June is pride month, and what better way to celebrate than by learning how to create a more inclusive, welcoming environment together. The LGBTQIA+ interest subgroup of Mead & Hunt’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) recently held a hangout sharing ways to be a better ally to the LGBTQIA+, or any marginalized community. As the group’s token straight white male, this is one area I have come to learn a lot about. Here are the 10 tips the group has compiled to help everyone—whether in the LGBTQIA+ community or not—be a better ally.
- Listen. If you really want to understand a new perspective, listen to marginalized people, and listen to as many different voices as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and practice active listening—be quiet and listen to understand instead of preparing your response. If your response starts with “yeah, but…” it may be best to rethink that response.
- On the other hand, speak up. If you hear somebody say something hateful or simply misinformed, do not hesitate to speak up. It’s often safer for a bystander to speak up than the victim. Silence allows oppression to continue. Of course, remember that in most scenarios it is much better to be educational than confrontational.
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Sometimes change is uncomfortable, and that’s okay. Without discomfort, we would never change, evolve, and grow. Often, discomfort can be a useful tool that lets us know where we have more work to do. Don’t be afraid to sit with your discomfort and ask yourself, “Why does this make me uncomfortable?”
- Learn from your mistakes. A big part of this is also accepting that mistakes may happen. Nobody knows everything, even those in the LGBTQIA+ community. It doesn’t make you a “bad person,” and it shouldn’t stop you from interacting with others who are different from you. When you make a mistake, don’t be defensive; instead, be open to learning from and listening. Apologize with honesty and integrity and make sure you act differently going forward.
- Ally is not a self-proclaiming identity. Remember that “ally” is not something you call yourself; it is something you strive to be with your actions every day. Being an ally does not mean you are an expert on any given subject. Everyone needs to strive to be an ally, even those within the marginalized community.
- Allies don’t need to be in the spotlight. Instead, they provide solidarity and support and avoid creating a platform for their own voice and work. Whenever possible, a good ally will turn the spotlight away from themselves and to the voices of the community.
- Allies should never monopolize or minimize the emotional energy of a marginalized group. The emotional energy of a marginalized member of any group should not be seen as an insult to others or spur defensive responses. Sharing emotions should be encouraged, not stifled. Having emotional responses is a part of being human, and the best thing to do when one occurs is listen with an open mind.
- Allies don’t take breaks. Those being oppressed don’t get breaks from being treated differently or unfairly. If you want to provide true solidarity, you can’t simply retreat when things get uncomfortable. As we said in #3, being uncomfortable is a sign of growth!
- Research, research, research. Before you jump into action for any social justice movement, it is important to know the history and challenges a community faces. If you don’t know something, it is okay to ask, but remember that it is not the responsibility of any marginalized group to educate the population. Groups like the ERG at Mead & Hunt are a great resource because they have people who have volunteered to help educate others. Also, remember that no matter how much research you have done, it is impossible to fully understand what someone else has experienced.
- Understanding privilege. Privilege has become a sensitive topic recently, but there is often a misunderstanding of what the term actually means. Saying someone has privilege does not mean that their life hasn’t been hard, or that they were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Instead, when I think about privilege, I find it helpful to think about it in terms of the disadvantages I don’t have, rather than the advantages I do have. For instance, my life has not been made harder because of my race, gender, or sexuality. That does not mean I have never faced any challenges; it just means I lack these “born” societal disadvantages. That’s it.
At the end of the day, being an ally is really just about being a friend. Everyone should strive to be a good ally, regardless of who you are. And this should always be an open, honest, and safe discussion. We are all learning how to be a more inclusive society together.