Want to let your LGBTQ+ colleagues know you’re a supportive ally, but don’t know where to start? Want to understand more about gender and pronouns, but too afraid to ask? I get it, it can be scary. What if I say something wrong? Everybody understands this already, won’t I look stupid if I ask?
Back when I still thought I was straight (spoiler alert: I’m actually super gay), I remember wanting to find ways to support my friends and family in the LGBTQ+ community but being nervous about what was OK to say or do. And today we see it all around us, in online college courses, professional settings and social media – it feels like you’re expected to know something you may never have been taught. And if you get it ‘wrong’, it can feel like the world shouts you down for being intolerant and ignorant. Nobody wants that.
It’s why I started running “Allyship 101” workshops – covering the very basics of language, LGBTQ+ issues, and allyship. A starter pack of knowledge and tools, and somewhere safe to ask any, absolutely any, question you want. I’ve been asked about pronouns, I’ve been asked about my kids, I’ve been asked about rainbow shopping bags, and honestly I cannot stress enough that I love people asking questions. Asking questions is how we learn, and I love that people want to learn.
It’s easy to look at mainstream LGBTQ+ representation in this country and think everything’s OK now. We have same-sex marriage, but same-sex couples are still reluctant to hold hands in public for fear of assault. We see more trans celebrities in the media, but trans people are still being assaulted, denied healthcare, teenagers kicked out of home… just for being trans. The list is long, and the statistics for the subsequent rates of suicide, self-harm, depression are hugely higher than for any other demographic. But (ray of hope incoming) the fact remains that people within the trans community who receive appropriate support and treatment, and are able to live their lives as their true selves, generally do just fine.
So, how can you let LGBTQ+ folks know that you’re on their side? Good news: it’s actually very easy!
- Accept people for who they are – they know who they are better than anyone else. Yes, please do keep learning, but you don’t have to understand someone’s gender or sexuality in order to accept them. Unfortunately, because biology (like all science) is far more complex than what we learn in school (fun fact: sex and gender are not the same thing! And chromosomes are *whack*!), there is a lot of white noise on the internet from people who find that uncomfortable. Gender Reveal (website and podcast) is a great place to start – check out their ‘Gender 101’ episode
- Pronouns! The he/she/they/whatever people use when they talk about someone else. Respect and learn and use people’s pronouns – even when they’re not there. Share your pronouns: in your bio/Zoom name/email signature/introduction/etc. Putting “Raven (They/Them)” as my Zoom name always makes me feel like ‘that person’ who’s always going on about gender, but if others are doing it too, it feels more normal, and I feel safer.
- Don’t assume people’s gender – And ask yourself, why do I need to know anyway? Similarly, try and avoid gendered terms. Instead of ‘Ladies and gentlemen’ why not ‘honoured guests’? If you’re a barista/server/door staff, break the ‘sir/madam’ habit and just say hi.
- Call out your mates! Hold your friends/family/teachers/organisations accountable if they make homophobic/transphobic or just misinformed statements. It’s often safer, and more effective, for a cis (cis means ‘not trans’) person to do this, so leverage that privilege! Easy and gentle phrases to use are: “Actually that’s not true…”, “Can you explain that further?”, “Oof, that’s rude”, and the classic “Eh, no”
- Wear your allyship! – Wear something that shows you’re an ally! Wear a rainbow lanyard, a badge, a bracelet, put a sticker in your workplace window/on reception – something that indicates to people ‘you are safe and supported here’. It might feel a bit performative, like you’re signalling ‘look how great I am’, but trust me, that’s not how it comes across. In a cafe in town the barista was wearing a trans pride badge, in college the receptionist was wearing a ‘straight ally’ badge, my GP has a Pride flag on the wall – and in all those places I saw those signs and knew that I was welcome.
And just in general: READ and LEARN. Follow queer accounts on social media, and seek out trans voices on trans issues. Read up on things you’re not sure about, especially language. Write to your MP/local school/wherever and ask what they’re doing to be more inclusive. And of course, come to one of my workshops! You can also get in touch to book one tailored specifically to the needs of your workplace, so please do ask me more about that.
It is exhausting to be different in an often hostile world. We need allies to stand up and say “I support you”, to call out homophobia/transphobia/biphobia, to help us fight for our human rights. The most important thing you can do to support the LGBTQ+ community is to accept we exist, and please, let us know we’re not on our own.