How to Be An Ally

How to Be An Ally

The "A" in QLTBAG is often said to stand for Ally; sometimes it also stands for Asexual. There are a lot of people who identify as an ally who also identify as heterosexual. That's great, it really is, and there's a lot a straight ally can do in terms of supporting human rights for all. But sometimes, inadvertently and unthinkingly, a straight ally makes it really uncomfortable for those who identify as one of the minorities in the letter soup of human relationships.

Here are some things to keep in mind about being an ally, especially in the context of commenting on posts on That Gay Blog, whose primary audience is made of up people who identify as part of the QLTBAG:

  • Use non-gendered language when talking about relationships. "Are you seeing anyone?" or "Are you in a relationship?" rather than "Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?" You can ask about a spouse, which applies to a partner of any sex in a committed relationship, rather than using husband and wife. And of course, there's always "partner," the term of choice for all manner of adults with romantic relationships. The point is not to assume anything about the other person's sexual orientation.
  • Keep in mind that many people may not conform to what you, or society, or your neighbor thinks are the gender-appropriate sexual roles and behaviors for "men" and "women." There are huge differences in times, cultures, religions, and individual preferences in terms of determining social and sexual roles. Please bear that in mind.
  • If a person indicates that he identifies as male, or she as female, remember and respect that. Refer to people with the names and identities they prefer. It's basic courtesy. If you're not sure how someone wants to be referred to, you can ask (politely and privately) "How you wish to be referred to?" Remember that biology is not destiny; we have minds and hearts as well as chromosomes.
  • Don't be silent if people make offensive remarks about those who identify as queer, or gay, or lesbian or bi or trans. Those remarks cause scars, and there's no telling how many people are being hurt. Remember the silent majority; there are almost always more people listening or reading than talking or posting.
  • Don't assume that you know a person's orientation automatically. Sometimes adults won't realize they aren't the people they thought they were until late in life. Don't assume someone is straight, and don't assume they aren't, either. Let people choose for themselves how they wish to be identified, and when.
  • If you identify as straight, be aware that your assumptions and privileges travel with you, and that some of them may be invisible to you, and quite hurtful to others. It's less than courteous, as a heterosexual parent, to ask a queer couple about plans for children, or weddings, for instance. Let your friends introduce the topic. You have rights that they don't, and protections, and privileges that they don't. As much as it may seem comforting to think that the gay or lesbian couple down the street is "just like you," in many ways, they aren't. It is therefore less than tactful, for instance, to verbally support queer rights and in the context of being supportive, keep reiterating that you're straight. You are in effect rubbing our noses in your privileged status.

I feel like all of these points are covered by basic human courtesy, but I keep seeing well-meaning people who identify as allies engaging in hurtful but thoughtless behaviors. At this point, I'd like to direct your attention to Plaid Adder's excellent, satirical, and very helpful A Straight Person's Guide To Gay Etiquette.