I am honored to be serving today on a panel as part of a faith-based political advocacy training. This blog post is adapted for Queering the Kindom from a resource I created for the panel. While the panel is focused on white advocates for racial justice moving past the white savior complex, similar advice can be useful for heterosexual, cisgender allies to LGBTQ people.
From our Creator, each of us is endowed with a gender identity and a sexual orientation. Each of us also has other facets of identity that intersect with our gender and sexual orientation, and a posture of allyship – much like a posture of discipleship – requires an understanding that these facets complicate and enrich how we move through the world.
Each of us also has a sphere of influence and the accompanying opportunity to practice allyship in our own domains and with those closest to us. The following is a list of practical, everyday tips to improve our allyship to God’s beloved queer and trans children.
1. Talk less; listen more.
2. Call yourself by who you are instead of describing yourself as an ally.
For example, it is not up to a cisgender person to call themselves an ally to all transgender people. Individuals can refer to you as their ally, but allyship is not for individuals outside of a marginalized group to claim for themselves.
3. Notice if you are centering yourself or the other person.
If someone expresses that you’ve said or done something hurtful, take care to avoid centering your own emotional response. “I’m so sad that you think I’m homophobic” or “but I’m a good person” are inappropriate responses to someone’s hurt. A better response would be a sincere and simple apology.
4. Use “people-first” language.
People-first language reaffirms the humanity of the people being described. For example, individuals are not “disabled people” but are people with disabilities. Individuals are not “the homeless” but are people experiencing homelessness.
5. Use the terminology to describe people that people use to describe themselves.
If someone identifies themselves to you as queer, they would most likely like to be referred to as queer and not, for example, as gay or lesbian. (This excludes reclaimed derogatory language that people use to refer to themselves or those who share their identity.)
6. Affirm the importance of diversity instead of minimizing or poking fun at it.
For example, if someone tells you about an experience of racism, it is unhelpful to respond with, “I don’t care if you’re Black or white or purple or polka-dotted…” because this minimizes the experience of racism. A better response may be to listen, affirm emotions, and – if appropriate – ask if they need help and how you can be of help.
7. Avoid backhanded compliments.
Remember that individuals’ identities are important to a person, not to be downplayed or separated from them. For example, comments like “you’re beautiful for a lesbian” belie the implication that the group to which the subject belongs is somehow less beautiful than other people.
8. Avoid sentimentalizing experience, illness, and disability.
For example, it’s more helpful to say that someone is “living with” an illness rather than “suffering from” an illness, since the latter presumes a person’s state of being.
9. In times of pain, express solidarity, not conformity.
Sentiments like “We are all trans” from people who don’t share the marginalized identity are unhelpful because they erase the diversity for which some are experiencing marginalization. Instead, approach someone in pain with authenticity and the fullness of who you are. Express empathy simply.
10. When you hear prejudiced humor, challenge the individual to explain why they think their joke was humorous.
Asking the teller of the joke to explain why they believe their humor was appropriate places the onus of defense on the other person.
Above all, allyship requires an open heart. It requires us to hold lightly onto what we believe. Terminology and best practices are always subject to improvement as we make progress in pursuit of justice.
Painting by Rachel Hershkovitz