Photograph by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Culture Spotlight

5 ways we can be better allies to the LGBTQIA+ community

At a time when Pride has become commercialized and conversations around it can grow muddled, how can allies make sure what they’re doing is in service to the community? Apa Agbayani lists some informed suggestions.
Apa Agbayani | Jun 29 2019

Welcome to Pride Month 2019! This year we celebrate the 50th year since the historic Stonewall riots, a series of demonstrations by members of the LGBTQIA community (led largely by transgender women of color such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera) after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

Fifty years later, the conversation around Pride might be largely unrecognizable to the likes of Johnson and Rivera. It is a time when corporations ride on the LGBTQIA+ struggle with one rainbow-colored product after another, when people use the words of the movement (“equality,” “pride,” “love is love”) completely divorced from the movement. We are past a threshold when Pride as a concept is far less taboo, but the struggles and concerns are often sanitized for fear of causing controversy. 

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As such, it’s easy for corporations and individuals to co-opt Pride without risking backlash or really making a positive impact towards the LGBTQIA+ community.

Apart from urgent concerns in the community—the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill in the Philippine Congress, the myriad misconceptions about LGBTQIA+ people, the daily violence against transgender people around the world—an important conversation to have is how we can have better allyship. Allies, while decidedly not the center of the community, have the power to strengthen the community, can magnify our messaging and can act as a support system for us. What follows are five things allies need to know to do better for the sake of the community.

 

1. Calling yourself an ally is the start but not the end of it.

Anybody can be an ally. There is no sign-up sheet or admissions committee overseeing your application. You can wake up one day and say, “I’m not queer but I recognize LGBTQIA+ people’s need to fight for their rights.” However, once you call yourself an ally, there are things you need to start doing beyond saying you love your gay friends.

Educate yourself on LGBTQIA+ issues, keep abreast with news in the community, listen to the stories of people. Every day brings a new hurdle for the community and new opportunities for your growth as an ally if you’re open to it.

Calling yourself an ally is the start but not the end of it. Photograph by Joshua Stitt on Unsplash

2. Recognize your privilege and use it in concrete ways to help the community.

This is one of the best things a straight ally can do. Privilege is often invisible to those who have it — people simply treat you differently without you realizing it. There are obstacles big and small that LGBTQIA+ people must endure daily that you’ll never have to deal with. That in itself doesn’t put you in the wrong, but failing to recognize the inequality that gave you your privilege does.

Moreover, there are ways you can use that privilege strategically. There are people who will listen to what you have to say who would nevergive us the time of day. You have a direct line to educate straight people when they say something out of line, or even the ability to stop an act of violence against an LGBTQIA+ person. These are things that we do not (or sometimes, cannot) do for ourselves. Be brave enough to call things out. You could change the course of someone’s day or even save someone’s life.

 

3. Don’t talk over us and never, ever make it about you.

There is a reason allies are adjacent to the LGBTQIA+ community but not a part of it. You’ll never deal with the specific systemic oppression we endure daily. In the law of the land, you have far more protection and rights than we do. As such, we hope you’ll uplift our voices and not make your allyship about you.

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For example, Taylor Swift’s latest album campaign seems intent on tying in with Pride Month, with a surprise performance at Stonewall and a music video featuring a bevy of LGBTQIA+ stars (Laverne Cox, Billy Porter, Ellen DeGeneres, RuPaul and eight drag queens) and a call to actionto support the Equality Act in the US Senate. While the concrete step was commendable allyship, it all felt like a poor fit for a song and video whose messaging seemed at best muddled, at worst a reduction of the LGBTQIA+ struggle to “shade” for the sake of promoting herself. Not a good look when our people are literally being killed.

 

4. Listen to us. Let us be seen.

So much of allyship is having an ear to the needs of the community. We don’t expect you to always know what to do as an ally, so ask questions. Be open to being called out when your allyship is lacking. We need you to center us in a world where we can often feel invisible.

Many LGBTQIA+ people have felt for too long like they have to accept allyship in any form, even if it fails to address community needs or fails to seeLGBTQIA+ people at all. We should never feel hostage to allyship because that’s simply not how the relationship ought to work. Today we need to be able to ask for more from our allies because we deserve better, so please listen to what we have to say.

 

5. Say it with your whole chest or don’t say it at all.

With the commercialization of Pride comes the sanitization of the core issues in the world it seeks to address: systemic and structural violence against LGBTQIA+ people, discrimination in all forms, passage of legislation that moves towards genuine equality for us. These rarely show up in the Pride materials of brands because they constitute a risk for a brand—but it’s an erasure of the actual concerns at the heart of Pride.

For example, MEGA Magazine recently held the Equality Ball, the latest iteration of their annual June event. While the event honored LGBTQIA+ organizations such as Metro Manila Pride and queer establishments such as O Bar, MEGA was called out for some tone-deaf marketing that included promotional posts with influencers and personalities not necessarily aligned with the community (including Maxine Medina who later had to apologize for a prior transphobic statement) and sanitized template copy that celebrated equality but failed to emphasize for whom.

You can say this is ungrateful nitpicking on our part as a marginalized community, but these conversations are essential to moving forward with Pride. Allyship can have an immense impact on the world outside the LGBTQIA+ community. All we’re asking is for you to make the impact we need.