How To Be An LGBT Ally
The LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) movement continues the fight for equality, but that movement is not made up of only LGBT people. Like any other minority group's fight for justice, true steps toward victory come when the majority group takes a stand in support, and such is the case with the millions and millions of straight allies that exist and stand with their gay brothers and sisters. Going out of your way to help a group that suffers discrimination, violence and even legal consequences is an extraordinary and selfless thing to do. But calling yourself an ally and supporter of LGBT rights does not alone make you in any way helpful or a friend to LGBT people. Actions speak louder than words, both in the things that you do and the things that you don't do. Here is some advice from an LGBT person on how to be a good ally.
1. Avoid using derogatory language. I know it can depend on the social group, but for many LGBT people, hearing a straight person use the word "faggot" can send a chill down their spines. Some gay people might use the word themselves in a casual way, but as it's a word that is identified with them, the word doesn't carry the same venom. Try not to use words that LGBT people face every day as insults. Think about what you say and what kind of image you're giving. If you say "ugh, that's so gay," what are you really saying about LGBT people?
2. Speak up when you hear others using this derogatory language. You don't have to throw a fit or ruin friendships, but since anti-LGBT language is so common, many people use it without even realizing how offensive it is. Inform people that those words or phrases contribute to the persecution of gay people, and that you've made a choice not to use those words. Maybe it will make a difference.
3. If you can, be socially active. Attend a Pride event if you have the time. Write an opinion piece in support of gay marriage to your local paper. Be active in your community's LGBT issues. No one can really ask anyone to do more than accept and support LGBT people, but being socially active can really jump start change.
4. Try not to speak for LGBT people. You aren't a spokesperson for all gay and transgender people - and for that matter, neither is any individual gay or transgender person! Many LGBT issues are complicated and opinions differ among even gay people. And in the end, if you're straight, LGBT people could resent you if you try to drown out their own voices.
5. Don't assume being gay people have a brotherhood (or sisterhood) of any sort. Many gay people have only one thing in common: they are gay. If you meet a gay person, don't randomly ask them if they know your other gay friend who is otherwise completely unrelated to the conversation. Don't brag about how many gay friends you have. Don't make a big deal of their sexuality or LGBT issues unless the topic comes up.
6. Don't get overly personal with LGBT people if you wouldn't do it to straight people. If you find out that Tom is gay, don't ask him if he's a top or a bottom. Don't ask Sally how lesbians have sex. Don't ask Melissa if she was born with male genitalia. Some things are not your business. Remember, the idea of being an ally is also knowing how to treat LGBT people just like people, and striving for a world where sexual orientation is not a big deal.
7. Support gay rights. This may sound like a no-brainer, but I have seen a surprising number of people who "love and support" their gay friends but "personally have a problem with same-sex marriage." If you are an ally, you should support all efforts to make LGBT people equal in the eyes of society. That isn't to say a hypothetical proposed law can't be wrong - if, for example, an LGBT group demanded that straight people lose the right to marriage, you certainly can and should disagree if your conscience tells you so. But if you don't support the right for same-sex couples to get married, or for a transgender person to legally change his or her gender, or for people to not be fired from their jobs due to their sexual orientation... you probably aren't an ally.
8. Be politically conscious and vote in ways that support LGBT rights. Unless they are otherwise horrible people, consider voting for politicians that support LGBT rights. Vote for amendments that grant LGBT rights and identities. Vote in general! And not just in politics. If you are religious and attend a church, try to create a friendly dialogue about LGBT issues if there isn't one, and help design an atmosphere that can, at the very least, open their arms to LGBT people and offer them love and tolerance.
9. Avoid making stereotypical assumptions about people. Some gay men might act in an "effeminate" manner, and some lesbians might like to wear overalls and cut their hair short, but these are simply stereotypes and they don't represent every LGBT person. Being gay is not a personality trait or a fashion sense. It simply means you like people of the same gender. Not to mention, plenty of straight people might not appreciate those stereotypes either - who doesn't know that metrosexual guy or that tomboy girl? Try not to assume someone is gay or straight by their appearance alone.
10. Support and trust everyone who comes out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. It can certainly hit a different string of the heart when you in theory support gay rights but are shocked when your little brother comes out as gay. But as an ally, your number one duty if to show support as people make their way out of the closet. Don't doubt their authenticity or their feelings. Don't assume their doing it for attention, or its just a phase. Don't tell them they are confused. Those aren't the things they need right now. It is what it is, and all you need to do is let this person know that you love and support them no matter what.