It’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month and, for a switch, I’d like to send a shout-out to the heterosexuals in the crowd.
It is overwhelmingly probable that you know at least one person that falls under the LGBTQ+ spectrum (even if you don’t know it.) It’s commonly cited that 1 in 10 folks is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual or otherwise not straight or cisgender (meaning you identify with the gender that was assigned to you at birth). So, if you go to a school with 1,000 people, roughly 100 of them are queer. They might not be out of the closet to everyone. They might be exploring their feelings and haven’t come out to themselves yet. Or, they might be loud and proud and tell everyone they meet about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. And all of those options are totally okay.
So, how can you be a good friend to an individual or a good ally to the LGBTQ+ community as a whole? Here are eight tips to get you started.
- Understand that sexual orientation is a spectrum. Some people are only attracted to people of the opposite sex; some are only attracted to people of the same sex, but there are a whole of people in between. Asexuality and Aromanticism are also real. Some people are just not interested in relationships and that’s okay. Gender Identity is also a spectrum. There’s male and female (and these identities don’t necessarily correspond to a person’s physical sex) but, again, there are a whole lot of folks in between. Some gender non-conforming identities include: genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, two-spirit, bigender, non-binary, and androgyne. Don’t presume that you know more about a person’s feelings or identity than they do. If a person says they’re bi or pansexual but they’ve only dated girls, that doesn’t change their orientation. If someone claims to be non-binary but presents themselves as masculine, that presentation is irrelevant to their identity.
- Educate yourself. It is never someone else’s job to teach you about social issues. Expose yourself to fiction, nonfiction, articles, blog posts, tumblr entries, tweets, youtube videos, feature films, documentaries, music, art and any other media you can find to gain further knowledge and perspective. If you don’t recognize some of the words I used in the above paragraph, this page is a good place to start. Not everyone will define every word exactly the same way. As with anything involving human beings, theories and ideas abound.
- If a trans* or queer friend does want to confide in you about their lived experience, listen with your all your being, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable. Ask yourself what is so uncomfortable about it. Are you discovering that you’re carrying around some internalized homophobia or transphobia? Think about the discriminatory, hurtful or offensive thing you might have said (seriously or joking) or done in the past and how you can avoid making those choices in the future. And, no, “It was just a joke,” does not excuse you from hurting someone.
- Normalize LGBTQ+ identities. Most folks assume that people they meet or characters in books/shows/movies are straight and cis until the person or character comes out and explicitly states that they’re gay. How much would your worldview change if you figured everyone you met was queer until they told you they were straight?
- Similarly, try to use gender-neutral language. When you see a group of people that have long hair and are wearing dresses, don’t address them as “ladies.” It’s entirely possible that some of them don’t identify as female. Try calling them people, folks, friends, or guests. Avoid heteronormative assumptions like asking a young woman if she has a boyfriend unless she has already indicated that’s she’s straight. Basically, don’t put a person in a position where they either have to correct you about their orientation or identity or lie about it.
- Come out as straight and cis. LGBTQ+ people frequently list their sexual orientation, gender identity and the pronouns they use to describe themselves on social media profiles. We have to do this because of the above assumptions. If a genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary or agender uses pronouns like “they” or “ze” they have to let people know that and that’s perfectly understandable. cis woman who introduces herself by saying “Hi, my name is Kelsey, I’m straight, and I go by she/her,” is telling the world that you can’t assume a person’s orientation or gender identity simply by looking at them.
- While we’re on the topic of pronouns, I know it’s hard to change how you think about and talk about a person. Just keep trying. If you mess up a person’s pronouns or new name, apologize and try harder next time. It gets easier the more you say it.
- And, as with allies for any alienated or oppressed group, use your privilege to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, to enlighten the ignorant and to fight against homophobia, transphobia and bigotry.
Here are a few resources that might help you.
I realize that this is kind of a long list and it might seem overwhelming and even intimidating to take on the role of ally. It’s always hard to stand up to injustice, inequality and straight-up bullies. But for the things you believe in and the people you love, it’s more than worth it.