By Shivikah Singh
The term ally refers to someone who stands in solidarity with any other marginalized social group and believes in their cause. An ally recognises social, political or legal issues affecting a community and believes in their rights and equality, and works for their upliftment. An LGBTQ+ ally is any person who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBTQ+ social movements and challenges homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. An LGBTQ+ ally recognizes the discrimination that LGBTQ+ people face, acknowledges their own privilege and uses it to counter discrimination.
Famous Sociologist and an LGBTQ+ ally himself, Keith Edwards, identifies three stages to the process of becoming an ally in a social movement:
Aspiring ally for self-interest- their focus is only on their loved ones and since this is an individualistic approach, their impact is limited. They usually believe that the issues faced by their loved ones are a result of some small community and fail to see the larger systemically rooted issues of discrimination.
Aspiring ally for altruism- this ally group focuses on combating discrimination for the entire LGBTQ+ community instead of just their loved ones, hence it is wider in nature. The allies in this group show greater understanding of their privilege and LGBTQ+ discrimination however they still are not aware of larger systemic issues.
Ally for social justice- this group of allies battle the oppressive system and recognises wider issues concerning LGBTQ+ community. They have great respect for the community they are fighting for and deeply believe in their cause. They are fully capable of defending themselves.
To be a well aware and motivated ally, here are a few steps that are crucial to follow-
Be open to learn, listen and educate yourself- The first step to becoming an ally is to begin learning with genuine curiosity and sensitivity. Learning about pronouns, LGBTQ+ History, terminology and issues facing the community is crucial for a beginner. Listening to people’s stories would give a first-hand view of their struggle and unfair treatment. Listen with sensitivity, if necessary, ask questions politely. You might also like to educate yourself about the laws concerning the community like adoption policy for LGBTQ+ individuals, policies on Healthcare, protection at workplaces etc. If you make a mistake in the process of learning, acknowledge it and apologize.
Check your Privilege- an individual can be privileged due to many factors such as race, social class, heterosexuality and economic status etc. It is important to identify which of many factors or a combination of factors make you privileged compared to your counterparts. Understanding one’s own privilege will help understanding marginalized and oppressed communities better. Use your privilege to help the oppressed social groups.
Avoid Assumptions- everyone around us does not confirm to the prevalent gender binary. You must also stop using gendered language and try to opt for gender neutrality in your day to day life. Instead of asking about someone’s boyfriend/ wife/girlfriend, ask about their partner. Be open for the possibility that your co-worker, neighbour or friend might come out an LGBTQ+ individual. Show understanding and extend support.
Confront your own biases and challenge homophobia, transphobia and biphobia around- we live in a society where prejudices still exist and discrimination is prevalent and hence we can acquire biases from the surroundings. It is important to acknowledge it and be wiling to improve. Think about the jokes you crack, the pronouns you use, or if you wrongly assumed someone’s gender just because of how they dress and behave. Know that prejudices need not be outright hatred, it can be subtle.
Confront or intervene with others when you hear them cracking derogatory jokes about the LGBT community, mocking them or are expressing homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in any form. Allyship is more than taking a back seat and saying, “I don’t have a problem with the community”, it is about stepping up for them.
Believe in active change- allyship is more than passive agreement. Being an agent of active change would mean doing more than just taking pictures with the LGBT flag. Even though same sex marriage might have been legalised and media representation of queer people is increasing, the community still faces many issues. Joining the protests in solidarity with LGBT+ community would reassure that that they have their straight counterparts supporting them and that they are in a safe space.
It is always possible to recognize your own privilege, channel it in the right direction, and help individuals who are oppressed. Remember, being privileged doesn’t mean having no issues at all. It means not having to face the issues that others might because of the race they belong to, the ethnicity they relate with, the pronouns they use and even how they chose to express themselves. Extending support and solidarity for the marginalized, brings us a step closer to the dream of creating a fair and equal world.