The LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community faces adversity every day. The fight for equal rights has made headway—same-sex marriage is now legal in over half of the United States—but it’s no secret that there’s a long way yet to go.
You don’t have to identify as a member of the LGBTQ community to help. You can help the movement as an ally. Being a good listener is the key to being a good ally, so I turned to some friends and activists for some thoughts and advice about supporting the movement for gay rights.
Here’s what they wished more allies understood:
- Be accepting.
This is the first step. It's heartbreaking to hear accounts of a happy, loving couple sharing their good news with friends only to hear comments like, "Are you sure? This doesn't sound like you." As one friend put it, “When somebody says they are or are not a certain gender or sexuality, you need to believe them without questioning it. They've questioned it enough already.”
Don’t let your thoughts or ideas drown out the LGBTQ voices in the movement.
- Don’t be nosy just for the sake of being nosy.
That doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions, it just means you shouldn’t ask rude questions. Jude Hayden, a trans man who deals with these issues on a day-to-day basis, suggests, “If it would be weird for me to ask you, don't ask me.” For example, “What pronouns do you prefer?” is a great question, but “What are you really?” or “How do you have sex?” is not.
- On that note, respect pronouns!
If a friend asks you to use a certain set of pronouns (i.e. feminine or gender-neutral), just do it. Don't get hung up on how you think it sounds, just respect your friends' wishes. It's one of the easiest ways to show support.
- Validate experiences.
Not sure what that means? Jude says, "It's mostly about listening and not belittling. Like when someone tells you about something they've experienced related to these issues don't make it about you. Don't belittle it. Acknowledge that the experience is valid." Essentially, it comes down to accepting someone else’s experience. Don’t make it about yourself; be there for them instead.
- Don’t make assumptions.
Everyone knows the adage, but it’s nonetheless a good rule. Everyone has unique experiences and feelings, so what one person is fine with may not work for someone else. For example, some people freely identify as queer while others find the term deeply offensive.
- Don’t limit your understanding.
For example, bisexual and pansexual people are routinely misunderstood. Pan or bi doesn’t mean “attracted to anybody” or “attracted to everything.” It also doesn’t mean that they’re going to have a threesome with you or that they’re just trying to get more attention. This is another area where a little bit of tact (and a lot of sincerity) will go a long way. If you actually want to understand what it means to be pansexual, you might ask a question like, "So what does it mean that you identify as pansexual?" to open a dialog.
- Don’t be a part-time ally.
Being an ally means actively supporting the causes of the LGBTQ community, and not needing attention for it. Several of my friends specifically called out events like “Ally Week.” If you’re really in the movement to be supportive, you shouldn’t need a special week of recognition.
- It’s not all about same-sex marriage.
There are other problems, too! Suicide, violence, and youth homelessness are all important problems that are disproportionally prevalent in the LGBTQ community. Be an advocate for solutions to other issues or volunteer with an LGBT-friendly shelter in your area.
- Be a role-model.
If you hear something, say something! Respectfully correct people if you hear them say incorrect or insensitive things. And, for the love of God, don’t introduce your friend as your “gay friend.” Chances are, they don’t introduce you to their friends as their “straight friend.”