How to Be a Better LGBTQ+ Ally
Every June, I love watching people of all stripes celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. It’s like our birthday: We get all the attention, everyone tells us how great we are, and we get to dress up or down and parade in the streets or protest all the things we’re unhappy about. (…Is that not how your birthdays go?)
But once the month is over, so ends the celebration—and begins the work that never really ended. More and more, queer rights and personhood are under assault, and we need allies who are willing to show up actively and consistently—not just in June, but the other 11 months of the year, too. Personally, I like to remember that ally is a verb, not a noun. So, if you’re looking for thoughtful actions you can take to support the queer community, here are a handful to get you started.
Support local or small LGBTQ+ businesses.
During May and June, you’ll see a lot of rainbow products popping up in stores and in ads. Some companies design Pride products and donate a portion of the proceeds to LGBTQ+ organizations; others release Pride products, keep all the profits, and don’t otherwise support our community. There’s criticism among some LGBTQ+ people about this commodification of Pride, so if you want to a guaranteed way to support the queer community with your wallet, buying from LGBTQ+-owned businesses is the way to go. You know exactly who you’re supporting, and your dollar will make more of a difference on the local or small business level. At the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, you’ll find a list of affiliate partners by state and lists of all LGBTQ+-owned businesses certified by the organization.
Be aware of how much room you take up in LGBTQ+ spaces.
I’ve heard many critiques about bachelorette parties taking over gay bars or straight partiers attending Pride just for the good time. It makes sense—for a long time, queer people didn’t have dedicated spaces just for us. And in many places, we still don’t. (Even more upsettingly, for the most marginalized in our community, even our “safe spaces” can prove threatening.) So as an ally, paying attention to what you do and say in predominantly or dedicated LGBTQ+ spaces is, at the very least, good etiquette. I do this when I’m in spaces where I have privilege as a white, cisgender, able-bodied person. I think about it like I’m a lucky guest—grateful to be invited somewhere that wasn’t made for me—and act accordingly. It allows the people for whom the venue or event is for to lead the conversation, set the precedents, and take up the space that’s rightfully theirs.
This is one of the most meaningful acts I’ve engaged in as both a member and an ally of the LGBTQ+ community. For two years, my girlfriend and I have worked with Models of Pride in Los Angeles, the world’s largest free all-day LGBTQ+ youth conference. It’s an opportunity to get to know others in my community, and to hear about their experiences and how they differ from mine. As an ally, getting to know us is a crucial part of the work, which is especially true if you don’t have LGBTQ+ friends or family. Make connections, listen, and educate yourself. You don’t have to directly interface with the public if that’s not your thing; being behind the scenes in an act of service is just as valid and valued.
Use the right pronouns.
Everyone’s going to have a different take on how to find out which pronouns someone uses—and whether, in some cases, it’s even safe or appropriate to ask. This is a solid guide to navigating that experience. What’s most important is that when someone tells you their pronouns, use those pronouns. No matter what pronouns they used before, and no matter if you have an opinion about it. Their pronouns belong to them. Respect their agency and humanity.
Send money directly to LGBTQ+ people whether you know them or not.
Chances are, if you’re on Twitter, you’ve benefited from another person’s labor. The platform is a place of free education, where people of many identities (both within the LGBTQ+ community and outside of it) are generous with their time and energy, often sharing their experiences and perspectives for others to learn from. Sometimes, they’ll link to their Patreon or other donation page where readers can support their work and livelihood. If you’re using the platform to educate yourself about LGBTQ+ issues, or you just happen upon someone’s account and learn something, donate! If they don’t have a Patreon, consider offering to buy them a cup of coffee via Venmo or Paypal. There are also queer people who could use your financial allyship without exchange. Is an LGBTQ+ person raising funds for top surgery or an abortion, or is in need of money after losing their job or home as a result of being outted? Send them $20 if you can afford it. Of course, this is only if you have the means to, but every dollar adds up—and even with just $5, you might just start a mushrooming “pay it forward” chain of kindness.
We hear this so often that it almost rings hollow, but at a time where many of us feel totally out of control, it’s a tangible action we can all take to be sure our voices, at least civically, are heard. Educating yourself and voting across issues is especially important if you want to be an LGBTQ+ ally. Queer people are not solely defined by our queerness. We are part of other communities, too—we are immigrants, refugees, black, brown, indigenous, disabled—meaning policies around immigration, refugee admission and settlement, oil pipelines, accessible sidewalks, and more are our issues, too. Not to mention living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities often compounds oppression: You might not think your local sheriff’s election is an LGBTQ+ issue, but LGB people are three times more likely to be incarcerated than the general U.S. population, and nearly half of black transgender people have been incarcerated at least once in their lives. In short, remember everything is connected, and vote accordingly.
Ask LGBTQ+ people what allyship looks like to them.
I’m not advocating that you ask the queer people you know to do your work for you—your allyship is yours, and it’s a practice. This should be more of an “Is there anything else that you want to add?” rather than a “Tell me everything I need to do to be a good ally.” If you’re already doing other good work as an ally, it’s the gravy. And because allyship often means something different to everyone, you won’t know what’s most helpful until you ask. It demonstrates that you’re seeing the person for who they are—individual needs and preferences included—and allows you to tailor your efforts accordingly. Ask with intention and without pressure (it’s OK if they don’t have an answer!) and make sure they know they’re always welcome to ask you for more, less, or something different. Allyship isn’t static; it’s an ongoing process of learning, growing, trying, and failing, and acting in support and solidarity as best you can.