Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: the “A” in LGBTQIA+ does not stand for ally. If at any point in history it did, it was a capitulation to straight cisgender people, and that’s not OK in my book. This is not to say that allies don’t have an important role to play, or that allyship doesn’t exist within the queer community itself. We must, however, recognize that ally is not a marginalized identity (in fact, there’s an argument that it isn’t an identity at all but an action) and that by inserting themselves into the community, allies actually contribute to oppression and erasure, specifically of asexual, agender, and aromantic people (the real “A”).
But don’t cancel your plans for celebrating Pride as an ally just yet. There are plenty of ways to participate and show your support that don’t monopolize emotional energy, take up space that belongs to the LGBTQ community, or ignore or deny straight, cis privilege. Let’s look at a few:
1)Send what the Human Rights Campaign Foundation calls “gentle signals.”
HRC’s suggestions include putting an HRC or PFLAG sticker on your car and tweeting or blogging a message of support of LBGTQ issue. Following the landmark marriage equality decision, thousands of people added a rainbow filter to their Facebook profile picture. In my house, I have books like Beyond Magenta and Safe is Not Enough and a signed book of poetry by Staceyann Chin on my shelves. A friend of mine recently offered via social media to send a rainbow flag to anyone on his friends list with the caveat that they send a picture of it in their yard.
“Gentle signals” like these are great way to show queer people that it is safe to be open and honest about who they are with you without demanding attention, recognition, or validation for yourself.
2)Educate within your own community.
I’m a writer, and I use my blog to highlight issues of diversity and equity as they pertain to educators. I use both my clout as an experienced teacher as well as my privilege to educate people like me. I also write for a progressive parenting site, and it’s been an excellent platform for inclusivity. I might write directly about society’s ridiculous obsession with gendering babies, or simply use inclusive language (e.g. “partner” instead of “husband”) within the context of an article about pregnancy or breastfeeding. As a consultant for Welcoming Schools, I teach educators how to respond to gender-based teasing and anti-LGBTQ slurs (e.g. “that’s so gay”).
Just the other day, I overheard my baby boomer mom talking to my daughter about her beloved fox lovey, Coco. “Is Coco a boy or a girl?” she asked. “Maybe he isn’t either.” She came into the kitchen to ask me how she should refer to someone who does not identify as male or female, and we had a great conversation about using “they/them/theirs” as singular pronouns.
This approach can help ensure that you don’t try to make your opinion “count” more than that of someone in the queer community. It also requires that you educate yourself.
3)Make informed decisions.
When preparing to cast your vote, research the candidates and find out their positions on issues that impact the LGBTQ community. Patronize businesses that support LGBTQ equality, such as Apple, Target, and Starbucks. Even better, support local businesses owned by queer folks in your own community. Make sure charities to which you donate don’t discriminate based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
4)Live your allyship every day.
By all means, join in on pride parades and celebrations, but don’t let that be all you do. You’re not an ally by virtue of knowing someone who is LGBTQ. Listen to the LGBTQ people in your life and find opportunities to ask them about the challenges they face. Avoid making assumptions. Create social settings that bring people together (always invite the significant others of your LGBTQ friends and family, just as you would include other folks’ spouses and significant others). When you hear derogatory comments or demeaning “humor,” don’t let it slide in your presence.
Pride is 30 days of celebrating LGBTQ people, history, and accomplishments, but it’s also about political and social change. It’s been 48 years since the Stonewall Riots that started the LGBTQ rights movement and inspired the creation of Pride. There’s still much work to be done as we move by fits and starts toward full equality, and allies can be part of that — in the right way. Just make sure your allyship goes beyond donning a rainbow tutu in June.