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Wednesday, 5 July 2017

7 Ways to Be a Better Ally to the LGBTQ Community

To say equality is a big deal seems a bit redundant. It's obvious. It doesn't need stating. Despite this fact, the lack of it still seems far too prevalent. Unlike other forms of inequality, such as sexism, the discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi and transgender people is perhaps not something that directly affects me. It is, however, something that is very important to me. I really struggle to comprehend the justification for any kind of inequality and find it heart-breaking to think that people suffer simply for being themselves.

My sympathies towards this group of people have meant that I've always considered myself an ally to their community. However, recently labelling myself in this way has made me uncomfortable. Do I have the right to call myself an ally? Am I doing enough to support this community or am I all talk? What even are the ways in which I can help?

When I googled 'how to support the LGBTQ community' very little came up. It was mostly information for employers on how to make the workplace more LGBTQ-friendly, useful advice but not really applicable to my own situation. However, upon a wider search I did come across a few interesting articles, which I've linked below, that helped me to work out what I could do to be a better ally to the community.

After researching and considering the topic for a while, I tried to compile a list of things that seemed to be effective ways of supporting the LGBTQ community, as a straight cisgender person. This list is, of course, by no means exhaustive, but I though that it might be useful for people in a similar position to myself, who are struggling with their validity as an ally.

1 // Be Aware of Your Privilege and Educate Yourself
I think one of the most important steps in supporting the LGBTQ community is to be aware of your own privileges. As a straight cis individual, it can be difficult to even vaguely comprehend the kind of prejudice experienced by people in the community. I think there can be a tendency for people in this position to assume that equality already exists for LGBTQ people, simply because they’ve never experienced an instance of this type of discrimination. I think a good way to be aware of what others are going through is by making an effort to educate yourself. You might want to do this through social media. Following twitter accounts such as @changeLGBT or @PinkNews can really helpful in getting a grasp on the kind of inequality that currently exists. Educating yourself on issues of gender and sexuality, by reading articles or books such as The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson or The Gender Games by Juno Dawson, might also be useful in gaining an understanding of how things need to change.

2 // Listen
As someone who isn’t directly a part of the LGBTQ community, I think it’s also really important to listen to people who are. It seems essential to me to recognise that I don’t know everything (not even close) on the topic and that I should be open to taking direction from people who know a lot more than me. For example, if an LGBTQ person finds something that I say offensive to their community, I want to listen to why that is and change my behaviour in future. Don’t assume that you know best or get defensive if you miss the mark. You’re learning and that’s okay. Just apologise and move forward.

3 // Don’t Be a Bystander
If you hear hateful language, call it out and report it. Make people aware that it isn’t acceptable to treat others in this way and that there will be consequences if they choose to do so. If you think a friend or family member is talking in a flippant way about the LGBTQ movement, make an effort to explain its importance in a calm way. Many people don’t necessarily make malicious comments but instead say things that misunderstand the issues LGBTQ people face. They might make a joke that pokes fun at gay or transgender people or they might express a misinterpretation of the concerns of LGBT community. If this is the case, take the time to explain to them how the way they speak might be detrimental.

4 // Support LGBTQ Representation
LGBTQ people are often underrepresented in media. I can only imagine how difficult it would be growing up and not seeing yourself anywhere in mainstream media. In order to change this, there needs to be a demand for better representation. Try engaging with television shows and films that have good representation for the LGBTQ community. Read books written by and about gay people. Show publishers that there is a market for them and that they’re valuable.

5 // Vote Wisely
In order to make real legal change, it is incredibly helpful to have a party that supports the LGBTQ movement in power. Try to parties’ policies surrounding the subject and ask your local candidates what they will do to make a difference. Take this into consideration when voting if the advancement of LGBTQ rights is important to you.

6 // Amplify the Voices of LGBTQ People
Not long ago I wrote a blog post about social media activism and instances in which it can be important. This is one of those instances. People who follow/are friends with LGBTQ people on social media are likely to already support the community. As a result, I think it can be incredibly powerful for straight cisgendered people to share and retweet things written by people in the LGBTQ community. Sharing this kind of information in such a way means it is likely to reach a wider audience. It demonstrates your support to people who may not agree with you and hopefully the post might give them a reason to re-evaluate their own belief systems.

7 // Fundraising and Volunteering
In terms of practical ways to support the LGBTQ community, one of the easiest and most fun ways is to volunteer and fundraise for LGBTQ charities such as Stonewall. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer at various events or in their offices. You might also want to undertake your own form of fundraising by running a race or hosting a coffee morning in aid of an LGBTQ charity. Money from things like this allow them to continue to provide support for people suffering from discrimination and abuse and education in schools and the workplace to change prejudiced attitudes and behaviours.

I'm completely aware that I'm far from being an expert on this topic. It’s simply something that I was struggling with myself. I though that a blogpost on the subject might be useful for others in a similar position. If you’re reading this and completely disagree with what I’m saying or can give me any extra information then please leave a comment or send me a message via email/social media. As I’ve already made pretty clear supporting this community is very important to me and I am more than happy to amend or change the way I give that support in order to make the most impact.

Below are some links to interesting articles about the impact of straight/cis-gendered support that I’ve found helpful:

The importance of LGBT visibility in children’s books

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