How to Be a Better Ally
It took a conversation with my best friend about how I, a cis-gendered, straight, white person could write something supportive for Pride month to ensure I should, in fact, write something.
“I don’t want to be the cis, straight, white lady talking about Pride and pissing people off because my view point isn’t the one that matters,” is exactly what I said. And they replied with, “But you can talk about what you’ve learned.”
So, I’m writing as an ally. My best friend is Kat Kibben and they are trans and non-binary. I have known and loved them for 19 years. They are my family and they have taught me so much about the LGBTQAI+ community and today I would like to share with you things that I have learned. Hopefully what follows here will help you to become a better ally yourself.
Our job as allies (shit, not just as allies, as human beings) is to ensure that the people we love feel safe and be accepted. And as adults, to make sure our workplaces don’t just talk about inclusion - but are actually inclusive. Our job is to teach our families, friends, co-workers, teachers, and so on, that equality across the board means inclusion and acceptance - and not just when it makes us comfortable, but all the time.
How can you be a better ally for your LGBTQAI+ co-workers, friends, and family members?
Learn about and update your pronouns [and use them correctly]. Start by downloading this eBook by Kat. Addressing someone correctly is common courtesy. You know that feeling you get when someone calls you the wrong name? Imagine being misgendered. What do you do if you get it wrong? You correct yourself and move on. As you’ll learn in the eBook, making it a big deal isn’t helpful. “I was talking to Her, sorry, Them, about it and think it’s a great idea.” See how easy that is?
Want to show everyone that you’re inclusive? Be inclusive! Updating your email signature and social media profiles is a great start. Why? Because we need to make everyone feel safe. Pronouns aren’t just for people who don’t identify as straight or cis gendered. When the majority (straight people) show that they can show up and change their pronouns - it can affect more change.
Most social platforms give you the option now. On LinkedIn simply edit your profile and you’ll see where you have the option to update it.
It’s similar on most of the platforms. Just edit your profile and you’ll see the options. In your email signature you can just add a line under your name. So simple.
Listen to what they have to say. It seems easy, but as my Granddad used to say, “Hearing me and listening to me aren’t the same thing.”
I’ve heard countless stories from my best friend about people telling them that they’re in the wrong bathroom. That they were called ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ instead of just being asked what they preferred. I’ve witnessed them being asked for their ID in a restaurant so the server could try to figure out ‘what they were’ while the rest of us sitting at the table weren't asked. I listen to them tell me how it affects them. I listen so I can learn from every experience, every heartbreak, every panic attack - so I can make sure that I do better.
Don’t try to relate. As humans we can’t help but convince ourselves that empathy is always the answer. We hear someone tell us a story about a traumatic experience and immediately think we need to respond with, “Oh I totally get what you’re saying because this ONE TIME…”
The thing about someone else's experience is that it literally has nothing to do with you. This circles back to learning and listening. If you want to be a true ally - remember that it’s not about you - it’s about being an ally for someone else.
“You’re not an ally because you say so on your t-shirt or because you voted for this person. You’re an ally in your actions.” - Kat Kibben, Three Ears Media - Issue #24
Educate yourself and others. Not sure what Pride is about? Google is free. Learn about the Stonewall riots. Maybe you’ve heard about the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill but aren’t sure what it’s about - look it up. Ask your friends to explain things to you. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to learn because you’re embarrassed. The more you know, the better ally you can be. You probably have family members and friends that say words that are hurtful about members of the community and as uncomfortable as it might feel to call someone out - you have to. How many times have you heard, “That’s just the way I talk,”, or, “That’s just how they said things back then.”?
It's your job to make the world safe for the people you care about - and those people won’t feel safe if the other people in your life are comfortable with making them feel less safe by their words and actions. I taught my family about using the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’ so when Kat came to visit they knew how to address them and could make sure that Kat felt safe.
Remember that love doesn’t discriminate. You know that saying, “Say it with your whole chest.”? That applies to love too. You can’t just love parts of someone. You love all of them. So if you find your family, friends, or anyone else ever saying, “I love them but…”, feel free to remind them that love doesn't discriminate. Love with your whole chest. I love my best friend because of the amazing human being they are - there shouldn’t be anything complicated about loving someone.
Speak up. When you witness something happen - say something. Do something. When my friend got carded and I didn’t - I thought it was just because they looked young - it wasn’t until later and we talked about it that I realized what had happened. I missed my chance to say something and to hold that server accountable for their bad actions. Not long after we made a run to Target and the cashier called them ‘sir’ and my heart sank. I said, “Did she just call you sir?” The look I gave the cashier was a mixture of disbelief and disappointment. The person behind the counter immediately launched into a series of excuses as to why they said it, why they weren’t sorry, etc. And while my friend chose the higher path of taking the groceries and packing the cart, I stood there with RBF. I know simply asking “Did she just call you sir?” isn’t the ultimate solution - but I needed that cashier to know that you DON’T ASSUME GENDER.
Speak up at home, at a restaurant, at Target, and at work. It doesn’t always have to be when it’s happening. You can advocate for people that aren’t in the room. You can remind your co-workers and employees about using correct pronouns, about hiring people that aren’t exactly ‘like you’, and continue to remind them that inclusion is more than just ‘saying’ you want to be inclusive. Everyone needs to be a part of the conversation and everyone needs to take action.
I’ve been friends with Kat for 19 years and still see past things because I don’t experience them. I am continually learning that I need to pay more attention and I know I can do better.
We can all do better.