Become an Ally [IMAGE: SIUE Safe Zone]
An "Ally" is "a person who is a member of the dominant or majority group who works to end oppression in his or her personal and professional life through support of, and as an advocate for, the oppressed population." (Washington and Evans, Becoming and Ally) Allies to racial, religious and ethnic minorities have been remarkable effective in promoting positive change in the dominant culture, and only recently has their instrumental position been extended to the area of sexual orientation. The past few years have witnessed the development of heterosexual Ally organizations which have attempted to make the culture of a campus or workplace more aware and accepting of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trangender individuals.
Resources for allies:
When a friend comes out
About stages in coming out
An Ally strives to…
Be a friend; be a listener; be open-minded; have his or her own opinions; be willing to talk; commit him or herself to personal growth in spite of the discomfort it may sometimes cause; recognize his or her personal boundaries; recognize when to refer an individual to additional resources; confront his or her own prejudices; join others with a common purpose; believe that all persons regardless of age, sex, race, gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation should be treated with dignity and respect; engage in the process of developing a culture free of homphobia and heterosexism; recognize his or her mistakes, but not use them as an excuse for inaction; be responsible for empowering his or her role in a community, particularly as it relates to responding to homophobia; recognize the legal powers and privileges that heterosexuals have and which GLBT people are denied; and support the ally program of his or her university or workplace.
As important as it is to define what an Ally is in a positive sense, it is also helpful to understand the boundaries of an Ally's role.
An Ally is NOT…
Someone with ready-made answers; necessarily a counselor, nor is he or she necessarily trained to deal with crisis situations; or, expected to proceed with an interaction if levels of comfort or personal safety have been violated.
As a heterosexual, how can you show support?
- Assume that, wherever you go, there are gay, lesbian, and/or bisexual people present who are wondering how safe the environment is for them. Provide safety by making it clear that you accept gayness.
- Notice the many ways in which you reveal your heterosexuality. Imagine how it would feel if you had to keep it hidden.
- Challenge homophobic jokes and the use of homophobic epithets whenever you hear them; do not wait for gays/lesbians/bisexuals to do it.
- Speak out about stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination or any kind.
- Sometimes it is the assumptions as well as anti-gay statements, which need challenging. The assumption that everyone present is heterosexual (Heterosexism) is discounting and hurtful to gays/lesbians/bisexuals. Challenge it.
- Use inclusive, affirming, or gender-neutral language when referring to romantic relationships and sexuality. If you use terms such a s "partner", "companion", "s.o./significant other", "main squeeze", you convey openness to different kinds of partnerships.
- Get to know someone who is gay/lesbian/bisexual. Listen to his/her feelings and experiences.
- Some heterosexuals believe that gays and lesbians are attracted to everyone of the same gender. Don't make that mistake and assume that if a gay/lesbian/bisexual person of the same gender as you seems friendly or "comes out" to you, she/he is making a pass.
- When speaking of your heterosexual companion, point out that he/she is of the other gender, implying that he/she would not necessarily be. Or, in situations where it is unclear whether you are seeing a man or a woman, leave it that way. Your choice not to exercise your "heterosexual privilege" will convey that the gender of one's partner doesn't matter.
- Realize that the cultural oppression of gays/lesbians/bisexuals is perpetuated in social situations where the only hugging and physical affection is between men and women. You can refrain from romantic touching with the other gender, and/or be affectionate with persons of the same gender.
- Attend gay/lesbian/bisexual cultural and community events. Read gay literature, books, and articles.
- Wear pro-gay buttons and/or T-shirts, or those with anti-prejudice or pro-diversity themes.
- If people jump to the conclusion that you are gay/lesbian/bisexual because you speak out about gay oppression or are otherwise supportive, are seen hugging a same-gender friend, etc., resist the impulse to point out that you are not gay. Let yourself experience the oppression that gay/lesbian/bisexual people suffer; it will enrich your sensitivity and empathy.
- On "National coming Out Day' (October 11), communicate your admiration and support to gay/lesbian/bisexual friends who have taken the risk of disclosing their sexual orientation, and your empathy for those who continue to fear doing so.
Excerpted and adapted in part from writings of Warren J. Blumenfeld; G. Goodman, J Lashof, E.E. Thorne, and Una Fahy.