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How To Be an Ally This LGBTQ+ Pride Month

The progress flag with the LSHTM logo. The progress flag is the LGBTQ+ rainbow flag with black and brown stripes and trans flag stripes.

LGBTQ+ Pride month celebrates all the advances in queer rights in recent times, it remembers the fight for those rights, and prompts us to reflect on how much there is still to do. LGBTQ+ people remain one of the most marginalised groups worldwide. Even in London, with Soho on our doorstep and rainbow flags on our rooves, the queer experience leaves a lot to be desired.

Pride month is also a time to acknowledge that resourceful and creative as we are, LGBTQ+ people could not have achieved the advances we have made to date without our allies. An ally is a person who chooses to align with efforts to improve the circumstances for individuals from a marginalised or disadvantaged group. Being an ally is not just a humanitarian position but also a moral position – if you’re not part of the solution…

The biggest barrier to effective allyship isn’t ignorance or even apathy. Often, it’s the lack of confidence to step into the role, a lack of awareness of what that entails and how one enacts ‘allyship’ effectively. How can you help others live authentically when their experience is so different to yours?  How can you roll your sleeves up, put your privilege to one side, and get stuck in making the world a better place for queers?

Thankfully, being an ally is rather straightforward. Not always easy, but straightforward. LinkedIn Learning’s Dr Daisy Lovelace has managed to distil the key components of effective allyship into an acronym that, handily, spells ‘ally’.

Act. Speak up and call out anti-LGBTQ+ language, actions and cultures. A bystander who takes a neutral or non-objecting stance isn’t an ally. An ally speaks up for the rights of LGBTQ+ people even – especially – when there are no LGBTQ+ people around to speak up for themselves. It’s not always big actions that are needed. Sometimes it’s a simple as reminding your team to use gender neutral language or use queer-inclusive images. Sometimes big actions are needed and that’s when we need allies the most. Allies are our bridges from the margins to the mainstream and we need you to act with us consistently and reliably if our progress towards equality is to be maintained.

Learn. The queer experience is tough but it’s also amazing. Standing on the outside looking in on a world you’ll never belong to is a simultaneously painful and liberating perspective. The unique creative viewpoint that comes from such painful liberation is, truly, glorious and cuts to the core of why queer people love who we are. As an ally it’s important to learn about the LGBTQ+ experience, to learn what it means to grow up queer and how that impacts a person now. None of us have grown up unscathed and it’s important to hear our experiences and learn from them if society is to evolve beyond tolerance to acceptance and, hopefully, inclusion.

Listen. With all due respect, LGBTQ+ people don’t need the “straight perspective” on the queer experience. There’s nothing worse than the mainstream telling the margins how to live or what our needs are. At best it betrays a lack of self-awareness but at worst it smacks of the heteronormative arrogance that assumes all queer people want to be like cis-gendered straight people. We don’t – but don’t take my word for it. Listen instead to all the LGBTQ+ people in your own life. Listen and really try to hear who we are, what we’ve been through, and what living authentically means for us.

Yield your privilege. Privilege gives you choice whether to be neutral on an issue or not, it allows you to navigate the world without needing to give a thought to the marginalised groups you’re not a part of. It’s likely we all have some privilege or other and some people may live a life of near-total privilege. The important thing isn’t whether or not you have privilege: it’s what you do with it that counts. Yielding your privilege means you choose not to be neutral and to stand alongside those without the privilege in the first place. It means using your status to help marginalised people be heard and achieve equitable status in society without having to compromise who they are or how they express themselves. Yielding your privilege to LGBTQ+ people means championing queer-inclusive spaces and practices in our organisation while rejecting non-inclusive practices even when you’d receive a benefit from them. It is an act of true allyship, the signature move of a true ally.

Being an ally isn’t always, or even often, easy but it is needed and always appreciated. Pride month is an opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community to express gratitude to our allies – sincerely, thank you – but also to reaffirm how much we need you and how you can best help us. It is a mistake to think the work of LGBTQ+ inclusion is complete even locally, there is still a massive gap to close. This Pride month we acknowledge that gap and ask you to be an ally, to stand with us and help make the world a safer place, an easier place, for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people.

By Aiden Gillan-Bronze
Digital Education Manager
Disability & Eye Health Group, LSHTM

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