can’t help it, you’re just a talker” (which is an awesome character trait!) and we’d love to hear about that story that “just popped into your head” (which is a brilliant story!), we’d also like to kindly remind you that Venture Out, at the end of the day, is about centering LGBTQA+ people.

In large group settings, this might mean passing the mic to us during Q&A periods, or stepping aside during the networking event to let us have the first chance to connect with someone interesting, or listening and respecting what we have to say, even if you don’t quite “get it”. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun and learn with us, but it does mean that you have to take a back seat.

3. GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE

Did a panelist say something brilliant that also happens to be perfectly curated for your Twitter? Take the extra 5 seconds to quote and tag them (with their searchable handle).

Did your heart melt when a participant shared a deeply personal story during a workshop? Take a moment to kindly thank them for sharing a truth.

Did someone show you how to do something smarter/faster/better that you’re definitely going to add to your toolbox? Don’t forget to name drop next time you’re fishing for that compliment (But be sure to ask permission, as not everyone wants to be outed). Too often, LGBTQA+ people are robbed of their opportunities to shine, and part of allyship is to honour our accomplishments, ask us how we’d like to be represented, and pay it forward.

4. GET COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE.

There’s no way around it. We need to unlearn homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in order to grow into better people, and unlearning is not fun. It’s not fun because it challenges us about who we are at our core. Sometimes that discomfort comes out in intense emotions you’re not used to expressing at a conference (or maybe even at all).

If you’re feeling some feelings, here’s what I suggest:

  • Take a step back and identify the emotion. What are you holding? Is it fear? Insecurity? Anger? Feel it in your body and let it move through you. Discomfort is where the learning happens.
  • Check in about your discomfort. Why is it activated? Think about what parts of the conversations triggered these emotions.
  • Disengage and take a momentary breather, if you need to. Unlearning is a long process, and we all have a right to respect our emotional boundaries.
  • Do your research. If these concepts are new to you, chances are there’s an article or a youtube video somewhere on the internet you could chew on for a bit before returning to the conversation.

Here’s what I DON’T suggest:

  • Disengage entirely just because feelings are hard. Allyship 101, engagement is a non-negotiable to doing this work.
  • Play the devil’s advocate: There are many people in this world who need an advocate, and the devil isn’t one.
  • Minimize, undermine or invalidate someone’s lived experience. As an ally, you don’t have to “get it”, but you do have to respect it.
  • Make it about you. While your feelings are valid, allyship is also about doing some of the emotional work so the burden doesn’t fall on us.

Remember, the Venture Out team is always here for support if you need to talk through things (esp. Iradele, talk to her, she loves this kind of stuff).

5. WE ARE COMMUNITIES, NOT COMMODITIES.

It’s awesome that tech is generally receptive to LGBTQA+ diversity and inclusion — But let’s be real, profit also drives much of the decision making. This means that sometimes LGBTQA+ people are put in positions to advocate for their community that serves a bottom line. Some people might be ok with this, and some people might not. So at Venture Out, you may hear stories that are messy and won’t fit neatly into carefully curated ideas of “team spirit” or “culture fit” — this is ok, and it’s important that these perspectives are shared.

Allyship strives for personal and professional relationships that are reciprocal, authentic and non-transactional — We ask you to see us as whole, complex humans before our LGBTQA+ identities. Allyship strives to make space for these messy, complicated discussions, whether it’s in a meeting, a breakout, or an informal social with the team.

Again, this is not to minimize the hard work you or your company does (which we appreciate), but we still ask you to reflect on your motives. Ask yourself “Does working with LGBTQA+ people make me/my company look good? Would this person feel tokenized if I ask them to do XYZ because we want an LGBTQA+ perspective? How can I show that our relationship is more than just business”? Again, if you don’t know the answer, ask us! Everyone feels different about how we want our LGBTQA+ identity expressed (if at all), we’ll appreciate the candidness!

6. RELAX, WE’RE LEARNING TOGETHER.

For all of you out there who are obsessed with finding “the right way to do it”, I come with regrettable news: There is no right way, and you’re going to mess up. The LGBTQA+ community is a big one, with many different values and we don’t always (if ever) reach consensus… and that’s ok! You won’t learn everything you need to know at Venture Out, and your job as an ally won’t end when the conference is over. However, one of the greatest skills we should all try and learn is how to mess up and apologize compassionately, and how to commit to doing better next time. Allyship is a life-long process that’s constantly evolving under a shifting landscape… but tech is already like that, so you’re already well- equipped to take on the challenge 😘


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