LGBTA-Q Resource Center
How to Be an Ally to LGBT Individuals?
- Straight But Not Narrow: How to Be an Ally to Queer People
- Risks of Being an Ally
- Benefits of Being an Ally
- When a Friend Comes Out to You
- Answers to Commonly Asked Ally Questions: "What Should I Do If…?"
- Ideas for Allies
- Use the words "gay" and "lesbian" instead of "homosexual." The overwhelming majority of gay men and lesbians do not identify with or use the word "homosexual" to describe themselves.
- Use non-gender specific language. Ask "Are you seeing someone?" or "Are you in a committed relationship?" instead of "Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?" or "Are you married?" Use the word "partner" or "significant other" instead of "boyfriend/girlfriend" or "husband/wife."
- Do not assume the sexual orientation of another person even when that person is married or in a committed relationship. Many bisexuals, and even some gay men and lesbians, are in heterosexual relationships. And don't assume that someone who is transgender is gay or that the person will seek to transition to become heterosexual.
- Do not assume that a Queer person is attracted to you just because they have disclosed their sexual identity. If any interest is shown, be flattered, not flustered. Treat any interest that someone might show just as you would if it came from someone who is heterosexual.
- Challenge your own conceptions about gender-appropriate roles and behaviors. Do not expect people to conform to society's beliefs about "women" and "men."
- Validate people's gender expression. For example, if a male-born person identifies as female, refer to that person as "she" and use her chosen name. If you are unsure how to refer to a person's gender, simply ask that person.
- Speak out against statements and jokes that attack Queer people. Letting others know that you find anti-gay statements and jokes offensive and unacceptable can go a long way toward reducing homophobia.
- Educate yourself about Queer history, culture, and concerns. Read GLBT publications such as Advocate, Gay and Lesbian Review, and Ohio 's Gay People's Chronicle. See movies that are by and about Queer individuals. Attend events promoted by the Queer communities.
- Raise Queer issues, concerns, and experiences in your family, workplace, school, religious community, and neighborhood. Educate children about families that have two moms or two dads.
- Support and involve yourself in Queer organizations and causes. Donate money or volunteer time to Queer organizations. Write letters to your political representatives asking them to support legislation that positively affects Queer people.
- Things that Discourage People from Becoming Allies
- Others may speculate about your own sexual or gender identity.
- You may be labeled as Queer "by association," which you might find uncomfortable.
- You may become the subject of gossip or rumors.
- You may be criticized or ridiculed by others who do not agree with you or who consider offering support to Queer people to be unimportant or unwarranted.
- You may experience alienation from friends, family members, or colleagues who are not comfortable with Queer issues.
- You may become the target of overt or subtle discrimination by people who are homophobic.
- Your values, morality, and personal character may be questioned by people who believe that being Queer is wrong, sinful, or against their "family values."
- Queer people may not accept you as an Ally.
- Some Queer people may believe that you are actually Queer but are not ready to admit it.
- Due to past negative experiences with heterosexuals, some Queer people may not trust you and may question your motivations.
- You learn more accurate information about the reality of being Queer.
- You learn more about how values and beliefs about sexual and gender identities affect your own and other's lives.
- You open yourself up to the possibility of close relationships with a wider range of people.
- You become less locked into gender-role expectations and stereotypes.
- You increase your ability to have close relationships with same-gender friends.
- You have opportunities to learn from, teach, and have an impact on a population with whom you might not have otherwise interacted.
- You empower yourself to take an active role in creating a more accepting world by countering prejudice and discrimination with understanding, support, and caring.
- You may be a role model for others and your actions may help someone else gain the courage to speak and act in support of Queer people.
- You may be the reason a friend, sibling, child, coworker, or someone else you know finds greater value in their life and develops a higher level of self-esteem.
- You may make a difference in the lives of young people who hear you confront derogatory language or speak supportively of Queer people.
- As a result of your action, they may feel that they have a friend to turn to, instead of dropping out of school, using alcohol or drugs to numb the pain and loneliness, or contemplating or attempting suicide.
We live in a society that often discriminates against people who are different. We have all been taught to believe that to be "straight" is to be normal. This can cause a great deal of pain for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people. "Coming out," or disclosing their orientation to others is an important step in LGB people's self-acceptance. Like everyone, LGB people accept themselves better if others accept them.
Someone who is coming out feels close enough to you and trusts you sufficiently to be honest and risk losing you as a friend. It is difficult to know what to say and do to be a supportive friend to someone who has "come out" to you. Below are some suggestions you may wish to follow.
- Thank your friend for having the courage to tell you. Choosing to tell you means that they have a great deal of respect and trust for you.
- Don't judge your friend. If you have strong religious or other beliefs about homosexuality, keep them to yourself for now. There will be plenty of time in the future for you to think and talk about your beliefs in light of your friend's orientation.
- Respect your friend's confidentiality. They probably are not ready to tell others right away and want to tell people in their own way.
- Tell your friend that you care about them, no matter what. Be the friend you have always been. The main fear for people coming out is that their friends and family will reject them.
- Don't be too serious. Sensitively-worded humor may ease the tension you are both probably feeling.
- Ask any questions you may have, but understand that your friend may not have all the answers. You can save some questions for later or, better yet, you can find some of the answers together.
- Include your friend's partner in plans as much as you would with any other friend.
- Be prepared to include your friend in more of your plans. They may have lost the support of other friends and family, and your time and friendship will be even more precious to them. This may include "family" times like holidays or special celebrations.
- Offer and be available to support your friend as they "come out" to others.
- Call frequently during the time right after your friend has come out to you. This will let them know you are friends.
- Be prepared for your friend to have mood swings. Coming out can be very traumatic. Anger and depression are common, especially if friends or family have trouble accepting your friend's orientation. Don't take mood swings personally. Be flattered you are close enough to risk sharing any feelings of anger or frustration.
- Do what you have always done together. Your friend probably feels that coming out will change everything in his/her life, and this is frightening.
- Talk about other LGB people you know. If your friend knows you have accepted someone else, they will feel more comfortable that you will accept them.
- Learn about the LGB community. This will allow you to better support your friend, and knowing about his/her world will help prevent you from drifting apart.
- Don't allow your friend to become isolated. Let them know about organizations and places where they can meet other LGB people or supportive allies.
- If your friend seems afraid about people knowing, there may be a good reason. People are sometimes attacked violently because they are perceived as LGB. Sometimes people are discriminated against in such things as housing and employment. If your friend is discriminated against illegally, you can help him/her in pursuing their rights.
- Don't worry that your friend may have attractions or feelings for you that you may not share. If they have more or different feelings than you have, these can be worked through. It's the same as if someone of the opposite sex had feelings for you that you don't share. Either way, it's probably not worth losing a friend over.
- It's never too late. If someone has come out to you before and you feel badly about how you handled it, you can always go back and try again.
- How can I tell if someone I know is lesbian, gay, or bisexual?
Ultimately, the only way to tell if a person is Queer is if that person tells you so. Many Queer people don't fit the common stereotypes, and many people who fit the stereotypes aren't Queer. Assumptions on your part can be misguided. The important thing to remember is that it is very likely that someone you interact with on campus is Queer, and to try to be sensitive to that fact.
- What should I do if I think someone is Queer, but they haven't told me?
Again, remember that assumptions on your part may be inaccurate. The best approach is to create an atmosphere where that individual can feel comfortable coming out to you. You can do this by making sure that you are open and approachable and by giving indications that you are comfortable with this topic and are supportive of Queer concerns. If the person is already out to themselves, and he/she feel that you are worthy of his/her trust, then he/she may tell you. If the person seems to be in conflict about something, it may or may not be because of their sexuality. In this case, it is best simply to make sure that he/she knows you are there if he/she needs to talk. Remember, he/she may not have told you because he/she doesn't want you to know.
- How do I make myself more approachable to people who are Queer?
Demonstrate that you are comfortable with topics related to sexual orientation and that you are supportive of Queer concerns. Be sensitive to the assumptions you make about people-try not to assume that everyone you interact with is heterosexual, that they have a partner of a different gender, etc. Try to use inclusive language, such as avoiding the use of pronouns that assume the gender of someone's partner or friends. Be a role model by confronting others who make homophobic jokes or remarks. Become knowledgeable about Queer concerns by reading books and attending meetings and activities sponsored by LGBT organizations.
- What kinds of things might a person who is Queer go through when coming out?
Because of the difficulty of growing up in a largely homophobic society, people who are Queer may experience guilt, isolation, depression, suicidal feelings, and low self-esteem. As Queer people become more in touch with their sexual orientation, they may experience any number of these thoughts and feelings to some degree. On the positive side, coming out can be an extremely liberating experience, as Queer people learn who they are, gain respect for themselves, and find friends to relate to. Coming out to others can be an anxious process, as the individual worries about rejection, ridicule, and the possible loss of family, friends, and employment. For students, college life is already stress-filled, and adding the process of grappling with one's sexual identity to that mix can be overwhelming.
- If someone wants advice on what to tell his/her roommate, friends, or family about being Queer, how can I help?
Remember that individuals must decide for themselves when and to whom they will reveal their sexual identity. Don't tell someone to take any particular action; the person could hold you responsible if it doesn't go well. Do listen carefully, reflect on the concerns and feelings you hear expressed, and suggest available resources for support. Help the person think through the possible outcomes of coming out. Support the person's decision even if you don't agree with it, and ask about the outcomes of any action taken.
- What do I do if someone who is Queer wants to come out in my office, on my residence hall floor, or within the context of any other group I am a part of?
Again, help the individual think through the possible outcomes. Discuss how others might react and how the person might respond to those reactions. Mention the option of coming out to a few people at a time, as opposed to the entire group. If someone has decided to come out, let them know you will support them.
- How should I respond to heterosexual friends or coworkers who feel negatively about Queer persons in our office, on our residence hall floor, or in any group I am a part of?
When such problems arise, it is most useful to discuss this with the people involved. Help them to see that they are talking about a person, not just a sexual orientation. Make sure that you have accurate information so that you may appropriately discuss the myths and stereotypes that often underlie such negative reactions. Note the similarities between Queer people and heterosexual people. Be clear with others that while they have a right to their own beliefs and opinions, you will not tolerate anti-gay comments or discrimination. Remember that others may take their cues from you-if you are uncomfortable with, hostile to, or ignore someone who is Queer, others may follow suit. Conversely, if you are friendly with the person and treat them with respect, others may follow suit.
- What should I say to someone who is afraid of contracting HIV/AIDS from Queer people?
HIV is not transmitted through ordinary social contact. It is necessary for everyone to be knowledgeable about HIV and AIDS. If a friend or coworker is afraid and uninformed, use this as an educational opportunity. The Student Wellness Center and the Columbus AIDS Task Force can provide you with pamphlets and other resources containing current and accurate information.
- How can I support Queer people without my own sexual orientation becoming an issue?
Be aware that if you speak out about issues related to sexual orientation, some people may take this as an indication of your own sexual orientation. Take time in advance to think through how you might respond to this. How do you feel about your own sexual identity? Are you comfortable with yourself? Regardless of your sexual orientation, a confidence in your own self-image will make you less vulnerable.
- How should I respond to rumors that someone is Queer?
Let others know that the sexual orientation of any individual is irrelevant unless that person wishes to disclose that information. If you can, address any myths or stereotypes that may be fueling such speculation. If a particular person continues to spread rumors, talk to that person individually.
- How can I get others to be more open-minded about Queer people?
In brief, be a role model for others by being open and visible in your support. Share your beliefs with others when appropriate. When Queer topics come up, talk about them, don't simply avoid them. Show that you are comfortable talking about these issues, and comfortable with Queer people. Remember that part of your goal as an Ally is to create bridges across differences and to increase understanding. While you may be motivated to share your views with others, be careful of being self-righteous; others can't learn from you if they are turned off from listening. Of course, your views are more convincing if they are supported by sound knowledge. Take the time to educate yourself so that you know what you are talking about.
- How can I respond when someone tells a homophobic joke?
Many people believe that jokes are harmless and get upset by what they perceive as the "politically correct" attitudes of those who are offended by inappropriate humor. Labeling a belief as "politically correct" is a subtle way of supporting the status quo and resisting change. Most people who tell jokes about an oppressed group have never thought about how those jokes perpetuate stereotypes, or how they teach and reinforce prejudice. Someone who tells jokes about Queer people probably assumes that everyone present is heterosexual, or at least that everyone shares their negative attitudes toward Queer people. However, most people do not tell jokes to purposefully hurt or embarrass others, and will stop if they realize this is the effect. Responding assertively in these situations is difficult, but not responding at all sends a silent message of agreement. No response is the equivalent of condoning the telling of such jokes. It is important to remember that young people, particularly those questioning their own sexual identity, will watch to see who laughs at such jokes, and may internalize the hurtful message. In some instances, the inappropriateness of the joke could be mentioned at the time. In other situations, the person could be taken aside afterward. Try to communicate your concerns about the joke with respect.
- How can I respond to homophobic attitudes?
If you disagree with a negative statement someone makes about Queer people, the assertive thing to do is to say so. Again, silence communicates agreement. Remember what your goal is in responding: not to start an argument or foster hostility, but to attempt to increase understanding. Disagreement can be civil and respectful. Share your views without accusing or criticizing. You are simply presenting another way of thinking about the topic. It can be difficult to speak out in support of Queer people. You might be afraid that others will question your sexual orientation, morals, and values, or that you will be ostracized. It is easy to forget that there might be positive effects of your outspokenness as well.
- How can I respond to people who object to Queer people for religious reasons?
Usually, there is no way to change the minds of individuals who base their negative beliefs about Queer people on strict religious convictions. However, while respecting their right to believe as they wish, you can share some information with them. It can be useful to point out that identifying as Christian is not necessarily incompatible with being supportive of Queer people. There is a great deal of diversity among the Christian community with regard to beliefs about same-gender sexuality. In addition, there is much disagreement about the Biblical basis for condemning Queer people. Many religious scholars argue that the Biblical passages which are said to refer to same-gender sexuality have been misinterpreted. It is also important to point out that while individuals are entitled to their personal religious beliefs, these opinions should not be used to deny Queer people equal treatment under the law.
A Starter List of Things You Can Do to Be Supportive, Confront Homophobia, and Resist Heterosexism
- Refuse to tolerate anti-lesbian, -gay, or -bisexual comments, attitudes, remarks or jokes.
- Ask others that any anti-lesbian, -gay, or -bisexual humor displayed in common areas be removed completely or placed within private offices or living spaces.
- Report all harassment or discriminatory behavior to the appropriate officials.
- Display positive materials in support of people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. If possible, post flyers on activities, support groups, programs, and resources for people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
- Have available referral information for services which people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual might need. Become familiar with resources, including literature, support groups, organizations, individuals, etc., in your area so you can refer people when appropriate.
- Do not assume that everyone you meet is heterosexual.
- Use inclusive, non-gender specific language that does not assume heterosexuality in others. Use inclusive language in conversation and also in written materials, policies, forms, etc.
- Educate yourself on issues and concerns for people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Take the initiative to obtain accurate information.
- Attend events, meetings, or programs sponsored by or for people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
- Gain insight by talking to people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Learn from their experiences.
- Maintain a balanced perspective. Don't assume that the sexual orientation of a person who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual is the most important aspect of that person. Remember that everyone is a multi-faceted individual whose sexuality is only one part of their total life.
- Don't assume that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is so hard and presents so many problems that you should feel sorry for people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. They have the same problems as anyone else. They are just as likely to be well-adjusted, and just as likely to have difficulty coping with stresses in their lives. Because of prejudice and discrimination, however, they have to deal with some unique stressors.
- Don't assume that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual doesn't matter; for example, thinking that "They're the same as everyone else and I treat all people the same." While everyone deserves to be treated equally, that is different from treating everyone the same. The experience of being lesbian, gay, or bisexual in a largely non-accepting society has a profound effect on how that person views himself or herself and how he or she experiences the world.
- Respect confidentiality at all times. It is imperative that you can be trusted.
- Examine your own biases and fears. You must explore your deepest feelings and beliefs concerning homosexuality. If you are uncomfortable with the issue, this will be communicated to others. Your ability to be open and accepting will be limited by unexamined beliefs and attitudes. Be willing to look at the areas with which you are uncomfortable. Be willing to talk about your doubts, fears, and uncertainties with others so you can address them.
- Know your own limits. There may be times when an individual's needs or concerns are beyond your ability to help him/her. Know when you have reached the extent of your knowledge or patience and be prepared to seek out others with additional knowledge or expertise for assistance.
- Don't be surprised when someone comes out to you. Deal with feelings first. You can be helpful just by listening and providing someone a chance to talk about their feelings and their experience.
- Provide positive reinforcement to people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual to help counter the messages of shame and guilt about homosexuality that are so prevalent in society.
- Assume that in any setting (e.g. workplace, organization meeting, residence hall, etc.) there are people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual who are wondering how safe the environment is for them. Provide safety by making clear your support of people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
- Include lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues and topics in training seminars, curricula, programming, professional development workshops, etc. when appropriate.
- If people jump to the conclusion that you are lesbian, gay, or bisexual because you talk about lesbian, gay, and bisexual topics, because you are friends with lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, because you are reading a lesbian, gay, or bisexual publication, or because you are being affectionate with someone of the same gender: resist your urge to deny it. Challenge yourself to resist seeing such an assumption as an accusation, or as something that must be denied. Challenge yourself not to immediately retreat into the security of your heterosexual identity and heterosexual privilege.
- Remember that people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual come from widely diverse backgrounds with a wide range of experiences. Treat everyone as a unique individual.
This page was created with the help and adapted from the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley , Rochester , N.Y. , flyer provided by the Youth Service Bureau of Wellington, Ottawa ., and from the Northern Illinois University Safe Zone Program.