Dear Ally: Listen Up

Dear Ally,

By choosing to be a part of GLSEN’s Ally Week, you help your school community become more LGBT-inclusive and ensure that everyone in your school community is comfortable.


But first off, what does it mean to be an ally? You may not even be aware of it, but you might already be an ally! What it all boils down to is ensuring that communities—whether between friends, in a classroom, or even across an entire school—feel safe and comfortable. Allies can make this easier in a bunch of ways, both big and small.


Identifying as an ally to LGBT youth means supporting them, validating them, and listening to them. Being an ally means more than simply declaring it; it is the responsibility of an ally to always continue growing and learning. Here are some tips to help you be the best ally you can be!


1. Be open-minded. Sounds simple, right? But realize that as unique human beings, people have different experiences and different perspectives to bring to a conversation. A topic unfamiliar to you might come up; make sure you’re listening! Be willing to hear about new identities, new experiences, and new topics. The people you’re supporting will appreciate it.


2. Speak up, not over. In any kind of safe space, everyone should be willing to listen (see Tip #1). However, for there to be a listener, there must also be a speaker! This could be an instructor, a student, or even a special guest. It could also be you! Sharing your experiences might help someone relate to you, or even open up new avenues for discussion.


However, in many safe spaces, people in marginalized groups (LGBT youth, for example, or people of color) finally get the chance to speak, both to find support and to help fix problems. When you are speaking, be sure you are speaking from your own viewpoint, acknowledging that you might not fully understand what it means to identify a certain way. In safe spaces like Gay-Straight Alliances, while allies might know about queer identity, no one can speak for queer youth like queer youth can.


3. Acknowledge your privilege. As mentioned in Tip #2, we might not be able to completely understand the experiences of others. This extends past safe spaces, and relates to something called privilege. Privilege is a part of someone’s identity that grants them benefits in social, cultural, economic, and political settings. Those without certain privileges are treated unfairly in these settings.


For example, a man who is cisgender (which means to identify as/be comfortable with the gender assigned to you at birth) has “male privilege” over a cisgender woman. But privilege goes beyond gender. A cisgender white woman has white privilege over a cisgender black man, who has male privilege over the woman. This complexity of privilege is important to recognize.


4. Learn from every moment. The world is always changing; words change, society changes, and sometimes people change. We are always finding new words that we use to identify ourselves! Don’t assume you know everything there is to know. The best allies are the ones that evolve and become more accommodating as things change.


5. Respect the privacy of others. Agood ally keeps in mind that sometimes it is hard for a person to share their identity. When someone comes out to you, it is often a vulnerable moment for that person. Respect their privacy, and don’t ask invasive questions. Let them come out at their own pace, if they choose to come out at all.


6. Understand that no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t worry! This doesn’t make you a bad ally! You might accidentally use the wrong pronouns for someone, or use a term that might make someone uncomfortable. It’s okay! Apologize, resolve to try harder, and move on! At the end of the day, we’re all human. Just be the best ally you can be.


So, now you’ve gotten a few tips on being a better ally! Want to learn some more, or inspire others to take steps towards being allies to LGBT youth? Take part in GLSEN’s Ally Week, and make this week count!

--Ben Espejo 


Ben Espejo is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.