“Know your LGBTQ+ history.
Know that it is rooted in resistance.”
I’ll start this by saying I believe the majority of people want to do the right thing, and want equality. I also firmly believe all those people who call themselves an ally, really are doing so with the best of intentions. I’m not here to take your allyship away from you, but I am here to talk about the immense privilege and responsibility that comes with allyship.
When I ask you what allyship means to you, you might say the following:
- It’s saying the right thing
- Having hard conversations
- Standing up for what’s right
- Speaking up
- Being antiracist
- Calling out homophobia
All of the above is totally right. What I want to challenge you to do, is reflect on how you act on these. How do you navigate the space between comfort and discomfort, between learning and action, between recognising bias and behaviour change? Things like this are rarely comfortable. Discomfort is key to our growth and we should view it as desirable. We can say all the right things in relation to being an ally, but what do the behaviours actually look like? How easy is it, really, to be the one to call something out? If we’re in a situation whereby we feel somethings off, or downright unjust, how confident are we that we really could be a collaborator, accomplice and co-conspirator at challenging anti-allyship behaviour? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves, as with growth comes growing pains. A lot of people are on a journey with allyship from curious to courageous, the aim for us is to be active allies. Not only appearing to speak out, but by changing behaviour and advocating against unjust structures. Ally is a verb, after all.
In my personal experience, there are many stages to allyship. At the beginning of your journey, you may find you question people’s behaviours and attitudes because ‘they just feel wrong’. You may then move to researching and learning more, educating yourself. You may then build the confidence to speak up, to campaign, to create action.
The behaviours and views you are exposed to that are in direct conflict with your allyship, confronting these and then acting on your disagreement with them is the challenge I want to talk about. These behaviours and views could be expressed by the people you love, the friends you laugh with, the colleagues you respect and learn from. The most courageous step in your allyship will be to acknowledge that it is okay to challenge them, and it’s okay to educate others and stand up for positive change and action.
For me, ally as a non-negotiable, and there are no exceptions. The first pride was a riot after all. Think we don’t need pride in 2022? Sadly we do, because not all LGBTQ+ people are free and safe from harm. According to Stonewall, one in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months. Two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months. Four in five anti-LGBT hate crimes and incidents go unreported, with younger LGBT people particularly reluctant to go to the police.
Allies endeavour to drive systemic improvements to workplace policies, practices, and culture. I’ll always remember my dear friend Rafa saying, “allyship is not just for the bonus, it’s for the onus too.” We don’t get to just go to PRIDE events and wave our flags in June, we have to actively call out homophobia and inequality. I’m actually not interested in you allyship this month, I want to know where you stand when you’re at the dinner table with your homophobic relative? Think about the language people use – a joke is only funny if people are laughing together. Are you choosing to use language historically used to oppress people?
Look, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty here okay. I’m just trying to talk about taking our allyship from performative, to active. The anti oppression network has a great note on allyship, where they say “we are not acting out of guilt, but rather out of responsibility” We build our capacity to receive criticism, be honest and accountable with mistakes, and embrace the emotions that come out of the process of being an ally (uncomfortable, challenged, sometimes even hurt)
Yes, allyship is a journey. It’s also something we continue to work on, grow through and challenge ourselves on. It’s a lifelong commitment to pursuing equality. It’s beautiful, it’s empowering, it’s the responsibility of all of us. Please don’t give up on it when it’s challenging, when it’s not all rainbows and joy. Stay for the long haul. Stay for the immense joy we can share with the LGBTQIA+ community when our friends are loved and celebrated for the brilliance they bring to our world, and be their voice when they’re too damn tired of fighting. Some questions you can ask yourself as you reflect on where you are:
- How confident do you feel at calling out behaviour?
- How comfortable are you with holding yourself accountable?
- Where are you now on your allyship journey?
“No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”
Marsha P. Johnson
Resources for your allyship journey:
To my trans sisters – ed by Charlie Craggs (she is my friend GO BUY HER BOOK)