How to be an LGBTQ+ Ally
Being an ally to LGBTQ+ individuals in your life, in your own family, your school, your place of work, or wider community, is one amazing way you can help to make someone's life better.
Here are some suggestions from Okotoks Pride on how you can build your ally skills! Remember that being an ally is an ongoing process, rather than a final destination.
TIPS FOR ALl ALLIES
1. First and foremost, know that allyship is a verb; it is ongoing. Being an ally is a series of actions, not an accomplishment. If you make a mistake, listen, learn, and try again! It is okay to make mistakes, as long as you acknowledge them and try to do better. Believe us, we are an accepting bunch!
2. Listen with an open mind and open heart. Hear what your LGBTQ+ friends, family members, and colleagues are saying to you. Their experiences are often different from yours, so it may be difficult to appreciate what they are saying at first. But validating and affirming their feelings is one way you can open your heart and mind to what they are sharing with you.
3. Don't assume! It is important that you listen to others rather than assume their gender identity and sexual orientation. Don't assume strangers are straight or cisgender, but also don't identify people in your life as gay, lesbian, or queer if they have not publicly acknowledged that themselves. (This is called 'outing' someone and it can be hurtful, or even dangerous for them.)
Sometimes labels are helpful, because they allow LGBTQ+ individuals to feel connected to a community, to be seen and heard, and feel less alone. Some may not use labels at all, or sometimes the labels they use will change. A person's identity, as well as the language used to describe it, may shift or change over time. That is a normal human thing! Respect the label(s) that an individual is using at that time (or the fact that they are not identifying with a label at all).
By giving LGBTQ+ folk an unassuming and supportive space to exist rather than assuming, you create a safe environment for them to share in their own time, in their own way, if they choose to.
4. Acknowledge gaps in your own understanding. If someone shares their gender or sexual identity and you are unsure of how to proceed, ask them what they need from you! Or ask them for time to reflect on what they have shared, and do more research before proceeding. If someone has shared something with you, it is likely because they think you are a safe person to talk to. Honour that by doing your best to be calm, express support, and stay informed. Remember that what they share with you is not yours to share with others without their express permission.
5. Seek out resources and supports to broaden your own understanding. It is easy to expect others to do the work for us, but sometimes we have to do our own research to improve our understanding and open ourselves to better understanding. Tons of resources exist to support you in supporting others! Learning takes time and patience. No one expects you to get it 'right' immediately, but we do ask that you do your best to learn more and be more accepting. Use trusted queer sources for information, as you may encounter misinformation or misunderstandings. Reach out to us if you have any questions about trustworthy sources!
6. Use inclusive language. Think about your own assumptions in your language. When addressing groups of people you don't know, use gender neutral language, like "people", "folk", "everyone". When inquiring about someone's love life, ask if they have a "partner" rather than girlfriend or boyfriend (or don't assume at all that they are interested in romantic relationships!)
One awesome way to support trans, non-binary, and agender folk is to introduce yourself with your own pronouns before asking for theirs. Don't make cisgender the norm! By saying your name and sharing you use "she/her", "he/him", or "they/them" pronouns, you provide an opening for others to share their own.
7. Challenge discriminatory language or ideas. It is often uncomfortable, or sometimes unsafe, for LGBTQ+ individuals to stand up to discriminatory language, beliefs, or actions. As an ally, you have greater privilege, and therefore a responsibility, to calmly acknowledge and push back against hate in any form. There are LGBTQ+ people around you, some you know and maybe some you don't, who are watching how you react to discrimination. Demonstrate your allyship by saying things like, "I don't agree with what you are saying about [x, y, z]," or, "I have found some resources that have helped me to be a better ally, would you like me to share them with you?"
8. Show your pride, visibly and vocally! While you may not "know" a lot of LGBTQ+ people personally, we are out there! Seeing symbols of allyship (like rainbow flags, pronoun pins, etc.) help us to know who is safe and supportive. It means a lot to us when allies attend events and show interest in learning more.