Being An Ally

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, being an ally is defined as “one that is associated with another as a helper”. The same goes for the New Oxford version “a person or organization that cooperates with or helps another in a particular activity:” Any way you put it, an ally is there to help another person, community and in some instances a country when they need that support. Historically, there were allies assisting to free Africans being enslaved in the United States, America served as an ally to European countries during World War II. And civil right activists were allies to the thousands of African-Americans fighting for civil rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States of America. Most recently, there has been a movement across the country of young people, educators, and parents supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth as allies.

Allies play a vital role in making schools safer for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. In fact, the first Gay-Straight Alliance was the idea of a straight ally. Although this isn’t a “new” movement, recent headlines about anti-LGBTQ bullying have brought to light the importance of allies to the LGBTQ community.

Being an ally means being there for people when the world marginalizes and discriminates against any one. Even today when we see more media representation of LGBTQ individuals, by in large, we still live in a society where to be anything other than heterosexual is not accepted. This is where allies come in! An ally for the LGBTQ community can be anyone, whether they are black, white, old, young, gay, or straight. Allies can be a support for LGBTQ people when they decide to come out to family, friends, community, church, or to anyone else. LGBTQ allies can stand up for LGBTQ youth and pledge: “I believe all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression deserve to feel safe, and supported. I will not use anti-LGBT language or slurs. I will intervene, if I safely can, in situations where students are being harassed, and support efforts to end bullying and harassment.”

Personally, as an ally I have had very rewarding experiences that made me really proud of what I stand for. Those experiences made me realize that the work I do isn’t in vain. In early October, a good friend of mine asked me, “What would you think of me if I told you I was attracted to men?” I told him, “I would think of you the same – who am I to tell you who you care about is wrong?” From then on he told me about his feelings and how he has been holding them in because he doesn’t want to be a part of the stereotype that society has created for gay men. He doesn’t want anyone to look at him differently because of his sexual orientation. We attend a university that is the most diverse in the North Carolina school system, and yet there is stigma around being a gay African-American male.

Being there for him was the best feeling I could have ever felt. After talking to me, he has since made strides in coming out to his peers and wants to tell his mother soon. I remember he told me once “I respect, support, and appreciate straight allies because they are the ones in society that are ‘normal’ in strong support of something that society sees as ‘abnormal.’ You all take the slack for all of that.” Although I let him know that he is in no way abnormal or wrong for his sexual orientation, I appreciated his words. I felt like I had a purpose.

You, too, can be an ally. High school students can join their gay/straight alliance at their schools, or if there isn’t one make an effort to be the founding member. College students can also join an organization that advocates for the issues relevant to LGBTQ youth. Within in that organization, plan a project, pass out flyers, ask questions, and most importantly, BE AVAILABLE! Go out into your communities and tackle the issues that relevant to the people around you. Take notice of abusive language, support your friends and their events. The Gay Lesbian Education Network, Advocates for Youth, and YouthResource are all great resources on how to plan events on campuses and in communities and ways to speak to your peers to ask questions to be a better ally.

I hope that the information that I have provided to you will make you more aware of the people around you and I hope that I have influenced you to stand up for the youth in your communities. Be the change.

As an ally, there will be instances where you will have to direct your peers to resources to deal with their specific situations. To start you off on your journey here are a few resources:

Share your own stories of being an ally. What does it mean to you? How important is it?

-Amara

Advertisements

Privilege? What’s that supposed to mean?

As a young white person involved in the activist community I have talked a lot about the word “privilege” and what it means. To me privilege is a word I use to describe unearned benefits given to me by societies and institutions and individuals that I interact with-in the United States. For instance, I am privileged in the fact that I am a white person.

How does that benefit me? In my experience I benefit from the fact that I can walk down the street at night without getting harassed by the police without probable cause. I am more likely to be “trusted” or given positions of authority in social groups as compared to people of color. People are more likely to listen, believe, and trust the information I present them than they are to do the same to a person of color presenting the same information. To learn more about how a person might have privilege from being white in this society, check out this article “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh.

Why should I care? I feel it’s important for activists, youth, and anyone to recognize where they are oppressed and where they are privileged. It gives us a better understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. Recognizing our own privilege can open dialogue about the issues that affect all of us. If we don’t recognize and understand what’s wrong, how can we change it? By understanding how we are seen, we can start to see the world in a different light. Knowing who we are directly affects how we see the world around us.

I’ve noticed in myself, and others, that whenever someone brings up the subject of privilege there is a lot of automatic defensiveness, “I’m not privileged, I’m poor” is a common response. We all experience privilege and oppression in different ways. I’ve learned to see that when someone points out my privilege, it is not because they are trying to invalidate my oppression. Instead it’s because they are trying to help me understand some of the oppression that I help perpetuate out of ignorance to that particular oppression and experience. In order to fulfill my goals in making this world a more egalitarian place for people, I have created a list to better help me understand my privilege and my oppression. I encourage you all to make lists similar to this one:

My Privileges:

-I am a white person.

-I live in the country which I have unquestioned citizenship in.

-I am perceived as cisgender/as someone who is gender conforming.

-I am perceived as able-bodied.

-I am physically able-bodied.

-I am not addicted to any illegal substances.

-I have never contracted an STI.

-I am not currently homeless.

My Oppressions:

-I am queer identified.

-I am gender-queer.

-I am and have always been well below the federal poverty level.

-I have a mental illness or disability called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

-I have been physically, mentally, and sexually abused.

-I am perceived as female and was born female at birth.

By making these kinds of lists we become more aware of how we perceive the world, where we come from and how our privilege shapes our understanding. We must acknowledge how we are similar to each other to begin to think more critically about things that we may not understand about each others identities. We do not need to feel bad that we have privilege because after all we all have at least a bit of it. Instead we can look for ways to use our privilege to make it easier for those without it.  Remember, privilege and oppression is not about who suffers more or who benefits more. It’s about understanding all the different ways in which institutions, individuals, and society at large keep us all from achieving our basic human rights. It’s to help us see what is keeping us from recognizing each other and being recognized as full human beings. Recognizing our privilege is a way of opening the doors to educating ourselves on what oppression we perpetuate against other people. I encourage you to help fight the oppression and make a Privileges/Oppressions list.

-Darwin