As a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, having daily safety and autonomy are things that I am truly grateful for. I am beyond fortunate to work for an employer who treats me with equity and respect, have friends and family both inside and outside of my community, and have a plethora of folks that I know I can rely on to stand beside me as allies. Do you know how incredible it is to talk to people from all communities about my upcoming wedding without any discouragement? Incredible. For someone who has been out for 14 years, it wasn’t always this easy, and I am ecstatic to see the conversations shifting at a greater speed to true respect and allyship.
But what is an ally? According to “Out & Equal Workplace Advocates” an ally is “a person who actively supports, respects, and advocates for members of the LGBTQIA+ community [or any marginalized community] and actively works to confront injustice against members of the community.”
Let’s talk about how to be a good ally to your family, friends, and co-workers. The term allyship here will be in relation to the LGBTQIA+ community, but the practices are paramount in allyship to any marginalized group. The following are just a few key points from outandequal.org and GLAAD.org.
- Validate When Others Share. Hold in confidence and validate another person’s feelings when they share issues around orientation, pronoun usage, or gender expression. For many people in the LGBTQIA+ community, “coming out” is something that happens more than just once and isn’t always met with kindness and respect. To have someone confide in you in any capacity is an honor. It means the person likely trusts you to respect them and keep the information safe.
- Don’t “Out” People. This is a no-brainer. Unless the person has given you explicit permission, do not tell people about their sexuality or gender identity. Your allyship can be holding space for that person while they navigate the undulating process of being ready to express themselves.
- Find Common Ground. Maybe your new coworker is the first member of the LGBTIA+ community that you have ever met. Try to find common interests to neutralize the conversation. Chances are you have so much more in common than you think. Biking? Gardening? New recipes? Inclusivity doesn’t have to be something huge. Treating someone as you wish to be treated is a major aspect of allyship.
- Defend Your Friends, Family, and Coworkers. Sitting at the company picnic, your incendiary colleague makes a snide remark hinting about someone’s gender expression or sexuality. You have some options here. You can choose to ignore this comment, or you can respectfully tell the coworker that that kind of conversation isn’t one that you wish to have. Remember, report things like this to HR, when necessary, particularly if your gentle reminders of zero tolerance go unheeded. Maybe it’s your uncle at Thanksgiving who keeps pushing the envelope, so no HR to contact for families (sadly). Even if it’s scary, tell him you don’t like joking like that and people deserve dignity and respect.
- Acknowledge and Ask for Help. Maybe you’re not sure how to frame something respectfully. Simply ask for help. It shows interest, kindness, and compassion to another human being, but also remember that LGBTIA+ community members (or any marginalized groups) may point you in the direction of some resources (such as books, podcasts, TV shows, etc.) instead of educating you themselves. Be open to that and try to find something that interests you and helps you learn.
It might seem scary to be an ally, but sometimes it is even scarier for a person in a marginalized group like the LGBTQIA+ community to simply exist. Treating people with dignity and respect is the first step to cultivating diverse friendships and relationships. Best of luck and happy Pride!