Straight But Not Narrow: How To Be An Active Ally

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How can you be straight and support the LGBT community? What does it really mean to be an LGBT ally? What can we do politically to advocate for LGBT rights?

Rainbow Lorrikeets

Photo: Sheba_Als

Like birds of a feather- LGBT and allies need to stick together

Celebrating National Coming Out Day, the words from one of my favorite bumper stickers rings in my ears: “One of my deepest regrets is that God did not make me a lesbian.”  While I wanted to write a blog celebrating my friends and family members who have taken the brave step of coming out, I was hesitant to speak as a heterosexual woman.  Where is my voice in the conversation about creating an open and honest dialogue about sexual identities?  It felt a little funny to write about an experience I have never had and never will.  So, today I am coming out as a ‘straight supporter’ (a term coined by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation) and a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) ally.  I hope to encourage us all to think about how we can support the LGBT community- from a daily basis to becoming a true advocate.

What is a LGBT ally?

A LGBT ally is someone who identifies as heterosexual, but who wants to support the LCBT community.  An ally says, I accept the LGBT community, but I refuse to accept the unfair treatment this community receives.  An ally is a friend and an advocate.

Why is it important to have LBGT allies?

As my fellow blogger Eric Grollman has said: “Indeed, it should not solely be the responsibility of LGBT people to fight homophobia and transphobia… In fact, it is sometimes easier and much more powerful for straight and cisgender people to speak out — just look at what a difference Obama’s explicit support for same-sex marriage has had.” Allies turn the conversation to one of rights and equality, providing a perspective that may be less easily dismissed as individualistic. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) describes allies as “some of the most effective and powerful voices of the LGBT movement.” Allies provide invaluable support to their friends and family members, especially when people face discrimination after sharing their sexual and gender identities.

What do allies do?

Allies can do a range of things, small actions make a big difference.  Allies, first and foremost, challenge stereotypes.  One way to act as an ally is to challenge broad generalizations and call into question hostile jokes.  Check out the Think Before you Speak Campaign which encourages people to delete ‘that’s so gay’ from their vocabulary. Also, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has Ally Week in American schools from Oct 15-29. Host an event. As an ally, talk with your friends about sexuality and gender equality, and why it is important.  Facing discrimination literally hurts the health of your LGBT friends while acceptance helps.  I engaged my cousin in a Facebook discussion about why marriage equality was important for women in general and an important public health issues.  It wasn’t easy to engage him publicly, and I am not sure I made an impact, but it was a start. For more tips, the Human Right Campaign offers a guide to being a straight supporter and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) publishes a “Guide to Being a Straight Supporter” and  provides resources for faith communities interested in supporting their LGBT brethren. Simply put: Be a good friend.  Listen to your LGBT friends.  Hear what your friends have to say.  One of my good friends who is a lesbian helped me understand how she felt disregarded when I acted like oral sex wasn’t as valid of a sexual experience as penetrative sex.  I have tried to share her pain at her mother’s reaction to her bringing home a female partner, offer support, and brainstorm for solutions.

More than a friend: being an advocate

Since today is National Coming Out day, though, I want to encourage everyone to consider what it means to be an advocate of the LGBT community and what allies can do politically.  Being an ally means actively challenging inequality.  I recently discussed with a good heterosexual friend both of our hesitation to get married until that right is available for everyone, but wouldn’t true change be more likely if we invoked our political voice? The theme this year of National Coming Out day is “Come Out. Vote.”  Before you vote, though, be informed.  Look at the legislation that has passed recently on behalf of the LGBT community, or check out how your elected officials have voted on equality issues.  Be informed and don’t support businesses that aren’t. Make your allied voice heard.  PLAG provides contact information and an easy format for contacting your elected officials.  Take time today to sign the PLAG “Straight for Equality” pledge or the GLEN “Ally Pledge”.  You can also join the Facebookpage and post photos with your “I am straight for equality because …” statements.

Proud of my pride brothers and sisters

This blog is dedicated to my lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender friends who fight every day for equal rights in the face of discrimination.  Today is to celebrate you; hear my voice as I pledge to support you.  Happy National Coming Out Day!  Together we can create a more equitable world.

Margo Mullinax

works as Project Coordinator at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University while working on a PhD in Health Behavior.
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