I was talking to a colleague recently about LGBT allies.
They had written a blog post in which they said – having recently taken on the role of being a senior champion for LGBT staff in their workplace – that it still felt a bit uncomfortable. I think the feeling came, in part, from “imposter syndrome”; them being a straight, cisgendered person, now the ‘champion’ of something they weren’t, and could sympathise with but could never truly understand.
This got me thinking about what it means to be an ally.
Lots of people call themselves allies nowadays, don’t they? It’s become the ‘woke’ thing to do, to be an LGBT ally or an ally to another protected group. In my experience though, the vast majority of those that call themselves ‘allies’ aren’t allies at all. They’re simply not homophobic, biphobic or transphobic.
But being an ally isn’t a thing you are, it’s a thing you do.
It’s not simply wearing a lanyard or a badge. It’s not putting “I’m an ally” in your email signature. Those things might give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, but that’s all they really do. That’s the cold truth of it.
Calling yourself an ally isn’t a badge of honour, it’s a call to action.
An ally steps in when they hear homophobic slurs in the street. An ally will modify their behaviours to actively include LGBT colleagues at work. An ally actively teaches their colleagues – or their children, even – about LGBT people, about Pride, and how they can tackle discrimination. An ally doesn’t just stand behind LGBT people, they stand alongside them and lift them up.
In that context, being an ally should feel uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.
That feeling of discomfort should be a reminder that there is still much more to be done. Being an ally should feel uncomfortable until we’ve wiped out homophobia, biphobia and transphobia for good.
So if you’re calling yourself an ally – bold and brazen – keep evaluating. Evaluate whether you’re really an ally, or whether, in truth, you’re simply not homophobic.