National Ally Week is from September 26 through September 30. During this week, we take the time to not only thank the incredible allies in our community who have helped further the movement for LGBT equality but also recognize how straight individuals can become better allies toward the LGBT community and how LGB-identified individuals can continue to support the movement of transgender equality and awareness.
5 Incredible Ways to be an Ally
1. Recognize Your Privilege – Use it to Make a Difference
Privilege is defined as, “A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/privilege) These identifying characteristics include your race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability status etc. Without a doubt, “privilege” can seem like a pretty scary word to accept; it is something that you are born with. Once you have recognized this privilege, however, it can be used as a powerful tool to help make a positive difference for underprivileged communities. You can use your privilege by speaking up for marginalized individuals, educating others that too have been born with privilege to help them understand better.
2. Listen to Experiences
The best way to understand someone’s experience facing discrimination is to simply listen to their story. You may know what the policies are in the state around nondiscrimination protections or the work that is being done to make hospitals across the state more inclusive, but it is another thing to know the personal experiences that someone else has faced in employment, housing or in hospitals. You can use your listening skills to empower both individuals who have been discriminated against and yourself to become a better, more understanding. And if someone who is oppressed is comfortable enough to tell their story, you have already made a wonderful first step in showing that you are an ally. So make sure you listen to what they have to say and understand what their stories and needs are.
3. Know when to Pass the Microphone
Now that you have listened to an individual’s experiences, I am sure you can tell the stories and experiences of people who have been fired from their job, have been harassed when applying for a marriage license or who have been denied housing because of who they are. But for myself, I do not know what facing discrimination in these different scenarios feels like because of my sexual orientation and gender identity. I can empathize, but I could never speak to the experiences in the same way as someone who has personally faced discrimination for these reasons. By hogging the microphone, you are continuing to take the voice away from the individuals who need their voice heard the most. Even though it is important to use your privilege as a tool to help tell the stories of people who have faced discrimination, it is even more important to know when to pass the microphone and let that person tell their own stories. Empower them to speak.
4. Being an Ally is a Full-Time Commitment
Being an ally does not end when you are done volunteering with an organization or when you leave work for the day; it is a 24/7 commitment. Oppression against marginalized community is not on a 9am to 5pm schedule. Being an ally full-time means engaging in a dialogue with friends and family. This can mean posting an article on Facebook to sitting down and having a meaningful conversation, possibly educating someone on why something they said was oppressive. And it can be tough having those conversations with your loved ones, but it is a conversation that can potentially change hearts and minds. This is something that is still difficult for both myself and many allies out there. But the willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue will go a long way.
5. And a Constant Learning Experience
Unfortunately, there is no guide out there on how to be the perfect ally. There is no ten-step method, and it is not something that you can put a timestamp on. There are no expectations to be a 100% perfect ally, but rather, the expectation of being open to learning something new each day and the willingness to learn how to become a stronger ally. Being an ally means being open to those new lessons, to not be afraid to “check your privilege,” to learn how to become a better listener and educator. Being an ally means being ready to take on the challenge to support the community you care for.
→Of course, the list does not end here. There are several ways in which you can practice being an ally and become an even better ally to the LGBT community. We encourage you to thank an ally today too! By being an ally, you can make a difference.