Being An Ally

By Chantel Henwood and Richard Xu-Austen

Cover Art: Jelena Xu (inspired by Keith Haring)

Respect Week at UNSW is drawing to a close but its important that we keep talking about the issues and supporting one another throughout the rest of the year. So I asked Chantel about how we can do better to show continuing support to our friends who face discrimination.

What is an ally? 

An ally is someone who puts in the work to support, elevate and protect the LGBTIQ+ community. This isn't about signposting, allyship is often invisible grunt work that's not always enjoyable. 

Being an ally to the LGBTIQ+ community is about more than just acceptance. Allyship requires education on the community, its history and the struggles facing all intersections of the community. Having often uncomfortable and challenging conversations with family and friends who may hold harmful views about the community. And, learning how to leverage your privilege to have the voices of the community heard. 

How can I be a good ally? 

Education on the language and history of the LGBTIQ+ community and a willingness to understand our experiences and unpack some of the socially ingrained ideologies about identity and relationships are key first steps to being a good ally.

However once you have that knowledge there are four key ways you can put that knowledge into practice.

1. Follow an array of voices and listen

  • Early in your allyship journey its easy for you to want to ask as many questions as possible. However it's important to remember that LGBTIQ+ people are often forced to explain themselves and justify their experiences on a daily basis, lets not add to that load. There are so many amazing creators on social media, authors, youtubers and leaders in the community providing resources for you to learn more. Make sure the information you consume is diverse prioritising trans, POC, Indigenous and disabled experiences. 

2. Your words matter, make sure they're inclusive.

  • Words carry historical and social significance. Take time to understand how the words we use on a daily basis exclude and harm others. These small gestures can make a huge difference in the lives of LGBTIQ+ people and signal to others that you are an ally. Once you start this process, you'll also be shocked as to just how exclusionary our language can be to some folks. 

3. Call out bad behaviour

  • If you notice behaviour that is harmful or degrading to the LGBTIQ+ community and you're in a position to safely speak up then do so. The more people speak up against injustice the less it will occur. Be respectful and educational. Once people become defensive you miss out on a valuable educational moment. It's always important to factor in your health and safety, both mental and physical, but part of being a good ally is leveraging your privilege to advocate for those who need it most. 

4. Show up for us without taking up our spaces.

  • Being a good ally is like being a good friend. We show up for our friends in many different ways through thoughtfulness, practical action, and ensuring that our friends feel safe, supported and heard. This extends to the environments that we inhabit. If your school or workplace is lacking in safe spaces for LGBTIQ+ people find out how you can create one, even if that means that space isn't for you. 

  • If you're inviting a friend out to a party, think about the space you're inviting them to. Will people respect their pronouns? Can they be themselves? Have you asked them if they feel comfortable being out in these spaces? If you're not a member of the Queer community but find yourself in a queer space remember, you are a guest.

What is a bad ally? 

I'd like to believe that anyone actively calling themselves an ally and following the above guidelines could never be a bad ally, but perhaps is earlier on in their journey than others. The idea that there are bad allys denies people the ability to make mistakes, learn and grow. You are not perfect and despite what the comment section tells you, we don't need you to be, we just need you to be willing to try. 

Anyone taking part in performative allyship or participating in behaviour that actively harms the LGBTIQ+ comumity is in fact not an ally. It's also important to remember that just because you identify with one or more of the letters of the LGBTIQ+ community does not excuse you from your duty as an ally to your community. If you only participate in creating change that benefits you and not your fellow Indigenous, trans, POC, sex worker, HIV positive, disabled and economically unstable queer comrades then you are merely benefiting from generations of people who put their lives on the line for your freedom to be who you are.

What does it mean to listen? How can I be a better listener?

There is no point in listening if there is no intention to learn and create change and that first change happens inside of you. For many people discovering their sexual and gender identity, they have to work to unpack a lot of ingrained heteronormativity which often causes a significant amount of personal turmoil. Before we can truly be ourselves in the world and with another we have to first rediscover who we can be and what that means about how we see the world. 

From the day we are born our understanding of the world shapes our understanding of how we can exist within it. It can be difficult unlearning these things but is a necessary step towards understanding the experiences of those who move through the world differently that we do.

Being an ally to the First Nations LGBTIQ+ community

The LGBTIQ+ community is diverse and often queerness takes up only a portion of a persons identity and the social and political challenges they face. Within the context of Australia we must always remain mindful of the continued impact colonisation has had on our First Nations people and continue to do the work to educate ourselves on the unfair treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people

It's important to note that heteronormativity and homophobia are often rooted within colonial ideologies. Throughout history we have seen a diverse range of sexualities and genders not only accepted within Indigenous communities but form an important role within their culture. 

First Nations cultures have always recognised and integrated much richer and diverse concepts of sexuality and gender that expand far beyond Western concepts.Trans and gender diverse people are ancient.

First Nations people who are trans in Australia might use the term Sistergirl and Brotherboy. How these terms are used or displayed may vary depending on who is using the term, however it is important to be respectful of these identities and understand what they mean culturally and personally.

We've provided some resources below for anyone wanting to learn more:

UNSW Queer Collective

UNSW Ally Network

TransHub

Minus18

Trans hub - Trans Mob

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