How to be an authentic ally
Ah, Pride month is upon us!
Time to break out the rainbows and let “the gays” out of the closet and into the light.
As someone that grew up in a not-so-gay-friendly part of the state, Pride has always had a special place in my heart -- it was the place where I could hold my girlfriend’s hand freely for the first time and be amongst more love, pride, and glitter than I had ever known existed.
So, how do we take that welcoming feeling and use it to advance social change and create a place that is just as open and welcoming 365 days a year for the LGBTQ community?
Well, first and foremost, if you want to have more success than a rainbow Listerine bottle, it starts by being authentic. Just because you break out the rainbows and start talking about Ru Paul’s Drag Race does not mean that you are suddenly welcoming and inclusive for the LGBTQ community.
Here are some tips to get you started on the right foot:
Ask for pronouns. Incorporate them on sign-in sheets, name tags, and email lists. It not only empowers our gender nonconforming and Trans* friends and shows them you care, it also encourages cisgender and straight folks to normalize using and asking for correct gender pronouns in other places and spaces.
Don’t make it weird. If you misgender someone, or assume they have a husband when they actually have a wife, just apologize and move on. There’s no need to dwell on it and make a bigger scene about it. That just draws more attention to your mistake and could out that person to those around you. I like to think about it as the “your fly is down” rule. You wouldn’t want to go on and on about how embarrassing it was, just do the right thing. Zip it up and move on.
Practice what you preach. Host public events at welcoming and accessible spaces. Make sure that there are all-gender restrooms, working elevators/ramps, etc. -- you know, just like you would check if there are appropriate AV options and enough chairs for everyone.
Make sure that you create space for those that society hasn’t always created space for and call it out when other folks in the room are not creating space for others. Intersectionality in the LGBTQ community exists and it is important. Listen to people’s stories—and believe them.
Remember that being an ally is a verb, not a noun––it’s something we all need to actively work on improving; it’s not something that we do on autopilot or suddenly become when we put on our rainbow tutu and head to the Pride Festival.
At the same time, it’s not always easy to do, and we’re going to make mistakes, and that’s okay! If you lead with good intentions and listen to those LBGTQ people around you, you can only grow from it— and become a better ally in return.