Allies & Advocates

Strategies for Being an Effective Ally

Challenging attitudes and institutional practices that curtail the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students require verbal tactics and strategies of intervention and interruption. Teachable moments abound in the area of LGBT concerns because the general public is usually quite open about its anti-gay sentiments.

The following items are meant only as guides to how you might begin to be more inclusive of LGBT people, communities, issues, and concerns in your personal and institutional life.

  • Understand that heterosexism and homophobia affect all of us and that one must work on ridding oneself of it - even if one is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
  • Heterosexism and homophobia are also experienced cross-culturally.
  • Assume that in any group there are LGBT people present. Use language that is inclusive and avoid using language that speaks to people as if heterosexuality and its institutions were the only choices. Also avoid that homosexuality is a European invention. Accept that LGBT people are part of the multicultural mosaic.
  • In professional interactions with peers, students, professionals, and others, take an anti-heterosexist stance. Make it known that you support, as the institution, the rights of LGBT people to express their identity openly if they choose.
  • After assessing the risks, challenge and interrupt homophobic and heterosexist remarks and behaviors. Take an educational approach. Ask for clarification. Question.
  • Continue to educate yourself about sexual diversity as well as homophobia and heterosexism as well as their cultural, social, and political implications - e.g. attend campus programs, see films and TV shows, visit LGBT bookstores, read articles, and interact with LGBT students and colleagues.
  • Use the terms "gay", "lesbian", "bisexual", or "transgender" and refrain as much as possible from using the term "homosexual" in reference to LGBT people.
  • If you are a heterosexual, learn (by doing) not to become defensive or distracted from your anti-heterosexist stance at work when people "accuse" you of being gay or lesbian because simply because you have taken a pro-gay stance. If you are a LGBT person but are not out in your professional role, try not to let fears of exposure prevent you from taking an anti-heterosexist stance.
  • Accept that bisexuality is viable sexuality and lifestyle rather than the posture of a confused person or a person who is rejecting a gay or lesbian identity.
  • When a LGBT person comes out to you, affirm him or her and respond as you would to any other person who reveals important or sensitive information. Remember that it is okay to ask questions.
  • Integrate LGBT concerns into the concerns of minority student communities.
  • Resist privileging heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships and institutions in programs, services, classrooms, leisure time, and social activities.
  • Understand why there is a heterosexual privilege.
  • Be supportive when a LGBT person is upset or angry about discriminatory treatment.
  • Respect a person's choice not to reveal his or her LGBT identity.
  • Believe in yourself!
  • Recognize that everyone, both allies and LGBT people alike, are the product of a heterosexist and homophobic society.
  • Assume that making mistakes is part of the learning process of being an effective ally. Acknowledge and apologize for mistakes; learn from them, but do not retreat as an ally.
  • Be a 100% ally; no deals; no strings attached.
  • Have a good understanding of sexual orientation and be comfortable with your own.
  • Be aware of the coming out process and realize it is a lifelong process. The coming out process is unique to LGBT people and brings challenges that are not often understood.
  • Understand that LGBT people receive the same messages about homosexuality and bisexuality as everyone else. Thus, LGBT people suffer from internalized homophobia and heterosexism. It is important to recognize the risks of coming out and to challenge the internal oppression.
  • Remember that LGBT people are a diverse group - no two gay people are exactly alike in their experiences as a gay person.
  • Know at least basic information about AIDS/HIV in order to address myths and misinformation and to be supportive of those effected by this disease, whether in themselves or in partners and friends. Remember that AIDS/HIV is a health issue for all, not just LGBT people.

Source: Adapted from 365-Day Odyssey through Sexual Orientation handbook.

Page last modified December 22, 2010