How can I be an effective ally?

Social and Racial Justice

As a cisgender woman, Pride Month always feels like a good time for me to do some thinking on what it means to be an effective ally for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Questioning, Two Spirit, Intersex, Agender, and Asexual (LGBTQ2SIA+) and Same Gender Loving (SGL) people.

The Human Rights Campaign defines “ally” as “A term used to describe someone who is actively supportive of LGBTQ+ people. It encompasses straight and cisgender allies, as well as those within the LGBTQ+ community who support each other (e.g., a lesbian who is an ally to the bisexual+ community).”

I’ve long been comfortable being in and around the LGBTQ+ community, having had many gay and lesbian friends over the last forty-five years. Back in the 80s, I spent fun summer weekends in Provincetown and Fire Island, danced many nights away in gay discos until the DJ played “Last Dance,” and suffered through the early years of the AIDS crisis alongside my gay friends in NYC. But somehow I think being an ally is more than just *me* being at ease with my LGBTQ+ friends.

I have learned so much from fellow Nerdy Girls about what it looks like to be *truly* inclusive of all kinds of people who are different from me. I’ve been enlightened about things I hadn’t even considered before. Even though I feel like I’m aware and sensitive to lots of issues, there are things I say or do every day that could use some improvement.

That leads me to my first tip on being an ally. . .

🌈 Keep striving to grow and learn. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

For me, the best way to accomplish the step above is to. . .

🌈 Just ask. I recently encountered a situation in which I was unsure about how best to refer to a couple of my LGBTQ+ Nerdy colleagues in a graphic I was working on. I tossed my uncertainty back and forth with another cisgender colleague when it occurred to me to just ask. So ask I did. And they were completely welcoming and appreciative of my question and not at all offended. There have been a number of times that I wasn’t sure how to introduce the spouses of gay or lesbian friends when in social situations. . . husband, wife, partner? But guess what? When I asked them, they told me what they prefer. Duh!

As someone who has young children in my life (great niece, lots of neighborhood kids I often interact with) I try to . . .

🌈 Say it matter-of-factly. An explanation is not always required. Sometimes I feel that the need to “over” explain defeats the purpose of normalization. When I was walking recently with my 7-yr-old neighbor, we stopped to visit with a woman down the street. While we were talking, her wife came out of the house to join in the conversation. As we walked away, she asked me, “Is that her sister?” I said, “No, that’s her wife,” and we continued on our way.

Changing pronouns has been challenging for me and many others, so my next tip is. . .

🌈 Do your best. I can guarantee you it won’t always be perfect. Make a point to use the pronouns people use for themself when speaking or writing about them. They will appreciate your efforts and give you plenty of grace when you mess up. Give yourself that same grace, and don’t let it stop you from trying. Also, anyone can share the pronouns they use (for example, include them in your email signature or on your nametag at a meeting). Doing so can help normalize this practice.

Lastly, but maybe most importantly for me. . .

🌈 Speak up, not through confrontation but through sharing your personal feelings. I know that some people struggle with fully embracing certain aspects of our culture, and sometimes those are issues related to LGBTQ+ people. Conversations happen. In these situations, I do my best to start my sentences with “I.” It makes it clear how I feel without inviting an argument. And sometimes it leads to productive discussions.

🔸 I like to address people by their correct names and pronouns. Some of my friends named William want to be called Bill. Some of my trans friends use they/them pronouns. I really don’t see a difference.
🔸 I really don’t feel that who people choose to love has any bearing on what kind of human being they are, which is really all I care about.
🔸 I’m not really sure how I feel about that. It’s a tough issue, and I need to learn more about it.

Another way to speak up is to share content on your social media feeds. For example, posts educating about the LGBTQ+ community, celebrating Pride Month, or informing about Transgender Awareness Week.

Here’s hoping this Pride Month spurs you to think about ways you can be a supportive ally. Feel free to pop some ideas in the comments.

Stay safe. Stay well. Stay Nerdy.

Nerdy Girl Gretchen (she/her)

Human Rights Campaign

Harvard Business Review

National Black Justice Coalition

Link to Original FB Post