An ally is someone who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, heterosexual and gender-straight privilege in themselves and others; a concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people; and a belief that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are social justice issues.
Why are allies important?
Allies are important not only because they provide moral support when times get rough, but also because as LGBTQ people, we only make up a very small percentage of the general population and often our rights are voted on by people like you who are not LGBTQ. Therefore it’s imperative that our allies be there to speak up for us and speak out against homophobia and transphobia when we cannot or when we’re not around.
Allies are also important because as LGBTQ people, often we are bullied in schools, workplaces and have difficult home lives. Allies lift us up and give us the support we need in our darkest hours.
How can I be an ally?
Here are a few simple ways you can be an ally to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer people.
Assume that, wherever you go, there are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, and genderqueer people present who are wondering how safe the environment is for them. Provide safety by making it clear that you accept everyone.
Notice the many ways in which you reveal your heterosexuality. Imagine how it would feel if you had to keep it hidden.
Challenge the use of homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic jokes and epithets whenever you hear them; do not wait for gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or genderqueer people to do it.
Speak out about stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination of any kind.
Sometimes it is the assumptions as well as anti-lgbt statements, which need challenging. The assumption that everyone present is heterosexual (Heterosexism) or cisgender (identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth) is discounting and hurtful to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer people. Challenge it.
Use inclusive, affirming, or gender-neutral language when referring to romantic relationships and sexuality. If you use terms such as “partner”, “companion”, “s.o./significant other”, “main squeeze”, you convey openness to different kinds of relationships.
Get to know someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or genderqueer. Listen to their feelings and experiences.
Some heterosexuals believe that gays and lesbians are attracted to everyone of the same gender. Don’t assume just because a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or genderqueer person of the same gender as you seems friendly or “comes out” to you that they are hitting on you.
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 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer people 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, transgender, and genderqueer cultural and community events. Read gay literature, books, and articles to educate yourself on the issues that face the LGBTQ community.
Wear pro-LGBTQ buttons and/or T-shirts, or those with anti-prejudice or pro-diversity themes.
On “National coming Out Day’ (October 11), communicate your admiration and support to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer friends who have taken the risk of disclosing their sexual orientation, and your empathy for those who continue to fear doing so.
Frequently Asked Questions
We know you’ve got questions, and we’ve got answers. Below are a few of the questions we get asked most frequently. Feel free to click through, and of course, if we haven’t answered your question below – send us a message and we’ll be happy to get back to you with an answer.
What does LGBTQ or GLBTQ stand for?
LGBTQ or GLBTQ is an acronym used to abbreviate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning. Those with these diverse identities are joined together because of their shared oppression under heterosexism, homophobia, sexism and genderism. LGBTQ people are from every socioeconomic class, education level, political affiliation, age group, religion, race and ethnicity.
I’ve also seen the LGBTQ acronym have I, P, A in it, too. What does that mean?
Terms relating to sexual orientation and gender identity vary based on culture, generation, location, and other determining factors. Adding additional letters to the acronym often connotes broader inclusion of different communities and community members. Some of the most common terms are as follows:
The “I” stands for Intersex:
Intersex is an umbrella term covering differences of sexual development, which can consist of diagnosable congenital conditions in which development of anatomic, chromosomal, or gonadal sex is atypical.
The “P” stands for Pansexual:
Pansexual refers to individuals who feel emotional and sexual attraction to, and intimate relations with, individuals of all gender identities and sexes.
The “A” stands for Asexual:
Asexual Refers to individuals who do not feel sexual attraction to others or have a desire for partnered sexuality. Asexuality is different than celibacy, which is the deliberate abstention from sexual activity.
What does identifying as queer or genderqueer mean?
Queer refers to broad scope of sexual preferences that are not exclusively heterosexual and monogamous. Queer can refer to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, intersex persons, and more. This term was originally used as a slur against LGBT people, and although the word has been reappropriated, some LGBT people still find it highly offensive and it should be used with caution. Never refer to someone as queer unless they identify themselves has such first.
Genderqueer refers to someone whose gender identity is neither male nor female. Their gender identity is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders. Often includes a political agenda to challenge gender stereotypes and the gender binary system.
How can I support an LGBT loved one after they have come out to me?
The best way to support someone who has recently come out is by first, letting them know that you love, accept, and support them no matter who they are and that your perception of them hasn’t changed. You should also make efforts to become educated about the topics and issues of the LGBTQ community so you can better understand what they are going through. Knowing that they have your support is the greatest tool to ensure their happiness and well-being.
How do you know if you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or genderqueer?
People often continue to learn about themselves and their sexuality throughout their lives. For some, though, acknowledging and coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity can happen at a young age. It is important to support individuals wherever they are in this process, understanding that it is different for each person.
What’s the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity?
The relationship between sexuality, gender identity, and sexual orientation is complex and sometimes hard to decipher. Sexual orientation refers to individuals’ attractions to others–who they love and date, and to whom they are physically and/or emotionally attracted. The terms lesbian, gay, and bisexual refer to one’s sexual orientation. Gender identity refers to individuals’ internal and individual experiences of gender. Transgender refers to one’s gender identity. In basic terms, gender identity is concerned with who one is, and sexual orientation is concerned with who one loves.
Can LGBT people change their sexual orientation or gender identity?
No. In fact, attempts to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity are extremely dangerous and often lead to internalized homophobia, depression, increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse, and even suicide. Conversion therapy has been discredited by all of the major medical associations and has been outlawed in 4 states (CA, IL, OR, NJ) and the District of Columbia. If you know someone who identifies as LGBTQ or is struggling with accepting themselves, the best thing you can do is let them know that you love, accept, and support them. Click here to learn more about the dangers of conversion therapy and actions you can take to stop it.
Are LGBT people more likely to be predisposed to mental illness and/or substance abuse?
No. LGBT individuals are more susceptible to mental illness or substance abuse as a result of the isolation, hostility, or discrimination they endure as LGBT individuals, not because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
How do I know what pronoun to use for someone who is transgender?
If you’re unsure which pronoun a person prefers, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to that person. Someone who knows the person well will probably use the correct pronoun. If you must ask which pronoun the person prefers, start with your own. For example, “Hi, I’m Dani and I prefer the pronouns she and her. What about you?” Then use that person’s preferred pronoun and encourage others to do so. If you accidently use the wrong pronoun for someone, apologize quickly and sincerely, then move on. The bigger deal you make out of the situation, the more uncomfortable it is for everyone.