Five ways to become a better ally to 2SLGBTQ+ communities

As summer Pride celebrations come to an end, a recent Ipsos poll revealed some interesting findings regarding the state of 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion in Canada. The good news is that Canadians continue to be world leaders in 2SLGBTQ+ acceptance.

However, many are surprisingly less likely to put that allyship into action. The poll of 1,000 Canadians found that only 32 per cent of respondents would be willing to take direct action to support 2SLGBTQ+ rights such as donating to a campaign or attending a demonstration.

Interestingly, the poll also highlighted how women and youth aged 18-34 were more likely to consider themselves active allies than other groups. Regionally, allyship was reported to be the strongest in Québec and Atlantic Canada, and lowest in Alberta.

The fact that Alberta lags behind the rest of Canada is not that surprising as the province is often considered to be the most conservative in the country. It was the last province or territory to add sexual orientation protections to its human rights act, which only happened when forced to do so by the Supreme Court of Canada.

How can Canadians become better allies?

Canadians’ lack of active engagement in supporting 2SLGBTQ+ rights is a concerning trend, especially at a time when hate crimes targeting the 2SLGBTQ+ community have been increasing across Canada. So, what can Canadians do to move beyond tacit support and become more active and effective allies of 2SLGBTQ+ communities?

In her book The Savvy Ally, author Jeannie Gainsburg reminds us that being an ally is not an identity but an intentional and ongoing practice. Broadly speaking, an ally is a person with privilege who stands up and advocates for the safety, human and civil rights of marginalized groups.

For example, reflecting upon my own identity as a white cisgender male, I would not call myself a feminist, but I might identify in solidarity with the feminist movement. In doing so, I recognize how my unearned male privilege benefits me and fundamentally changes the ways in which I move through and interact with the world around me.

My job as an ally is to interrogate this privilege and help to advocate for the equal treatment for all people. Working in solidarity is a key principle of how we ought to work alongside marginalized groups if we are to truly help challenge inequity and dismantle systems of oppression. Allyship is not just about advocating for minorities, it is actually about achieving liberation for us all.

What I’ve learned over the years is that no one is the perfect ally. Being an ally is not a label or a badge you wear. It should be a genuine commitment to engage in an ongoing practice of deep listening, active learning and meaningful action. Allyship is perhaps best understood not as a state of being but as a continual act of becoming.

Five principles for better allyship

Based on these learnings, here are five principles to consider when trying to be a better ally for 2SLGBTQ+ communities.

Unlearn — Challenge your assumptions and work to reorient your perspective. Strive to understand your own role in upholding and maintaining systems of hetero and gender normativity. This requires deep reflection and unlearning. Question not only the intent but also the impact of your actions. Ask how you can work in solidarity with others.

Interrogate your motivation for becoming involved. Reflect on why 2SLGBTQ+ rights are personally important to you. Who or what are you fighting for? Knowing your purpose can help to fuel your passion.

Relearn — Learning about 2SLGBTQ+ identities and communities is your personal responsibility. Yes, terms can be confusing and often change as our language and understanding evolves. Remember, it is not the job of those who are the most vulnerable to take on the emotional labour of educating you. Do your own homework. Read a book, watch a movie, do research online, attend a drag show or join a Pride parade. There are hundreds of ways to educate yourself about the lived realities of 2SLGBTQ+ people.

Becoming an ally starts with your willingness to move outside of your own lived experience and comfort zone. Embrace this discomfort. That is truly one of the most impactful ways that we learn and grow.

Listen more, speak less — The word “ally” has received a negative connotation because too many well-intentioned allies have used their voice and privilege to talk over rather than with 2SLGBTQ+ people. This performative allyship results in little useful or structural change. A true ally demonstrates humility and listens more than they speak. Remember, this is not your moment, and it’s not your story because this is not your lived experience.

Effective allies work to decentre their privilege, focus on intersectionality and help create space and opportunities for others to share their voices. Ask yourself how you can help redistribute power from above to below.

Show up — Being an ally should never be about altruism or simply an intellectual exercise. It’s also about more than liking a post, retweeting a comment or changing your profile picture. Effective allyship must be grounded in authentic action and tangible support. When you witness prejudice or discrimination, don’t be a bystander. Speak out when it is safe to do so. Remember that inaction is action.

Allies don’t give up when they make mistakes; they keep showing up. Be open to honest critique and reflection. For example, if you accidentally misgender someone, apologize, learn from your mistake and work to get it right the next time.

Act up — When 2SLGBTQ+ communities are under attack, true allies don’t back down; they double down with increased support and focused determination. Check in with your 2SLGBTQ+ friends, family members and colleagues. Make sure they are doing OK. Ask them what support they might need. Yes, Pride parades are fun. It’s great when allies show up in the good times, but, more importantly, they need to show up in the hard times as well.

These five suggestions are presented rather simplistically, but when you think about them more deeply, I hope you’ll begin to question and unravel the complexity of this essential work. If nothing else, think of these suggestions as a moment to pause and reflect on how you might challenge your own thinking in an effort to become a better ally to all marginalized communities.

As the famous line by Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

This article is republished from The Conversation, an independent nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. The Conversation is trustworthy news from experts, from an independent nonprofit. Try our free newsletters.

It was written by: Kristopher Wells, MacEwan University.

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Kristopher Wells holds the Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth, which is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.