Each month, the Central Oregon chapter of PFLAG will feature a guest author sharing their thoughts on the LGBTQ Community and their hopes for the future. We'll discuss everything from being gay in a small town to transgender issues and LGBTQ news around the world.
We also like to take this opportunity to encourage anyone who would like to write an article to contact Cait Boyce ([email protected]) to and let's share some thoughts, photos and ideas to educate and move our community forward.
This was written by Becky Groves for a workshop at Central Oregon PRIDE, 2016.
Hello, welcome to PFLAG’s workshop, “How to Be An Ally”. My name is Becky Groves and I served as the President of PFLAG Central Oregon for ten years. I am currently serving as Vice-President. PFLAG is an organization that works to support, educate and advocate on behalf of our LGBTQQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning) loved ones. Thank you so much for coming to our workshop!
So what does it mean to be an ally? According to the dictionary, it means:
“a person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose” or “a person who associates or cooperates with another; a supporter.”
With the help of allies, the LGBTQQ community has made great strides in the last several years. We’ve secured protections in housing and employment in Oregon. We’ve seen the end to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and we’ve secured equal marriage rights nationwide. It may seem that the world has changed, and it has, but then two weeks ago, 49 people were slain in a gay bar in Orlando and we are brutally reminded that homophobia is alive and well and that we all must work together to make the world safer for our friends and loved ones.
So what are some qualities that would make a person a good ally?
*Allies want to learn. Allies are people who recognize they don’t know all that can be known on LGBTQQ isues or about all the experiences of people who are LGBTQQ, but they want to understand more.
*Allies address their barriers. They may have to grapple with some roadblocks to being openly and actively supportive of people who are LGBTQQ, and they’re willing to take on the challenge.
*Allies are people who know that support comes in many forms. It can mean something super-public (think covering yourself in rainbow glitter and heading to a Pride celebration with a sign reading, “PROUD ALLY”). But it can also mean expressing support in more personal ways through the language we use, conversations we choose to have, and signals that we send. True allies know that all aspects of ally ship are important, effective, and should be valued equally.
*Allies are diverse.
Allies are people who know that there’s no one way to be an ally, and that everyone gets to adopt the term in in a different way….and that’s ok!!
Becoming an ally, is often a journey. For parents, such as myself, it started with acceptance and it grew from there. Before I knew it, I was off to my legislators to change laws. It is a process of learning, becoming comfortable enough to talk about the issue openly, knowing how to take on pushback, and eventually being able to help others in their journey.
So what kinds of barriers might one face when becoming an ally? For some people, recognizing some of the negative treatment that people who are LGBTQQ receive will make them nervous about speaking up. Discrimination is still real at work, in our communities and all around us. The need to minimize this fear by being able to self-identify as someone who is not LGBTQQ, may help them navigate this fear and be more outspoken. The fact that I was a parent, speaking up for my child, had great impact on legislators when I visited them. Most could relate because they were parents too.
Another barrier might be that you don’t want to make someone uncomfortable or start an argument. Will this create a bad relationship with my family? What if they never speak to me again, if I say something? Conflict is often the beginning of an important conversation but only if you take on the discussion in a constructive way. Changing the way you approach disagreement can transform a moment of ally panic into a moment of ally win.
Here are a few steps to try out when you feel yourself backing down, or not speaking up.
Take a deep breath: If you’re extremely upset, the way that you approach the conversation will reflect it. Step back and let your temperature come down. Retract those claws!
Assume nothing: You don’t always know what drives someone’s opinion. Sure it may be really gross bias. But it also might be because they didn’t think or know what they said or did was hurtful, or because they thought people would see it as a joke. Give people room to explain.
Pick the right time and place: While there may be a momentary rush of self-satisfaction in making a scene as you point your finger, don’t. Instead, approach the person and ask if you can have a quick private conversation.
Address the behavior: Be sure to explain what you’re referring to – and then keep the conversation about that specific behavior. In other words, “I felt like the joke you made about gay people was really messed up,” works because it makes the topic of conversation the joke. Whereas, “I am here to tell you that I think you’re a great big homophobic jerk” doesn’t address the behavior, but attacks the person’s character.
Explain why you’re speaking up: Let people know why you felt that something is wrong and the impact that it had. Try something like this: “As someone who is a straight ally, I’m making an effort to talk to people when they say something that doesn’t seem right. And I feel like the joke you made is insulting to people who are gay.”
Listen and offer support: Listen to the other person to hear what they’ve got to say. Maybe they’ll apologize or tell you they didn’t think it would hurt anyone. Maybe they’ll say something that helps you see where they’re coming from. You won’t know unless you’re really listening. Let them know that you’re a resource if they ever want to talk.
Say thank you: This is important. You’ve just done something big, and engaged someone else in the process. No matter how it goes, thank people for their time.
Put your assumptions in check.
We are constantly making assumptions about people. Seriously, all of us do it. Because of where someone is from, the kind of work they do, their family, background, their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), their appearance, the way they speak – and much more – we snap judgements about what kinds of people they are and where their values lie. When my son came out, I was sure that my son would be disowned by his grandfather who had been known to make homophobic comments in the past. Instead, my Dad told my son that he would “always be his favorite and that he would always love him.” A Catholic friend of mine surprised me when she told me she supported me in my passion for full marriage equality. So be willing to have that conversation with people! You might be surprised!
Don’t know what’s going on with LGBTQQ issues?
Do you understand what it means to be gay or lesbian, but don’t have a clue about transgender issues?
Make the commitment right now to find answers to things you don’t understand. Go online. Ask questions. Do some research. Listen to those in the community. One of the easiest ways to learn is join your local PFLAG chapter! We have meetings once a month that include educational speakers that can help you learn about these topics which you might not understand fully. Some of our biggest attended meetings are those where we have transgender speakers willing to share their stories. Anyone may attend our meetings for free. By becoming a member and paying your dues, you help us continue to do the work here in Central Oregon. Just go online to: pflagcentraloregon.org to see our meeting topics and become a member!
Learn the language!
You will want to know what all the acronyms and language mean. Go online to: straightforequality.org/glossary or pick up a copy of PFLAG’s Straight for Equality. Once you learn the terminology, practice. Use inclusive language like “partner” or “spouse when you meet people for the first time to demonstrate that you’re not making any assumptions about them. Ask people what pronoun they prefer. If you mess up, apologize and move on. Most people are very forgiving if you know you’ve made a mistake and you’ve made an attempt to correct yourself.
Everyone’s been there. Whether it is a racist joke, sexist joke, or a gay joke, we’ve all heard humor that we knew was offensive, but, for one of many reasons, haven’t said anything to object. Whether we didn’t want to be the PC police, felt frozen because we didn’t know the words, or we just didn’t want to sound like a buzzkill, we knew something should be said….but we just didn’t say it.
While some kinds of jokes and comments are clearly taboo (most people wouldn’t make a racist joke at a staff party), jokes about people who are LGBTQQ tend to continue to slide by without much pushback. Words like “flaunting their lifestyles” and “that’s so gay” can be very hurtful. Speak up, for your friends, your family, and those who might still be closeted who are hearing this conversation and suffering in silence. When you speak up as an ally, your courage speaks to them.
Be a trans ally!
Whether you are straight or part of the LGBTQQ community, the transgender community needs our help! They are viciously attacked every single day. Recently, they have been attacked for simply wanting to use the restroom of the gender in which they identify. I recently saw a picture of George Takei wearing a tshirt that says “You can pee, next to me.” What a great way to be an ally! All of the suggestions and ideas discussed so far, apply to the transgender community as well. The most important thing you can do is accept and respect their gender and who they identify as. Use preferred names and pronouns and again, if you mess up, apologize and move on. Again, PFLAG is a great place to learn more about what it means to be transgender and learn about the obstacles they face. Because when we know more, we are more easily ready and willing to stand up and speak up!