How to be a good LGBTIQA+ ally
So, you want to be a good ally? That’s great! It’s important that the LGBTIQA+ community and its allies work together to create an inclusive society. Yes, it’s disappointing that people of diverse genders, sexes and sexualities still experience a range of discriminations that can have negative impacts on their health and wellbeing, but becoming an ally affirms our commitment to kindness and inclusion for everyone.
Why do we need allies?
The support of heterosexual and/or cisgender allies is very important when speaking out with and for members of the LGBTIQA+ community. Allies use their position in society to counter discrimination of marginalised groups. (Note: Someone is cisgender when their sense of gender identity corresponds to their sex assigned at birth.)Learning to be a good ally is rewarding but, it can also be challenging and confronting. As an ally, you must be willing to listen and grow in understanding and knowledge. Together, we can make our university, and our world, a safer and more affirming place for everyone.
If you’re at the beginning of your ally journey, consider doing some basic research. Being a good ally takes work and can sometimes be an uncomfortable journey but you’ll be hugely rewarded with new understandings of people. There are a range of great and diverse resources available – so check out the list on the Pride in Action Network website to help get started. Being proactive and doing this research independently can help take some of the emotional work off the LGBTIQA+ community, who often feel expected to educate others
It’s important to be willing to confront and keep checking in on your own assumptions, prejudices and bias. You may be uncomfortable – be ok with that.
Here are a few basic principles to keep in mind:
- Language is powerful. Use gender neutral language when referring to groups or people you don’t know – replace she/he with they, and use the term ‘partner’. Wait for someone to mention their pronouns, or if it feels right, ask politely about their pronoun, e.g. 'What pronoun suits you best?'
- Don’t make assumptions about someone’s gender, sex or sexuality or assume that everyone is heterosexual or fits into a single idea of gender roles.
- Understand that people don’t have to come out. They don’t owe this to anyone, and some will prefer not to come out. Also it’s up to them to share their personal stories when and to whom it feels right.
- Understand that gender identity (how you personally experience your own gender) and sexuality (sexual feelings, thoughts, attractions and behaviours) can be complex, more than just gay or straight.
- Be aware of normative bias and don’t ask questions you wouldn’t ask a straight, cis person, e.g. ‘When did you decide you were heterosexual?! Similarly, don’t ask invasive questions about sexual behaviours, family formation, conception etc you’d never dream of asking a straight person.
- While we may refer to LGBTIQA+ as a ‘community’, that doesn’t mean we all share the same experiences and values. We’re still also individuals. We should take the time to learn from people with different experiences of this broad and diverse group.
As allies, one of the most powerful things we can do is listen to and affirm LGBTIQA+ voices.
Don’t be intimidated or scared to be an ally! We all make mistakes. If someone corrects you, be sure to listen, acknowledge and learn from the experience. Then move the conversation on. Check your own insecurity: don’t take offence, don’t make it about you.
- Always try to be respectful.
- Be open minded and trust in people’s experiences when they are sharing about their lives. Be willing to learn from them and think about how you might be able to take actions, big or small, to adjust your own behaviours and help create a more inclusive and affirming environment.
- Ask people how they are and be willing to listen. Be aware they may have experienced things you haven’t and could never really understand. Be willing to offer support when you can.
- Be aware that when LGBTIQ+ issues are current social ‘hot’ topics this can have very negative impacts on individuals. Reach out, and try not to get caught up in confrontations. Focus on inclusion and kindness.
Be proud to be an ally. Something as simple as wearing a rainbow lanyard can make such a difference in helping people feel comfortable, included and affirmed.
- Be sure to stand up and out against discrimination. If you hear negative or uninformed comments about the LGBTIQA+ community, stand up and explain why it’s offensive or wrong. You could share something you’ve read, seen or heard that has helped you understand gender diversity more broadly.
- Call out harmful stereotyping: explain that this contributes to creating an environment in which LGBTIQA+ people feel unsafe to be out or visible.
- Use the platforms available to you to boost and share LGBTIQA+ voices – share articles from the community, offer places on panels, print off a Pride in Action poster and put it up in the office, host an event and request the resource you’re reading now to hand out.
- If you notice any policies or procedures that need to be updated let someone know! Get in touch with the Pride in Action Network or make the suggestion directly to someone who can implement change and recommend that the LGBTIQA+ community be involved to make them more inclusive.
- Don’t make assumptions about someone’s gender, sex or sexuality.
- Call out negative or uninformed comments about the LGBTIQA+ community and explain that you find them offensive. If you’re comfortable you could follow up with some resources which could be explored more deeply.
- Consider including your pronouns in your email signature to create an inclusive culture and normalise the practice, reminding people that pronouns should never be assumed.
- Attend a free University of Melbourne LGBTIQA+ Awareness Briefing or Ally Training session – details on our website.
- And be sure to sign up to and share the Pride in Action Network – unimelb.edu.au/ally
Excellent. Remember that we are all people with different parts to our identities. Being a good ally means acknowledging intersectionality – consider that just because someone is of the community, doesn’t mean that’s all they are. They may live many different experiences that can come from race, class, disability, socioeconomic standing, gender, religion, and much more.
The LGBTIQA+ community is strong, resilient and persistent. And together with allies, we are making change happen.
See a list of resources to get started below.
Want to share this info? The Pride in Action Network has created a printed flyer on 'How to be a good LGBTIQA+ ally' please fill out this form.
Note: The LGBTIQA+ acronym refers collectively to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, and/or asexual. These distinct but sometimes overlapping groupings are part, but not all, of what we mean when we speak about 'LGBTIQA+' communities or populations.
- Support and services are available at the University and from external organisations including Black Rainbow (Australia’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Trans* and Intersex service), TransGenderVictoria (Victoria’s leading body for trans and gender diverse advocacy), Switchboard , Intersex Human Rights Australia, Queerspace and Minus18 (Australia’s youth-driven network for LGBTQIA+ young people).
- GLAAD have some great resources, including their ‘Allies Guide to Terminology’
- Australian Institue of Family Studies LGBTIQ+ Communities glossary of common terms
- Podcasts! Try Nancy, Qmmunity, Queers, Making Gay History, Beyond Gender
- In the books ‘Growing up Queer in Australia’ and ‘Living and Loving in Diversity’ you can read deeply personal accounts from the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Watch the Transgender, Intersex, Drag, and Children of Same-Sex Parents episodes of the TV show ‘You Can’t Ask That’ on ABC iView, and the Transgender Teenagers episode of SBS Insight.
- SBS Pride shares articles celebrating LGBTQIA+ diversity and its multicultural communities in Australia.
- Victorian Public Sector Inclusive Language Guide
University of Melbourne groups and services
- Melbourne University Sport and Pride in Sport Program – The Pride in Sport program welcomes and celebrates the University's diversity and aims to provide a safe place for all LGBTQIA+ people to participate in sport
- UMSU Queer – the UniMelb queer student community
- UniMelb CAPS – LGBTQIA+ Counselling and Support
- Trans Medical Research – Gender Health Resources