Be an LGBTQ Ally
How Solo Moms can support the LGBTQ community
On June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed marriage equality in all 50 states, my Facebook feed lit up with profile pictures hued by celebratory rainbows. These weren’t just the usual suspects—my LGBTQ friends—flying the flag. They were, well, almost everyone. The show of support brought tears to my eyes, and it got me thinking about the many ways allies—even busy Solo Moms—can step up for LGBTQ people.
What does it take to be an ally?
Do you believe all human beings should have the freedom to love the person they love and have the freedom to live as their authentic selves, without fear of discrimination, harassment, or violence? Yes? Boom! You’re in. Welcome to the LGBTQ ally club. If you’re new to being an LGBTQ ally, check out this helpful publication, Coming Out as a Supporter, produced by Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
Why do allies matter?
If straight allies had not lobbied, campaigned, and voted on behalf of LGBTQ people’s rights, the LGBTQ movement would not have made the gains it has. And LGBTQ rights can’t continue to move forward without your support. In many circumstances, allies’ voices make a bigger impact than LGBTQ people’s can. When LGBTQ people stand up for their rights, they may be seen as requesting benefits for themselves. When allies stand up, they’re seen as asking for fairness on behalf of others. Ally support helps not only in the public political arena but also in private spaces. When an LGBTQ person talks back to a homophobic or transphobic joke, or corrects a stereotype, he may be told he’s too sensitive or has no sense of humor. An ally can call out homophobia or transphobia from a different perspective. When a lesbian parent gives her child’s school library books that reflect LGBTQ lives, she can be accused of trying to manipulate young minds. When a straight ally makes that same gift, he can be seen as celebrating diversity. At school, in the workplace, and in our day-to-day lives, LGBTQ people are perpetually facing exclusions, both minor and major. When allies join us, we are no longer solely responsible for making our world a safer, more comfortable place for LGBTQ people.
What do allies do?
First of all, you’re invited to all the best parades. In fact, ally organizations like PFLAG often receive the most heartfelt, impassioned cheers from the crowds at pride parades. I mean, think about it: just like Solo Moms, LGBTQ people have been the target of criticism and blame by politicians, religious leaders, and the conservative media. Many of us have been ostracized by our families and church communities—people who, in theory at least, are supposed to shower us with unconditional love. When straight allies show up, supporting LGBTQ people simply because it’s the right and fair thing to do, that blows our minds. Whether at a pride parade, at a child-care co-op, on your Facebook feed, or in your cubicle at work, show up. Let us know you’re here. Your presence puts us at ease.
Want to do more?
Now that you’ve pinned that “Straight Ally” postcard to your bulletin board at work, what’s next? Here are a few ideas:
- Make no assumptions. We live in a heterosexist culture, one that presumes all people are straight until proven otherwise. We live in a culture that begins assigning binary gender roles at birth, wrapping female babies in pink and calling them pretty, and suiting boy babies up in sports onesies and calling them—I swear I’ve heard this, and you probably have too—lady killers. For LGBTQ people, these assumptions about sexuality and gender can restrict our personal growth, our freedom of expression, and our sense of safety in the world. Try replacing these assumptions with curiosity. Instead of assuming your child will grow up and marry someone of the opposite sex or assuming your son will enjoy sports or assuming your daughter will like princesses—look at your child and wonder, “Who will you be?” Instead of asking your female coworker, “Do you have a boyfriend?” ask “Are you seeing anybody?” These subtle shifts create a more supportive, inclusive environment for LGBTQ people.
- Understand straight and cisgender privilege. Your married friend tells you “I’m a single mom, too,” because her husband has gone on a business trip. The PTA at your child’s school hosts a Daddy Daughter Dance. The school’s graduation committee recruits you because they recognize your event-planning chops, but then they schedule all their meetings during the workday. As a solo parent in a two-parent world, you understand what it’s like to feel misrepresented, excluded, and different. Your married parent friends have privileges they might not recognize, just as straight and cisgender people have privileges they don’t recognize. For instance, can you hold your love’s hand in public without fearing harassment? Can you use the public restroom that matches your gender expression without fearing retribution? To better understand how LGBTQ people experience the world, check out these primers on straight privilege and cisgender privilege.
- Learn the issues. So we’ve got marriage equality in the bag, but we have a long way to go before LGBTQ people achieve equal protections, rights, and opportunities. You may have heard that in 28 states a person can be fired based on his or her sexual orientation and in 31 states people can be fired based on their gender expression. But do you know that even in the states where LGBTQ people are protected by nondiscrimination laws, anti-LGBTQ forces are working to pass so-called religious exemption laws, like Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act? These laws could allow employers, business owners, landlords, health professionals, and others to refuse service to LGBTQ people based on their religious beliefs. Guess who else these laws could be used to target? Yep, Solo Moms. To learn more about the legal challenges LGBTQ people face, check out Movement Advancement Project, a clearinghouse of information. To read the inspiring stories of LGBTQ people standing up to create change, check out the ACLU’s LGBTQ Project. To keep up on current news stories involving LGBTQ rights, connect with organizations like Straight for Equality, PFLAG, HRC, and the National Center for Transgender Equality. They’ll send you news updates and action opportunities on Facebook, on Twitter, or via email.
- Learn about LGBTQ lives. While Solo Moms may share many commonalities, we also have our own unique ideas, experiences, and opinions. Similarly, LGBTQ people represent a vast diversity of thought, expression, belief systems, and life stories. You can learn more about LGBTQ lives by reading blogs (Huffington Post’s Gay Voices page and VillageQ are good places to start) or watching documentaries (check out recommendations from Advocate and Straight for Equality). Or you can go directly to the source. Ask the LGBTQ people you know about their lives: What was it like for you growing up? Do you feel supported in your neighborhood? How are things for you at work? Are there any changes you would like to see at your child’s school? Open-ended questions like these allow people to choose how much to share, and they may elicit new ideas for supporting the LGBTQ people in your lives.
- Talk about it. According to LGBTQ rights strategists, the single most important tool for creating positive change is conversation. Yep. That’s it. Good old-fashioned talking. So whether you’re at work, at school, at home, on the train, or at the park—when an opportunity to express your support for LGBTQ people opens up, take it. Share with others how you came to be an LGBTQ ally. Share your perspective on treating people—all people—as you would like to be treated. Share your belief that the protections of the Constitution should be available to everyone. Share your hurt over news stories like the murder of a transgender woman. Share your frustration over the local school’s refusal to allow same-sex couples to attend the prom. Share what you have learned about LGBTQ people. Share how you used to think and how your thinking has evolved. Whatever your perspective, bring it to the conversation. You won’t change the thinking of every homophobic or transphobic person you meet, but you might be amazed at how honest, vulnerable conversation can open hearts and minds.
Image via elina/Shutterstock.com
Cheryl Dumesnil, ESME’s LGBTQ Resource Guide, is an author, educator, writing coach, all-around do-gooder, and one of two moms separately coparenting two amazing boys. You can follow her on Twitter at @cheryladumesnil.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.