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Being an Ally: Let’s Get Proactive!

— By 15 September 2016

Being an ally means creating spaces where queer people feel safe and accepted, and that means actively letting queer people know that you’re there for them.

But why, you may ask? Isn’t it enough to not be cissexist (prejudiced against trans people) or heterosexist (prejudiced based on sexuality)? Confronting your own biases and prejudices is a great start, but there’s more to being an ally than that!

Before I came out, I viewed my school environment as fairly homophobic - slurs were thrown around left, right and centre. As a result, I felt really anxious and insecure about my sexuality.

My coming out process was fairly gradual, starting out with my older sister, then my parents, and finally all of my friends and people at school. An incredible tide of support followed from that, which struck me quite hard. Needless to say, after all the dismissive, offensive comments I’d heard from my classmates, I was pretty surprised.

Even though I consider myself to have been fairly lucky in my situation, things would have been much easier if people actually let me know that my sexuality wouldn’t change their perception of me as a person before I came out.

That’s why it’s so important to be proactive in being an ally - if you think there aren’t any queer people in your school, work, or community group, it’s time to start thinking about why. Are there really no queer people there, or do they just not feel safe enough to come out to you?

When I came out, having a supportive school really helped me to become more confident, and build resilience in the face of the discrimination that I had to deal with. Having support is so important, and I wish I had known how kind my community would be earlier.

There are lots of ways to proactively show queer people that you support us.

Celebrating Events Like IDAHOT

IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia), on the 17th of May, is a day of solidarity with queer people, created to bring to the public’s attention the discrimination that queer people face in everyday life. From the very first IDAHOT in 2004, the day has grown to be celebrated in over 130 countries.

IDAHOT is a great way to advertise that you’re there for queer people! You can help to run a school event, or participate in one already being run. As IDAHOT events tend to be school-wide, queer people will be able to see the supportive nature of their whole school in action.

Wear it Purple is a student-led, not-for-profit organisation, aiming to make sure that young queer people feel safe and supported. Wear it Purple day is one of the ways that Wear it Purple tries to achieve this, through encouraging allies to wear purple as a show of solidarity.

In recent years, Wear it Purple day has been celebrated by many sections of the community, from corporate business to politicians, their immense reach making these displays of solidarity quite powerful.

You can be a part of this change too! Celebrating Wear it Purple day at school can help queer young people that aren’t out know that they’ll be supported. You could even run a casual clothes fundraiser for a queer-led organisation!

These events are a good first step to send the message that queer people are welcome and accepted, but it’s important to follow them up with policies and actions that actually address the issues we face.

Calling Out Heterosexist and Cissexist Behaviour

Constantly having to educate straight cisgender people gets exhausting for queer people, and we often put ourselves at risk when we do it. As an ally, you have access to privileges that we don’t, and you can use your social power and influence to elevate queer voices and help us to be heard.

If you have a friend who isn’t queer and you hear them using slurs or treating someone’s sexuality or gender as a joke, call them out on it. They’re more likely to listen to you, and even if they don’t, it sends a clear message to anyone else who’s listening that prejudice will not be tolerated.

You’re helping to promote an environment that’s respectful of everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Calling out this type of behaviour fosters an environment where queer people can feel confident and supported.

Respecting Our Spaces

There are some spaces that are just for queer people. These spaces might be described as “queer autonomous”, or have signs or event descriptions explaining who is and isn’t welcome there. It’s important to understand that this isn’t the same as a space excluding queer people.

We face unique marginalizations in society, and some of us need spaces where we don’t have to worry about how cis straight people are going to treat us. Allies will respect this, and not try to force their way into spaces that aren’t for them.

There are also lots of queer spaces that do welcome allies! If that’s the case, you’re more than welcome to join in, and doing so can even be a show of solidarity (for example, at a rally for marriage equality).

When you’re in those spaces, there are some things that you should keep in mind to be respectful. We still want to ensure that queer people’s voices are being heard. If a queer person is talking about their experiences, don’t speak over them - just listen!

We often have our experiences dismissed and invalidated, and sometimes cis straight people will claim to represent us when they don’t. Because of this, when we create  space that centre queer voices it’s an act of empowerment.

Being an ally can be a really positive experience, and it makes a huge difference for your queer friends. It can take a bit of work to figure out exactly how to best be supportive, but as long as you’re trying and are willing to learn more, it’s great!