Ally noun [ C ] someone who helps and supports someone else
I used to really dislike the term ally. “Why should someone get a cookie for being a good person?” I remember asking my friend as we walked past a stall of allies during a Fresher’s Fair. “You don’t get credit for basic human decency.”
My friend, who was not part of the LGBTQ+ community and so was in effect an ally to me, agreed.
Then I started a new job. Starting a new job as an LGBTQ+ person is always a bit nerve-wracking. When do you come out? Do you come out at all? Do you mention that the person you’re going on a date tonight with is a girl, or do you not mention the date at all? Everyone in your new team seems nice, but you never really know. You never really know.
But my new Department Manager wore rainbow laces and had LGBT Ally as part of her email signature. In a newsletter during Pride Month she was included in a spotlight on allies and spoke about why she felt it important she was a public ally to the LGBTQ+ community.
It made me breathe easier.
It made me feel better about talking about being on the committee for Pride of Irons, the biggest worry now being people’s opinion of me being a West Ham fan rather than a bisexual girl. It made me feel like if I went on a date with a girl I could mention it to my colleagues as we fought over the crap leftover Pret sandwiches in the kitchen. It didn’t mean I started announcing at every meeting that I fancied girls too, actually, but it meant I knew I was supported by someone who was in a position to do something about it if others weren’t so receptive to the fact.
Hmm, I thought. Maybe there is something to this allyship thing after all.
And the thing is, just because being a bisexual woman means I am part of the LGBTQ+ community it doesn’t mean I do not have a responsibility to be an ally myself to other marginalised and underrepresented communities. By dismissing allies, I was dismissing my own responsibilities.
I’m bisexual. But I’m also a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied woman and that gives me a lot of privilege and a lot of responsibility to my fellow trans, non-binary, disabled and BAME community members. It gives me a responsibility to, and also far beyond, the LGBTQ+ community. And maybe it was about time I did something about it. So I did.
To be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community means educating yourself. It means taking the time to learn about the different identities that make up our wonderful community. It means to understand that identities evolve and language shifts and what you once thought was correct may now not be the case.
To be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community means listening. It means if someone tells you your actions were harmful you don’t get defensive. It means you listen and apologise and learn from your mistake.
To be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community means speaking up. It means if you hear homophobic chanting at a football game, don’t turn away and pretend it’s not happening. It means telling the people chanting to stop. It means reporting the supporter, even if the supporter is your lifelong friend.
To be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community means recognising your own privilege and responsibility. It means to look outside your own experience to understand how you can use your voice and actions to support others. It means to think about when someone has been a good ally to you and applying that to your own efforts.
It’s about realising we have a collective responsibility to use our voices, our actions, our platforms to raise the voices of all marginalised peoples and to break down systems that harm, discriminate and drag down members of our community and all other communities that intersect with ours.
I’m not a perfect ally. I don’t know how to be a perfect ally. Does such a thing even exist? Something I’ve learned though is that being an ally is a continuous process, an ongoing journey that doesn’t have an end.
At the beginning of this piece I posted what comes up when you do a quick google search of the definition of what an ally is. You’ll notice it’s a noun. But if we think about it, to ally is also a verb. Without action, the label means nothing. Our words, our social media posts, our rainbow-coloured icons are just performative and meaningless without action. And the responsibility for that action lies with all of us.