Greater NW Pride: What Does it Mean to be an “Ally” in the LGBTQ+ Movement?


What Does it Mean to be an “Ally” in the LGBTQ+ Movement?

From time to time, in and among my LGBTQ+ friends, we joke about getting our “membership card” when we come out of our respective closets, receiving a list of what is the “gay agenda,” in which we strive for ultimate world power, somewhere between waking up, coffee brewed, showering, going to work, work, lunch break, take over the world, work some more, coffee break, and going home to make a “fabulous” meal before we turn in and go to bed. Alas, there was no manual, no video, no youtube.com clip for us to watch when many of us came out of our respective closets. Nonetheless, with time, experience, and interactions within the LGBTQ+  community, there are certain “dos and don’ts” that we kind-of learn and re-learn along the way. 
Likewise, there is no "manual" for allies of LGBTQ+ people either. Sorry! So, consider this as a "pamphlet" for being an ally: First, what or who is an ally? An ally need not be a friend, and our friends and family members may not be an ally.  An ally is a heterosexual or straight cisgender person who supports those of us who are LGBTQ+ in terms of our attaining equal civil rights and gender role rights; supports the overall LGBTQ+ social movement; and challenges blatant and covert heterosexism, biphobia, and transphobia whenever they hear it, see it, or feel it.

Second, allies may have some of the following characteristics, or that is my hope. Here’s a "top ten list" to begin our discussion of what it means to be an ally with the LGBTQ+ community:

  1. Be a good listener and supporter as you develop an understanding of gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, homophobia, and the challenges facing LGBTQ+ people daily. And if you question whether or not you or the LGBTQ+ person should be the one speaking when given an opportunity to do so, your role as an ally is in supporting our speaking out for ourselves as we are struggling and fighting for our lives. Remember: not about us without us!
  2. Be comfortable with your own sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression first and always, and be open to continually be growing in your understanding of who you are and respectful of who others are. 
  3. Be ready to make mistakes, time and time again, but you do not use that as an excuse for doing nothing. Always believe that it is in your self-interest, as well, to be an ally.
  4. Be aware the change of attitude comes from and is initiated by the ally, who represents the non-oppressed majority (cisgender, straight male or female), not the LGBTQ+ person who is oppressed in modern society. We live in a world where prejudice exists and discrimination is common towards LGBTQ+ people in overt and covert ways. 
  5. Know that “coming out” is not a one-time event, but is continual, and keeps happening to those of us who are LGBTQ+ throughout our lives. The coming-out process is unique to LGBTQ+ and is not understood completely by our allies. And don’t minimize a person’s queerness, but learn to celebrate our queerness. 
  6. The “LGBTQI+ ” types and categories are all unique and represent the fact that we are a diverse group as an underrepresented minority group. Each group has its own list of challenges, opportunities, objectives, and goals. And stay educated! Each term is a social construct and context dependent. Stay away from one-dimensional stereotypes of members of the LGBTQ+ community. 
  7. Telling our stories: if and when our straight allies would like to tell our stories as an LGBTQI+ person, it is courteous to ask if you have our permission to tell our stories. One’s coming out story is one’s own story to be shared by one’s self, and not to be shared by straight allies, unless the straight ally has been given permission to tell the story of an LGBTQI+ person. If that permission is not there, then the person telling the story of the LGBQT+ person without permission is “outing” a person. This rule holds both in the LGBTQ+ community and outside our community. In other words, we in the LGBTQ+ community would appreciate that you respect and take care of our stories.
  8. Be courageous in boycotting and protesting those forces within society that want to openly or covertly discriminate against us, denying us our civil and human rights, including marriage and adoption, or promote housing discrimination and employment discrimination. In other words, stay away from Chick-fil-a. There are plenty of other fast food chicken restaurants.
  9. Let LGBTQ+ people disappoint you as an ally. Sometimes we will be noble victims, fighting righteously against clear-cut examples of discrimination and injustice.  Other times we will be one of the fun cast members of the “Queer Eye” team. But know, at the end of the day, we are also created in the image of God, making mistakes, a sinner in need of confession and repentance too, stumble in defending ourselves, stutter in talking out loud, and live one day at a time.  
  10. Have a good sense of humor. God knows we are need it in this work of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.
Resources for this article: 
1. https://www.hrc.org/blog/how-to-be-an-lgbt-ally

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!