How to become an LGBTQ Ally: the ultimate Guide (2020)
LGBTQ+ people still have a lot of disadvantages in society and uneducated stereotypes have to be faced on a daily basis.
If you’re reading this it means you´re interested in becoming an LGBTQ+ ally. THAT’S GREAT!
I created this guide for you to learn how to be an LGBTQ+ ally. Whether you want to support a queer friend or fight for acceptance in general - keep on reading.
1. Some ground rules
When we are talking about how to become an LGBTQ+ ally there are some things you must know.
Definition of LGBTQ+ ally
An LGBTQ+ ally (or just ally) is someone that supports LGBTQ+ people & their fight against issues they face. Some people think only straight & cisgender people can be allies… WRONG! Your gender and sexuality are no terms of a possible allyship.
Being LGBTQ+ does not mean we are all thinking, feeling and acting the same. Everyone seeks a different type of allyship. Try to understand a person's view and the way they live in order to be a good ally (I´ll talk more about this later).
You’ll make mistakes
And that’s okay! LGBTQ+ is not an easy topic to get acquainted with (even I sometimes still learn new things). Tell the people around you that you’re still learning and open to feedback and support. Many of us have been in contact with LGBTQ+ stuff for several years so we totally get that it needs time!
We just covered the ground rules of being an LGBTQ+ ally. Now, take my hand and let’s jump into the LGBTQ+ world! :)
2. It’s not a foreign language - but you have to learn the vocabularies
LGBTQ+ covers lots of different gender identity terms and sexual & romantic orientations. Many of them are fluid and new terms are introduced regularly. This can be a little bit tricky and confusing - what a luck you’ve found this guide! I’m going to explain to you the most important issues and terms of LGBTQ+. Ready?
As already mentioned there are lots and lots of terms around gender, sexuality, identity, etc. It’s hard to learn them all at once, so I created you this list of popular terms in the LGBTQ+ community. Start with those and keep on learning on the journey!
Gender: an idea created by the society that tells us what certain genders are “supposed” to be like.
Binary System: A binary system is something made up of two opposing parts. Gender (man/woman) and sex (male/female) are examples of binary systems.
Gender Identity: our internal, personal sense of what our gender is. Everyone has a gender identity.
Transgender (Trans): an umbrella term used to describe people whose true gender identity does not “match” the sex or gender they were assigned at birth.
Transitioning: the social, legal, and/or medical process a trans* person may go through.
Genderqueer: one’s gender identity is not just a man or a woman.
Non-Binary: anything that falls outside of the binary system.
Intersex: born with a sex that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male.
Asexual: not experiencing sexual attraction or not having an interest in or desire for sex.
Bisexual: attracted to both men and women, or to more than one gender identity.
Cisgender: identifying with the sex that was assigned at birth.
Gay: attracted to the same sex or gender.
Lesbian: a woman who is predominantly attracted to other women.
Pansexual: capable of being attracted to multiple sexes or gender identities.
Questioning: a person who may be processing or questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
These terms were defined by the Trevor Project which is a well recognized LGBTQ+ organisation.
For further research, I recommend looking at their glossary.
The thing with the pronouns
When I visited a queer youth group for the first time, I was asked to introduce myself with name and pronouns. And I just thought:
“OMG, what?! I remember my English teacher talking about pronouns in the grammar course. I have no clue anymore what this is and why do they even care about my grammar knowledge?!”.
Long story short: personal pronouns are about how someone addresses you (he/her/they/…).
For you, it might be common sense that people call you “she” or “he”. When it comes to queer people with all those different gender and sexuality things you might imagine that this is a little bit more difficult.
When you refer to or describe a person it’s important to use the right pronouns. However, you should never assume someone's personal pronouns.
Do it like this:
When you introduce yourself tell them your pronouns first and ask for theirs second: “Hey, I´m the RainbowWarrior. I use him/his pronouns. What are your pronouns?”
Upgrade your language
A small upgrade of the way you address your friends, students or strangers can support inclusion of LGBTQ+ people.
Gender-inclusive language doesn’t use any terms that assume a person's gender and exclude gender identities.
I created this list for you with 29 terms commonly used and what to say instead. I would recommend you to save it on your phone and looking at it from time to time:
If you write texts on a regular basis (e.g. research papers in university) I recommend this guide by the writing center.
Meet the Genderbread person
To complete the first chapter of this guide I`d like to introduce to you the Genderbread person. It’s a tool to better understand the difference between anatomical sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation/attraction.
3. Study the past to understand the present
The LGBTQ+ community has gone a long way to be what it is today. As an LGBTQ+ ally, you need to know the keystones of history to understand the context of current issues.
History has happened in the whole world. When watching the news we sometimes can see how different the current situation for queer people all over the world is. For this guide I decided to focus on the American LGBTQ+ history, as many very influential milestones happened here.
Milestones of LGBTQ+ history
How did CSD’s begin and why is the rainbow flag our worldwide symbol? Check out these 8 milestones and load your LGBTQ+ ally brain with valuable information.
1924 - Henry Gerber founds the Society for Human Rights in Chicago: It is the first documented gay rights organization.
April 1952 - Homosexuality is listed as a sociopathic personality disturbance in the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual.
July 1961 - Illinois repeals their sodomy laws & thereby decriminalizes homosexuality as the first state.
June 28, 1969 - Police raid the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Protests and demonstrations begin, and it later becomes known as the impetus for the gay civil rights movement in the United States.
June 28, 1970 - LGBTQ+ people in New York City march through the streets to recognize the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. This event is named Christopher Street Liberation Day and is now considered the first CSD (Christopher Street Day) ever.
December 15, 1973 - The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of mental disorders (by a vote of 5,854 to 3,810).
1978 - Gilbert Baker stitches together the first rainbow flag as a symbol of pride and hope for the LGBTQ+ community.
October 25, 2006 - The New Jersey Supreme Court rules that state lawmakers must provide the rights and benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.
If you want to read more about the LGBTQ+ history I recommend this overview by CNN. It’s well researched and has a good structure.
Deep Dive into history
If you want to become a hard-core ally that knows even more history than most LGBTQ+ community members … I won’t stop you!
The Chicago Public Library offers a reading list with “recent and classic books about the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people”.
4. Stop bullies and discrimination
Being openly LGBTQ+ often means facing discrimination on a daily basis. At work, at the University, in the public or even within the own family: bullies live everywhere.
As an ally, you should make a stand against LGBTQ+ discrimination of any kind - in your private life and publicly. Show that there’s no space around you for anti-LGBTQ+ behaviour.
Recognize your privilege
To understand discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community better, you have to reflect on your own privilege (societal advantages). It can be very hard to understand the depth of everyday struggles when not experiencing them first hand.
I’ll give you an example of privilege:
You being a cisgender person. In your job, at university or in public you can simply “be your gender” without having to face discrimination or bias.
One of four transgender people have lost a job due to bias. More than three-fourths have experienced some form of workplace discrimination (Source: National Center for Transgender Equality).
In other words: you have privileges because you are cisgender.
It’s important to be aware of those societal advantages to better understand the discrimination against queer people. I’d like to quote the Brooklyn-based licensed therapist Amelia Yankey who works with members of the LGBTQ+ community suffering from trauma:
“Recognize that you’re not responsible for building the system. But you are responsible for what you do with that knowledge, how you move on from there, and what you do with your privilege”.
Later in this guide I’ll explain how to get a better understanding of issues LGBTQ+ people are dealing with. Try to always reflect them on your life and identify your privileges.
If someone makes an anti-LGBTQ+ comment or rude joke, let them know you don’t appreciate it. Same goes for businesses or parties with discriminatory or intolerant policies towards LGBTQ+ people (e.g. don’t vote and buy).
When your queer friends are with you, make sure to not overshadow them with your “protection” though (also know as “performative allyship”). They have the right to speak for themselves.
There is no set rule here when to do what. Along your journey of becoming an LGBTQ+ ally, you will get a better feeling of when what is appropriate.
Get external support
Some situations require external services that help you support others. As an educated LGBTQ+ ally you will be able to identify misrepresentations of the community, e.g. in the public media or the news. If you do so, please reach out to glaad and report it.
IMPORTANT: with “help” I mean having a closer look at both services and telling your LGBTQ+ peer that there are ways they can get help. DO NEVER file a report in their name without their permission!
5. Develop an LGBTQ+ mindset
Wanting to support the queer community does not automatically turn you into a great ally. You want to create an LGBTQ+ mindset, understand our view and sensitise around LGBTQ+ issues. This way you can become a small personal safe space for your queer peers.
Additionally (as already mentioned in the last chapter), you can better reflect on your own privileges and the societal system we’re living in.
It’s all about the questions
You might have problems drawing the line between showing interest in a person's life and stumble over inappropriate or too personal stuff.
First off: it’s amazing to show interest in their life and gain new perspectives for your own!
In general, those are some good questions if you have a hard time thinking about what to ask:
When did you know you were (lesbian/gay/pansexual//queer/...)?
What was it like growing up?
How did you know it was the right time to come out?
What was the coming out process like?
How can I best support you?
Those questions shouldn’t be casually asked in the tube tho.
Make sure you are in an appropriate and safe setting to talk about such personal things.
Please also say in your first conversation, that they shouldn’t feel pressured to answer and if they are not comfortable sharing something, that’s totally okay!
Oh and quickly to mention: just because these are questions fitting for queer people doesn’t mean you should ask your new lesbian coworker or a casual transgender acquaintance those questions ;) They are very personal and rather fitting for your close friends.
You will make mistakes - and that’s okay
LGBTQ+ is not an easy topic to get acquainted with (even I sometimes still learn new things). Tell the people around you that you’re still learning and open to feedback and support. Many of us have been in contact with LGBTQ+ stuff for several years so we totally get that it needs time!
If you made a mistake e.g. by using the wrong pronouns … DO NOT make a big scene out of it! Apologize politely and learn for the next time.
I am very active in the LGBTQ+ community and have experienced many situations with people making (smaller and bigger) mistakes. The mistake itself was never a huge deal, because I knew they were trying and wanted to learn. But when a person starts e.g. to apologize a thousand times for using the wrong pronouns and making a big scene out of it, that can make one feel very uncomfortable.
6. Help others to make a change
Sometimes it can feel hard to have a positive impact all by yourself. Think about joining forces with other allies or supporting LGBTQ+ organisations. This is a great way for you to learn from experienced people while having a deep dive into the queer community.
Join an LGBTQ+ organisation
You would be surprised how many ways there are to connect with and support the community. Here are a few to get you started:
Search for local organisations that support the LGBTQ+ community and fight for queer people's acceptance. They are often looking for help and allies are always welcome!
Contact your local university. They often have LGBTQ+ projects which are open to join not only for their students but external allies too.
If there are absolutely no projects in your area you want to join … grab your queer friends and create your own safe space!
In our digital world, you can become active online very easily. Google or Ecosia will help you to find something in your area of interest.
Many LGBTQ+ projects are dependent on private donations to keep running. You should consider donating to a charity you like, to enable them to support the LGBTQ+ community as good as possible.
I know that “making donations” is probably not on your monthly expenditure list. That’s why I want to recommend to you Queer Unicorn Dragon. They are a small brand that designs & sells unique pride clothing in their own Etsy shop. Queer Unicorn Dragon donates all it’s profits to LGBTQ+ charities. They have official charity status, so you can be sure that your purchase supports queer projects worldwide.
And the best thing: you get an ally-pride item which you can wear in the University, at work or in the public.
7. Three things you can do right now
I already talked about many ways of becoming an LGBTQ+ ally. For the last chapter, I decided to focus on 3 things that you can do RIGHT NOW to support the queer community. Let’s start:
Update your Email signature
Add your personal pronouns in your email signature and your social media info. The more people state their pronouns publicly the more socially accepted it becomes to do so.
Go get some new Pride clothes for your wardrobe. Show the people around you that you’re proud to support the LGBTQ+ community. Most sexualities, orientations and gender-identities have their own pride flag. So there’s surely something you will love!
Tip: go have a look at Queer Unicorn Dragon. They have pride designs based on various pride flags AND donate all their profits to LGBTQ+ charities.
Besides having real-life conversations with queer people, reading their experiences is a great way to get new perspectives. Follow these 2 blogs and dive into the life of 2 LGBTQ+ families:
Our Transitional Life
“We’re an LGBTQ+ family focused on challenging society’s misconceptions one day at a time. Our life is built on positivity, love and owning who we are and what we stand for.” ~ Kelly (one of the mums).
This blog is seriously one of my absolutely favourite ones! They are talking completely open about LGBTQ+-related things and give insights into their family life.
My 2 must-read recommendations:
Queer Little Family
Their blog is all about “educating people on the boring realities of being a queer family, the journey and the difficulties faced when being queer, living with mental health and generally just being a parent.” ~ Bread (writer of the blog).