Friday, April 26, 2013

What can allies do for you?

At then end of each of my facilitations, I say that I joined Peers for Pride to become a better ally. I decided to participate in this program because I realized that I have a voice that, with some fine-tuning and training, could be used to help queer communities.

A little over a year ago, I started using the term ally to describe myself. And last spring, I was incredibly naive and had but a vague understanding of what being an ally actually looks like in practice. True, I had been good to my LGBT identified friends for as long as I can remember. I've espoused a belief in equal rights and fair treatment for all people for a long time, loudly and vocally since about 2007 when I became politically conscious for the first time. And when I started calling myself an ally last spring, I did so with the best intentions but I had a lot to learn. I knew on some level that it was more than just being good friend and supporting gay marriage. And I did attempt to learn more, I refused to spend money at places like Chick Fil A and Urban Outfitters that I knew to be unfriendly or even hostile to LGBT folks, and I tried to keep myself more informed about political issues.

But the more I learned, the more I realized that my allyship was in its fledgling stages. I saw Peers for Pride as an opportunity for self-improvement in this area, because caring about social justice is not just a matter of saying you care about social justice. It is a matter of action. Allyship is action.

In reflecting on the past two semesters, I do feel like I have grown as an ally. I've learned more about LGBT issues in this program than I ever would have on my own. I have formed friendships with people whose experiences have taught me both about how resilient the human spirit can be, but also about the immense amount of work we need to do to forge a more just social contract. And as an ally, it is as much my responsibility to help change hearts, minds, policy and social consciousness as it is anyone else's.

And in reflecting on my own experiences, I understand why being a good ally matters, why LGBT communities need allies.

As a straight person, I have never had to explain my sexual orientation - it is simply accepted prima facie and I never have to justify my attractions. As a cisgender woman, I have never had to make a case for my gender identity as a valid identity - it is simply seen as natural. Because my experiences are "normal," it make life so much easier to navigate. It rarely feels like work to belong in society. I don't have to conceal these parts of myself for fear of being discriminated against or violated. I have never had to worry that my family would disown me for who I am.

My friends -- beautiful, wonderful, resilient people -- have not always been so fortunate. Why? For being who they are.

Comparatively, life has been easy for me. I could choose to remain ignorant or, perhaps worse, silent. But I don't want to take the easy way out just because I can. I obviously cannot know firsthand what LGBTQ people face. I can only imagine how much more exhausting and frustrating life would be if I were constantly having to confirm the fact of my existence - that my experiences and identity are real and valid and deserving of love, acceptance and protection. As an ally, I hope I can ease this burden for my queer siblings -- to speak with them, to educate people on their behalves, to acknowledge and embrace their experiences.

So as an ally, the question I must always ask my queer siblings is this: "What can I do for you?"

What do you need, and how can I be that person for you?

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