To gear up for Ally Week, four members of GLSEN's National Student Council went live on Facebook to answer your questions about allyship to LGBTQ students. Niles, Imani, James, and Kian took an hour to field questions about being an effective and supportive ally. Read their responses below, and don't forget to register for Ally Week, where LGBTQ students and educators lead the conversation on what they need from their allies in school.
First up, the students were asked what LGBTQ youth need from their allies.
Imani needs her allies to have the willingness and enthusiasm to educate themselves. She pointed out that privileged ally groups rely on marginalized LGBTQ people and people of color to educate them. Allies need to educate themselves so that they can advocate correctly!
Niles agreed that it is important that allies educate themselves, but also said that allies should ask those they are advocating for what they need. Everyone is going to have different intersections and needs. They also said that allies need to understand that if a LGBTQ person says they don't need anything from their ally, that's okay.
James needs his allies not just to support him as a trans white boy, but every part of the community, including trans people of color and transfeminine people.
Kian needs their allies to educate themselves and be conscious about the intersections of race and gender. They need their allies to understand that their experience as a trans person of color is very different from a trans white person's experience.
QueenKatia Zamolodchikova asked: "As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, how can I be a better ally to other marginalized groups within the LGBTQ+ community?"
Imani suggested that LGBTQ allies should use any privilege they have to educate, donate, and focus on the bigger goal. She also called for more coverage and representation of Black and Brown Queerness, not just strictly white LGBTQ people.
Niles said that it is important to look for places that your privilege intersects with someone else's oppression. They spoke about themselves as an example: their non-disabled allies can recognize that them being a disabled trans person changes how they may move or be perceived in a space. They wished for more conversation on how disability intersects with being trans.
James called for the acceptance and acknowledgement of fat trans people. He finds that there is a lack of conversation and representation about the different ways that you can be trans.
Kian spoke on the importance of the visibility of trans and queer people of color. Trans people and people of color are such marginalized groups, and there usually isn't any shared common ground between those identities. There is also a lack of representation for both groups, and that's why Kian finds it super important to be visible as a mixed person of color who is also trans.
Aniza Jahangir asked: "How does one find a way to feel safe in a school where they are out but also the school environment isnt so tolerant?"
Niles acknowledged that is difficult to change a school environment in just 4 years, but you should try to find allies that make you feel more safe. Also, try to create a GSA at your school if there isn't one already! On a bigger scale, you can try to find allies within the school administration and talk to them about changing policies that may be discriminatory or bigoted. Policy changes are one big way that allies can really make an impact!
James suggested developing strategies to deal with homophobia and/or transphobia with other LGBTQ folks. Also, ask your allies for help in creating a safe space in your school.
Kian also suggested joining your school's GSA, but if that's not possible they recommended trying to find a supportive community of peers online. And if you can't find them, make your own online community!
Logan Asher asked: "How can I help to defend my trans boyfriend when being called the wrong name or gender without stepping on his toes?"
Imani recommended letting transphobic people know that what they're saying is rooted in bigotry. She also suggests reporting the incident!
Niles said that the best thing to do with any person you are close to is to have a conversation with them about what they need. Ask how they would like you to respond if they are misgendered, and learn that person's boundaries.
Fayth L. W. Sims: "Is it counterproductive when potential allies expect you to ask them NICELY for their allyship?"
Imani was adamant that it is an ally's job to advocate, not to wait until someone gets hurt. It is not the LGBTQ student's responsibility to ask an ally to advocate for them, that's what an ally should be doing anyway.
Niles said that this is counterproductive as it only coddles the ally's feelings instead of making any difference whatsoever for the marginalized group. To focus more on an ally's need to be spoken to nicely and praised puts a toll on marginalized communities, which is the opposite of what an ally should want!
James felt that he shouldn't be expected to explain to his allies why they need to help him when he needs help.
Kian, following up James's response, said, "My job is not to cater to cis people's feelings!" Kian also reiterated that allies should educate themselves.
And in closing, the students were asked: "In your coming out process, what would the best things for allies to say?"
Niles wants their allies to say: "I don't need you to understand; just offer to listen."
James said that when he came out and people "didn't care" that he was trans, that actually hurt more than helped. Even though they were saying that out of kindness, coming out is a big act of trust and should be acknowledged as such.
Kian would love to hear: "I loved you before, and I still love you!"
You can watch the whole chat below!
Make sure to register for Ally Week for the latest updates and resources about allyship!