Whether you are a white person looking to be an ally to people of color, a cisgender person looking to be an ally to the trans and gender nonconforming community or a straight ally to the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, there are some key points in common that will help you be a better friend and champion to those in your life in a less privileged position than yourself.
Your first job as an ally is to listen. As the member of a majority culture, you are probably used to talking. It has been drilled into your head that you not only have the right to do so, but that you should do so, because what you have to say is important.
While you likely do have some important insights, it is essential to listen to what people tell you about their lived experience and know that they have a perspective you cannot possibly compete with, as they are living it from the inside out. While no one individual can claim to speak for the whole, the more you allow yourself to drop your defenses and take in what is being said by as many members of that group as you can, the more educated you will be on their struggles, triumphs and concerns.
It is also important to listen to people when it comes to labels, pronouns and other ways in which people do or do not wish to be identified. It is not your job to tell people who they are; it is your job to uphold their identity as they have determined it. After all, who would know who they are better than themselves?
Listening isn’t enough. It must be followed by action if you are serious about helping to make positive change.
There are countless ways you can use your privilege to show up for others. You can speak out against racism, homophobia, transphobia, or whatever other bigotry you may be unfortunate enough to encounter in your day-to-day life.
You can also show up to protests and rallies, sign petitions, call or write to your elected officials, donate to non-profits organizations fighting to put an end to oppression.
They aren’t your gay friend, or your trans friend, or your black friend, they are your friend. See them as a human being, not merely as the member of a minority group. Chances are you don’t introduce people as your white, straight or cis friend.
Also, just because you have a friend or friends who are member of a certain group does not mean you have a pass to act or talk however you want concerning said group. Just because you are with them does not mean you are them, and you should remember your place and check your privilege and status in regards to your actions.
Remember, too, that it is up to them whom they come out to and when, so let them have the autonomy to handle that on their own without your interference.
Don’t pat yourself on the back
No one likes an ally that seems to be doing it for the kudos. If others want to applaud you for doing the right thing, you can graciously accept, but singing your own praises for being on the right side of history is one of the quickest ways to make you seem disingenuous and silly.
And never start a sentence with, “I am the least (fill in the blank) person in the world.” The least racist/transphobic/homophobic person in the world would never think to advertise themselves as such. Not to mention that is a ridiculous title that does not exist in the real world for good reason.
Admit when you screw up, then apologize, learn and grow
While you are listening to others, you may hear some things you don’t like, including regarding your own behavior. It is not uncommon for allies to make mistakes. This is especially true for new allies. Don’t get defensive when you are called out for these errors.
Instead, listen, take ownership of the misstep, apologize for it and move forward. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be willing to admit that you aren’t. Use it as a learning experience and seize the opportunity for personal growth.