The Blessing of Allyship
You may not realize how lucky you are to have something until you see someone without it. For many of us, this thing we take for granted is support in the form of friendship. One thing that we as human beings crave is companionship and friendship. It’s hardwired into our brains that we need somebody else in our life at some point or another to make us happy; whether they be a confidante, a movie buddy, a romantic partner, or something entirely different, our hearts and minds want for that person.
But for many, friends are not enough. LGBTQ+ individuals specifically most commonly also have people in their lives known as allies. Allies are like friends, but they are, in reality, so much more than that. And this is where we fail to recognize them for all that they do. Personally speaking, I know that allies go underappreciated.
My coming out story is no big deal because I don’t really have one; I never came out. When I entered high school after the summer that seems to mature everyone before their freshman year, everyone kind of just accepted it. I never had to have the sit-down conversations with my friends and ‘break the news’ to them that I was gay. They just…went with it. But having people accept you for who you are and having an ally are two very different things. I can count on my hand the number of people in my life who I would consider my allies. Out of a monstrous list of friends and acquaintances…so very few make the cut. Why?
This dividing line between friendship and allyship is very hard to define, yet so blatant that it can smack you in the face. For me personally, what separates a friend from an ally is the ability of that person to show empathy for a queer person even when they are not. Until you sit down and dig deep within yourself; until you question not just what you stand for but who you are...you have no way of empathizing with what LGBTQ+ individuals go through...but allies do. Somehow they see the trials and tribulations we go through and are there for us every step of the way. Allies are there for you no matter what.
These special people in our lives earn every fiber of meaning that the title "ally" gives. For LGBTQ+ high school students, the four years marked as the last true requirement of the education system can also be the most dreaded and scariest four years of their lives. It is through the high school years that people begin to discover who they are in an environment that is famous for breeding hostility and exclusion. Having an ally in high school could be the single most important aspect of school to some. Allies can mean the difference for some between graduating and dropping out—or worse.
My allies’ stories took a large shift in course this summer, because many of them I had to leave behind when I moved from Chicago to Tampa; the few confidantes I had with me every step of the way are now 1006 miles away. This, however, does not change my relationship with them as my allies. Thanks to the technology available to us, I am still able to communicate with them and cry about boys and gossip over reruns of Grey’s Anatomy and have their unconditional support.
The world of technology and social media has opened up brand new opportunities for so many people all across the world. It is now possible to form the close relationship one has with an ally with someone who you have never even met...with someone not across the country but across the world. For many who live in hostile environments, where there are no allies to be found, they can still go on knowing they are not alone, and that they have someone to lean on.
So, if you have an ally in your life (or seven), be sure to thank them for being in your life this October (even though, for me, it means making a few long distance calls and sending a few emails). Our allies are there for us every day, so give them their recognition this week, and really every day, that they so deserve.
Peter Finucane-Terlop is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.