By Andie Praus
So here are two of my favorite articles. But nether of them talks about the most important quality of an ally: empathy. If you cannot empathize, you cannot consider yourself an ally. Unless you are a straight, cis, white, christian dude, then you are a part of a marginalized population – woman, PoC, disabled, alternative religion, queer, on and on. That means that we are all in a position to both need an ally and be an ally. This makes it relatively easy to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes. We have to be able to do that. As an ally, it is paramount that you are able to not only demonstrate empathy, but lead others to the same thing without minimizing them. This requires empathy for both the marginalized populations and for other allies.
The other important thing that is not mentioned directly in these articles is that to be an ally, you MUST engage in RL with the community. I think about when I was working with the Deaf. Learning the language in the classroom, even when taught by a Deaf person was educational, but I didn’t truly understand anything about how the culture and the language bonded the community until I started interacting with the community and finding a place there. Engaging with community gives a very specific perspective on what that community needs, better than all the articles in the world and much better than any online format. This is especially true for the LGBTQ community, who are frequently not themselves as much as they are when they are in safe spaces with each other. That said, sometimes it’s not possible to do that. There is only so much time and opportunity. So it’s important to respect all levels of advocacy. I may not be able to do anything but share knowledge online for one population, but may be heavily engaged in a different one.
Finally, as an ally and in regards to fellow allies- lead, don’t lecture. Strive to be heard, not right. When allies lecture each other, it alienates them from the populations that need them the most. When I hear an ally telling someone that they can never understand the experience of an LGBTQ person because they are straight, I cringe. See empathy above. You can never speak to my lived experience, but you sure as hell can understand and empathize with it. And telling anyone who is trying to be an ally that they are doing it wrong is just harmful and discouraging. Look for the genuine strengths and elevate those, while leading towards improvement. As an LGBTQ person, I am always better supported by someone who has support within their circle of allies. I suspect that is true for all marginalized populations. We all want to be supported by someone who sees themselves as affirming of our identities while at the same time being affirming of their own. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.