How to be an Ally to the LGBTQ+ Community
Written By: Maria Barcelos, MA, Executive Director & Ian Kelly, Peer Support Facilitator LGBTQ+ Community Member
This June, we stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community and ask our members to also be allies. Being an ally takes many forms, including standing up to prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community, advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and access to services, showing pride support by sharing events and information about LGBTQ+, listening with empathy and non-judgment (Youth Engaged 4 Change, 2021). Many LGBTQ+ survivors of childhood sexual abuse face additional barriers to disclosing their trauma history. From encountering additional prejudice and judgment because of LGBTQ+ myths surrounding sexuality, gender expression, and CSA trauma to not finding safe and inclusive spaces to share their story to facing disparaging comments or outright biased criticism via online platforms. As allies, we believe that all people, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, should be treated with dignity and respect (GLADD, 2021). Our gratitude to all our LGBTQ+ members and facilitators that help other survivors find their voice.
Special thanks to Ian Kelly, Facilitator and LGBTQ+ community member who has been a long-time facilitator, advocate, and supporter of The Gatehouse. Most recently, Ian was awarded a 2021 Victims Services Award of Distinction for his dedication and commitment to helping survivors of trauma heal in the community.
Becoming an Ally to someone who is a part of the LGBTQ2S+ community is all or nothing. If you want to create a space for them, where they feel they can be fully honest and open, it’s important to be aware that saying even one thing wrong can make them feel unsafe instantly. With this in mind, and knowing that none of us are perfect, one of the most important first steps to becoming an Ally is to start out by being open to hearing when you have made an error. We all have blind spots and can display microaggressions. Opportunities that allow us to apologize and learn, go a long way to creating a feeling of safety. If you use an incorrect pronoun or blurt out a microaggression, be open to hearing about it. And use this, not only to be able to apologize but also to learn and to use your capacity for empathy. Ask questions. “How does it feel for you when someone mis-genders you?” “Do you hear these things a lot?” “Are there kinds of discrimination you experience that hurt more than others?” Listening to someone goes a long way to validate their feelings and their experience.
So, start out by simply saying, “I might screw up, please let me know if I do and let’s talk.”
An important foundation to being an Ally is to know that it is not important to understand everything that person is experiencing and feeling. And it is no one’s job to help you understand and therefore explain everything to you. It is only important that you accept the person, their feelings, and the experiences that they have had. It is a heavy burden for someone to feel they need to explain themselves. With that feeling of acceptance, conversations may happen, and they might feel safe enough to give you more information.
Realize that many people who are in the community have experienced trauma. This trauma can come in many forms like bullying, physical assault, as well as sexual abuse. One of the effects of trauma is that we tend to build walls around ourselves, and those walls can present in many ways. Remember this always and practice patience. Those walls are there to protect that person and being invited behind them doesn’t happen easily. You are asking someone to be vulnerable, so please remember to lead by example. Be willing to be vulnerable yourself, about your own feelings and experiences. This is imperative if you want to create a safe space.
And lastly, as in all relationships that we have, always use your empathy. Remember to feel it and convey it. You do not need to know what it’s like to be trans or gay, we all have experiences of feeling sad, or alone, or like an outsider. When speaking to someone in the LGBTQ2S+ community, hear their words as well as their feelings. Always let them know you are feeling empathy by responding with something that tells them. “That sucks”, “That sounds hard”, or “That takes great strength” are all ways we can let others know that we are feeling empathy.
It takes effort to become a true Ally but know your life will be richer for knowing such diverse and incredible people.
Check out Pride TO for more information about upcoming Pride events https://www.pridetoronto.com/
GLADD. (2021). 10 Ways to be an ally & a friend. Retrieved from https://www.glaad.org/resources/ally/2
Youth Engaged 4 Change. (2021). Being an ally to LGBT people. Retrieved from https://engage.youth.gov/resources/being-ally-lgbt-people