How can you be a better ally?

bbf4f3665451da05a55442e972eb49b8Ally Week, celebrated Sept. 28 – Oct. 2, is a time to take a stand against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment in schools.

The event, sponsored by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network,) offers free resources for Gay-Straight Alliances to drive diversity and inclusion in an academic setting.

By forming a strong alliance between LGBT+, straight and cisgender youth, we can inspire, educate and motivate the next generation to live safe, healthy and proud.

How can you be a better ally to LGBT+ youth?ChangeAttitude1

  • Recognize that sexual and gender identity are two different things.  Sexual identity and gender identity are two separate spectrums.  While they may seem to intersect in some people’s lives, they don’t necessarily intersect in everyone’s life the way you might expect them to.  For example, someone who identifies as trans man may identify as gay, straight, bisexual or asexual — whatever they consider their own truth.  Every person is different, and everyone has their own set of experiences.  When we confuse gender with sexuality, we confuse our entire understanding of a person.
  • Never assume how to address someone.  Everyone has the right to identify their own personal gender pronouns.  Trans and gender non-conforming individuals might use pronouns you may not be familiar with, but they still require your attention and respect.  Not being told is not an excuse.  When making introductions, avoid misgendering people with two simple questions:  “what is your name ?” and “what are your pronouns?”  Asking is far less awkward than embarrassing yourself and someone else.
  • Challenge your own gender assumptions.  Gendered images are everywhere.  Gender expectations are everywhere.  When you’ve grown up gender non-conforming, trans, gay or lesbian, you’ve been asked your entire life to “be more masculine,” “be more feminine,” or, worst of all, “be more normal.”  As an ally, you can help stop gender policing.   Be cautious of how you judge people  — even unconsciously or unintentionally.  Your own set of standards applies to nobody else but you.  Call out discriminatory or exclusionary language whenever you hear it.
  • Speak up for inclusive policies and programs at your school or workplace.  Does your school have transgender inclusive restrooms where guests can feel safe and welcome?  Does your employer offer an affinity group for LGBT+ workers?  What is your company’s Workplace Equality Index score — and how can you move the needle?  If you were approached by an LGBT+ student who was being bullied or abused at home, would you know where and how to find them help on campus?  We sometimes overlook problems that we do not have to face ourselves. Being an ally means not only considering the needs and wants of others, but stepping up to serve them better.
  • Get informed and involved.  You don’t need to be LGBT+ yourself to get involved in LGBT+ community organizations.  Almost every volunteer organization is based on open access to everyone, regardless of their sexual identity or gender expression.   If anything, your support would be welcome and appreciated!  By being visible, active and connected, you can help drive a wider understanding of not only LGBT+ issues, but what it means to be an ally.
  • Ask — and LISTEN.  Ask your LGBT+ friends and family:  what support do you want? What support do you need?  What do you look for in an ally?  It’s not a prescriptive process — it’s a collaboration.  Listen to what you’re told.  Some people may expect more from you than you thought — while others may want nothing at all.  Never forget these ground rules:  every individual is different, and everyone’s experience is different.

Since 1990, GLSEN’s mission has been to ensure every student, in every school, is valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. GLSEN believes that all students deserve a safe and affirming school environment where they can learn and grow.