Seven Ways to Become a Better Ally

I was reflecting on how belonging works in the context of my kids and their friends over the years.

That group of boys and girls from one son’s kindergarten class are now pursuing graduate degrees, advancing their careers, and attending each other’s weddings. This group played together, did sports together, studied together, grew up together. Some he’s still close with, some less so. One has an adopted sibling of a different race who is exploring their heritage, one struggles with substance abuse, one has a disabled sibling, one overcame an eating disorder, one navigated their gender transition process, another has two moms. My other son also had friends with disabilities, learning differences, same-sex parents.

Non-straight parents were normal for my sons and these classmates. The fact that one buddy’s mom gave birth to both kids in that family, while another friend’s moms took turns, was not a thing. Any more than families who had blended their children or adopted children or had multi-racial children or triplets or an only child or twelve children (well, that was rather exceptional!)

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are powerful – and necessary, and I’m proud to see my boys being allies. It’s borne from their experiences, frame of reference, and sense of what equity & equality looks like, and it is intentional.

There is no one right way to be a great ally, but here are seven ways to be more supportive and impactful.

  1. Think of ‘ally’ as an action rather than a label

It is easy to call yourself an ally, but the label alone isn’t enough. To be an effective ally you need to be willing to be consistent in your support of LGBTQ rights and defend people against discrimination. It takes all of us to make true acceptance and respect happen.

  1. Be open to learn, listen and educate yourself

Part of being supportive to LGBTQ individuals is developing a true understanding of how the world views and treats them. It sounds obvious, but to learn, you need to be willing and open to truly listen. Listen to personal stories and ask questions respectfully. Take it upon yourself to learn about LGBTQ history, terminology, and the struggles this community faces.

  1. Check your privilege

Most of us (including those within the LGBTQ community) have some type of privilege – whether it’s race, class, education, being cis-gendered, able-bodied, or straight. Being privileged doesn’t mean that you’ve not had your share of struggles in life. It just means that there are some things you won’t ever have to think or worry about just because of the way you were born. Understanding your own privileges can help you empathize with marginalized or oppressed groups.

  1. Don’t assume

Don’t assume that all your friends, co-workers, and acquaintances are straight. Don’t assume someone’s gender or pronouns. LGBTQ people don’t look a particular way. Not making assumptions will give everyone the space they need to be their authentic self.

  1. Confront your own prejudices and unconscious bias

Being an ally means you need to challenge any bias, stereotypes, and assumptions you didn’t realize you had. Think about the pronouns you use, the jokes you laugh at, and the assumptions you make based on how someone looks or acts. Being a better ally means being open to the idea of being wrong sometimes and being willing to work on it.

  1. Know that language matters

We form human connections through language. Most of us respect when someone changes their nickname – accommodating people’s preferred names and pronouns is no different. If you are unsure of someone’s pronoun or label, just ask respectfully. Try integrating inclusive language by using gender neutral terms such as ‘partner’ and ‘they/them’. Consciously watch for any unintentionally offensive language you may use every day.

  1. Know that you will mess up sometimes – breathe, apologize, and ask for guidance

Accidentally assumed someone’s label? Having a conversation about someone and unintentionally used the wrong pronoun? It happens – apologize and correct yourself. People will appreciate your honesty and effort!

June is Pride Month, which means I’m even more conscious about being an effective ally. The powerful thing about being an ally for one group of people is that it can open your eyes to be an ally for everyone. People don’t fit into just one box. If someone who identifies as LGBTQ is also a person of color or also lives with a disability, they might be discriminated against because of each of these identities. So, when you stand up for one marginalized group, you’re standing up for them all.

Be an ally and actively promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging by fighting for equality for everyone, regardless of their race, gender identity, disability, or sexual preference.