Photo from Susanne Jutzeler
How to be an effective ally
Ally is a term often used to describe individuals who stand with and advocate for those in marginalised, oppressed and often abused groups. In this article, I will be referring to the LGBTQIA+ community, however much of what is discussed is adaptable for other groups. Allies are an important element of creating systemic change, as well as the mental health and safety of members of these groups. Today I’ll explore the value of allies, how to be a good ally and why it is important for allies to recognise and value their contributions.
To be an ally…
First of all, let’s get clear on what an ally is. An ally is someone who aligns themselves with others, in their struggles. Usually referring to a person who is in support of, a marginalised group, to which they don’t belong. They will speak up on a micro and/or macro level, challenging the status quo, disputing inappropriate and unpleasant behaviours and providing general support.
An ally is not…
An ally is not someone who speaks over marginalised individuals and groups or who speaks solely from their own opinion, without consultation and discussion with the very communities they are speaking up for and about. An ally doesn’t assume what communities need. They listen and learn from these communities, they stand alongside, speak with and provide support in a way that is collaborative and does not disempower.
Allies stand alongside
As mentioned above allies will stand up and speak up for others in all sorts of circumstances big or small. Saying no to unfair, unjust behaviours, bullying, exclusion, and physical and emotional abuse. It may occur in a schoolyard, work lunchroom, a bus stop, a shopping centre or perhaps a family home or event. It might be saying something to let others know their behaviour is inappropriate or it might be standing next to somebody and letting them know that they’re not alone. These everyday gestures are as important, if not more important than the bigger, louder forms of advocacy, challenging for systemic change.
Allies stand up against injustice
Members of marginalised groups who are often required to stand up and fight for their own basic rights can become exhausted and overwhelmed and sometimes find it hard to continue the fight. To stand up against big corporations’, governments and society, in general, takes a lot of energy. It also requires numbers to create a loud enough voice, for people to pay attention. Allies play a crucial role in these circumstances to support individuals and speak up with them and alongside them and to add another voice, to increase numbers and to help out when others feel too exhausted, afraid or overwhelmed to speak up.
How to be a effective ally for your LGBT+ child (of any age)
This list is speaking to people who are parents or carers of an LGBT+ person, however, again most of them are adaptable for anyone to use for the LGBTQIA+ community or any other marginalised group.
- Unconditional love – Demonstrate to your child that nothing has changed in relation to how you feel about them since they came out making sure they understand that you love them and will continue to love them no matter what. It’s not because of or in spite of their sexuality or gender identity. You love them exactly how they are and for the wonderful individual, they are. You might need some support to get to this stage and that is perfectly ok. Take the steps you need to, sooner, rather than later.
- Be a good role model – this is really important in all aspects of life, at all times. If you’re struggling to understand what it is to be a good role model perhaps think about a topic or situation you know better and how you would be a good role model in that circumstance. Then adapt as required. You can do things like speaking up, using appropriate language, not participating in or saying jokes about sexuality or gender.
- Speak up when you don’t have to – that is, when your child’s not around, or if they don’t seem upset. LGBTQIA+ people often have thick skin. That doesn’t mean they should continue to be exposed to hurtful, unpleasant experiences.
- Stand beside your child and stand tall – this will reassure them that you are not intimidated, embarrassed or ashamed. You love them and you are proud of them for exactly who they are and you’re going to stand beside them with your head held high. This demonstrates your unconditional love, your confidence and support of them and encourages them to also hold their head high and be proud of who they are.
- Educate others – take any opportunity you can to share accurate information. There are a lot of myths out there and a lot of misinformation and this fuels a lot of discrimination and prejudice. Offer them articles etc. to read, not just take your word for it.
- Remember that silence condones – being silent when something is happening that’s not okay, sends it a message to the person, behaving inappropriately that you accept their behaviour and you agree with them.
- Stay in your lane – it’s important to stand up, advocate and challenge inappropriate behaviour however it also important to do it with accurate, well-informed information and knowledge, otherwise, you might unintentionally affirm some myths or inaccurate information. When you are clear and you have confidence in the information and knowledge you have, you will come across a lot more self-assured and people will be less likely to challenge you and more likely to hear and accept what you’re saying.
- Truly come to terms with your child’s sexuality or gender identity – this is really important because your child will see straight through you if you haven’t and so will anyone else when you’re advocating for your child. It’s important to do the work and get the support that you need in order for you to feel truly at peace with their sexuality or gender identity.
- Be interested and curious – we all want our loved ones to express interest in our lives. If you demonstrate interest and curiosity about their life and don’t avoid subjects like crushes, partners or fashion, for example, this sends a clear message to them and the rest of the world that you are with them and support them 100%.
- Hear their pain – truly listen and hear your child’s experiences without making excuses or justifying, yours or other peoples, inappropriate comments or behaviours. Active listening is important to ensure that your child feels heard, loved and supported. When we make excuses for or justify poor behaviour or language, although it’s not our intent, we send a very clear message that we condone that behaviour and that we really haven’t heard the pain and the suffering they are experiencing.
Creating change is definitely a numbers game so make sure your voice is heard, keeping in mind that this doesn’t occur at the expense of your child’s voice. Please remember this is a journey and to become an ally is a process. You are not expected to do ALL of these things immediately. Take one step at a time and do what you can. And remember to take care of yourself.
We’ve explored the importance of allies, what it means to be an ally and how to be a good ally. Please take these with you on your journey to creating a safer, more comfortable world for your child and the rest of the LGBTQIA+ community. Please know that all of your efforts are appreciated and will inspire others to become an ally just like you.
Keep your eye out for my next post. Self-care as an Ally.
How are you being an ally? Why don’t you commit yourself to something new? Choose one step, that you’re not already taking and share it with us in the comments.
If you’d like to know more about how you can access support, please send me a message so we can arrange a time to have a chat and see if I can support you in a way that feels right for you.