What does it mean to be an ally?
First, we would like to give you a bit of context and a definition. Because, what exactly is an ally? When we talk about an ally, we can also refer to a straight ally or heterosexual ally. An ally, in short, supports the equal rights of people in the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community. These allies are cis-gendered*, heterosexual and work towards a more accepting social world for the oppressed group, in this case the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+. The allies do this by using their own privileges to stand for and with the community and by taking active, tangible actions to deconstruct the systems of oppression present in our society. Important to note is that not everyone who fits this definition identifies specifically as an “ally”, nor do you have to.
Why not might you ask? Because the thing with being an ally, a good ally, is that it is not about you. Allies are useful because they can offer the relative power and privilege to help the people who lack such privilege. Allies can have a positive effect on the reaching of goals for a social movement, and can help to provide a wider support for them. Full equality cannot happen without the support of dedicated allies.
However, being a good ally does come with a set of challenges that cannot be ignored. As the product of a profoundly discriminatory society, allies may end up being patronizing and unaware of their own privilege and power. This may seem strange at first, but note here that there is a thin line between speaking up when others feel they cannot, and speaking on behalf of/for the marginalized group. This can seem a little complicated, and it is. As a straight ally you have a complicated position in the social movement, and it will take work from your side, on yourself, to support L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+.
So, what can you do to become an ally? And even better, what can you do to become a good ally? There are many sources, on- and offline, that can give you handles to work with. You can find many lists, checklists even, to become a good ally. These lists describe, for example, things that you should do, or things you have to believe in, causes you should donate to, etc. These are all good options and can of course prove to be very valuable, but it might not work for you as an ally specifically.
*Cis-gender= a person whose identity and gender correspond to their sex assigned at birth. An example is that I, Joos, have been assigned the sex “female” at birth and I feel that the label “woman” suits me, therefore I am a cis-gender.
That is why we will not give you an extensive list of to-do’s and not-to-do’s here, but some general ideas that might help you get into the right direction with your allyship.
-Educate yourself. Good allies recognize that they do not know everything that can be known on L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ issues or about their experiences, but good allies always want to learn and understand more about it. Why not take on the challenge of getting uncomfortable and recognizing your own power and privileges?
-Listen! This goes hand in hand with the former point, being an ally is to listen and learn. Be open and attentive to what you hear, accept feedback and grow.
-Recognize your own motives and limits. Remember your allyship is not really about you. You are there to support, not to steal someone else’s voice. Always keep the question in mind; am I doing this with the intention of being a true ally, or am I doing it because it will make me look good?
-Do what you can and do what you want. Being an ally and supporting L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ comes in many shapes and sizes, and all forms are important and valuable. Screw ups are fine, as long as you learn from them and take responsibility for the mistakes you make or have made in the past. There is not one perfect way to be an ally, you can do it on your own terms and the way you want to do it.
Attending the march and listening to Vera’s words prompted a reflection on the roles of allies and opportunities and pitfalls. In this blog, we reflected on the definition of what it means to be an ally, on the challenges of this role, and on the possible ways forward.
Would you like to read more on this topic? Check out this website on which you can download the free “guide to being a straight ally”.
By Josephine Vlierboom