An ally is someone who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, heterosexual and gender straight privilege in themselves and others, has a concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people and a belief that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are social justice issues.
How to Be an Ally
- Be a listener.
- Be willing to talk.
- Be open-minded.
- Be inclusive and invite LGBT friends to hang out with your friends and family.
- Don't assume that all your friends and acquaintances are straight. Someone close to you could be looking for support in their coming-out process. Not making assumptions will give them the space they need.
- Homophobic comments and jokes are harmful. Let your friends, family and co-workers know that you find them offensive.
- Be open about having gay friends, family or acquaintances that you value, respect, and are grateful to have in your life. When you talk about them, don’t omit the fact that they are GLBT.
- Call, write, e-mail or visit public policy makers and let them know that as a straight person who votes, you support laws that extend equal rights and protections to all people.
- Believe that all people, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, should be treated with dignity and respect.
- Become informed about the realities, challenges and issues affecting the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people’s lives through websites, books, documentaries and educational materials.
- Use the words “gay” and “lesbian” instead of “homosexual.” The overwhelming majority of gays and lesbians do not identify with or use the word “homosexual” to describe themselves.
- Use non-gender specific language. Ask “Are you seeing someone?” or “Are you in a committed relationship?,” instead of “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” Use the word “partner” or “significant other” instead of “boyfriend/girlfriend.”
- Give visibility to LGBT issues, concerns and experiences in your family, school, workplace, religious community and neighborhood. You can show your support by posting signs in your room or workplace and even on networking website.
The Four Basic Levels of Becoming an Ally
- Awareness: Explore how you are different from and similar to LGBT people. Gain this awareness through talking with LGBT people, attending workshops and self-examination.
- Knowledge/Education: Begin to understand policies, laws and practices and how they affect gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Educate yourself on the many communities and cultures of LGBT people.
- Skills: This is an area which is difficult for many people. You must learn to take your awareness and knowledge and communicate it to others. You can acquire these skills by attending workshops, role-playing with friends or peers and developing support connections.
- Action: This is the most important and frightening step. Despite the fear, action is the only way to effect change in the society as a whole.
Five Important Points to Keep in Mind as an Ally
- Have a good understanding of sexual orientation and be comfortable with your own.
- Be aware of the coming-out process and realize that it is not a one-time event. The coming out process is unique to LGBT people and brings challenges that are not often understood.
- Understand that LGBT people receive the same message about sexual identity as everyone else. Thus LGBT people suffer from internalized homophobia and heterosexism. It is important to recognize the risks of coming out and to challenge the internal oppression.
- Remember that LGBT people are a diverse group. Each community within the larger LGBT community has unique needs and goals.
- Know at least basic information about HIV/AIDS in order to address myths and misinformation and to be supportive of those affected by this disease whether in themselves or in partners and friends. While HIV/AIDS is a health issue for all, those who live with the most fear and have lost the most members of their community are LGBT persons.
What Is Heterosexual Privilege
Heterosexual privilege is living without ever having to think twice, face, confront, engage or cope with anything on this page. Heterosexuals can address these phenomena by social/political forces do not require you to do so. Some examples of heterosexual privilege follow.
Legal marriage includes the following privileges:
- Public recognition and support for an intimate relationship
- Celebration of your commitment to another with gifts, cards and congratulations from others
- Supported activities and social expectations of longevity and stability for your committed relationships
- Paid leave from employment and condolences when grieving the death of your partner/lover (i.e. legal members defined by marriage and descendants from marriages)
- Inheriting from your partner/lover/companion automatically under probate laws
- Sharing health, auto and homeowners' insurance policies at reduced rates
- Immediate access to your loved ones in cases of accident or emergency
- Family-of-origin support for a life partner/lover/companion
- Increased possibilities for getting a job, receiving on the job training and promotion
- Kissing/hugging/being affectionate in public without threat or punishment
- Talking about your relationship or what projects, vacations, family planning you and your partner/lover are creating
- Not questioning your normalcy, sexually and culturally
- Expressing pain when a relationship ends and having other people notice and attend to your pain
- Adopting children, foster-parenting children
- Being employed as a teacher in pre-school through high school without fear of being fired any day because you are assumed to corrupt children
- Raising children without threats of state intervention, without children having to be worried which of their friends might reject them because of their parent's sexuality and culture
- Dating the person of your desire in your teen years
- Living with your partner and doing so openly to all
- Receiving validation from your religious community
- Receiving social acceptance by neighbors, colleagues, new friends
- Not having to hide and lie about same-sex social events
- Working without always being identified by your sexuality/culture (e.g. you get to be a farmer, brick layer, artist, etc. without being labeled the heterosexual farmer, the heterosexual teacher)
What Is Homophobia/Biphobia/Transphobia?
Homophobia/biphobia/transphobia takes many different forms, including physical acts of hate, violence, verbal assault, vandalism or blatant discrimination such as firing an employee, evicting someone from their housing or denying them access to public accommodations. There are many other kinds of homophobia/biphobia/transphobia and heterosexism that happen every day. We often overlook these more subtle actions and exclusions because they seem so insignificant by comparison. They are not:
- Looking at an LGBT person and automatically thinking of her/his sexuality or gender rather than seeing her/him as a whole, complex person.
- Failing to be supportive when your LGBT friend is sad about a quarrel or breakup.
- Changing your seat in a meeting because an LGBT person sat in the chair next to yours.
- Thinking you can spot one.
- Using the terms "lesbian" or "gay" as accusatory.
- Not asking about a woman's female lover or a man's male lover although you regularly ask "How is your husband/wife?" when you run into a heterosexual friend.
- Thinking that a lesbian (if you are female) or gay man (if you are male) is making sexual advances if she/he touches you.
- Feeling repulsed by public displays of affection between lesbians and gay men but accepting the same affectional displays between heterosexuals.
- Feeling that LGBT people are too outspoken about civil rights.
- Feeling that discussions about homophobia are not necessary since you are "okay" on these issues.
- Assuming that everyone you meet is heterosexual.
- Feeling that a lesbian is just a woman who couldn't find a man or that a lesbian is a woman who wants to be a man.
- Feeling that a gay man is just a man who couldn't find a woman or that a gay man is a man who wants to be a woman.
- Not confronting a homophobic remark for fear of being identified with or as LGBT.
- Worrying about the effect an LGBT volunteer/co-worker will have on your work or your clients.
- Asking your LGBT colleagues to speak about LGBT issues, but not about other issues about which they may be knowledgeable.
- Focusing exclusively on someone's sexual orientation and not on other issues of concern.
- Being afraid to ask questions about LGBT issues when you don't know the answers.
Suggestions for Creating a Non-Homophobic Campus Environment
- Object to and eliminate jokes and humor that put down or portray LGBT people in stereotypical ways.
- Counter statements about sexual orientation or gender identity that are not relevant to decisions or evaluations being made about faculty, staff or students.
- Invite "out" professionals to conduct seminars and provide guest lectures in your classes and offices. Invite them for both LGBT topics and other topics of their expertise.
- Do not force LGBT people out of the closet nor come out for them to others. The process of coming out is one of enlarging a series of concentric circles of those who know. Initially the process should be in control of the individual until (and if) they consider it public knowledge.
- Don't include sexual orientation information in letters of reference or answer specific or implied questions without first clarifying how "out" the person chooses to be in the specific process in question. Because your environment may be safe does not mean that all environments are safe.
- Recruit and hire “out” LGBT staff and faculty. View sexual orientation as a positive form of diversity that is desired in a multicultural setting. Always question job applicants about their ability to work with LGBT faculty, staff and students.
- Do not refer all LGBT issues to LGBT staff/faculty. Do not assume their only expertise is LGBT issues. Check with staff about their willingness to consult on LGBT issues with other staff members.
- Be sensitive to issues of oppression and appreciate the strength and struggle it takes to establish a positive LGBT identity. Provide nurturing support to colleagues and students in phases of that process.
- Be prepared. If you truly establish a safe and supportive environment, people that you never thought of will begin to share their personal lives and come out in varying degrees. Secretaries, maintenance personnel, former students and professional colleagues will respond to the new atmosphere. Ten percent is a lot of people.
- View the creation of this environment as a departmental or agency responsibility, not the responsibility of individual persons who happen to be LGBT. Always waiting for them to speak, challenge or act adds an extra level of responsibility to someone who is already dealing with oppression on many levels.
Citation: Adapted by Buhrke & Douce, 1991.
Citation: Adapted from American College Health Association College Students in High-Risk Situations CDC/ACHA Cooperative Agreement #97065, July 2000.