In the age of social media, it has become so easy to post a quick picture of a rainbow and call it solidarity and alliance. While that’s a small act of kindness and is appreciated, serious action is what really makes a difference to the LGBTQ+ community. As a marginalized group, our voices and concerns often go unheard, which means our cis-het friends have to step in and use their privilege for good. In fact, understanding your privilege as a straight, cis-gendered person is the first step to being a great ally and friend to the community.
Identifying your privilege as an ally is crucial to being there for the LGBTQ+ community. It means you see that you have experiences that others don’t have access to because of their differences. Privilege doesn’t necessarily apply to monetary privilege or wealth in this sense, but it does mean you haven’t struggled the same way LGBTQ+ folk have for centuries. Your solidarity is so important and valuable to us, which is why it’s also key that allies understand they will never have to face some of the hardships their friends may have to. That’s privilege, but identifying it ultimately makes the world a little better. It takes baby steps to get far sometimes.
Courtesy: Amanda Macchiarola
Another tip to being the best ally you can be is understanding how multifaceted the LGBTQ+ community is. There are so many stereotypes about our community that can oftentimes be more harmful than you may think. Constantly asking lesbians if scissoring is a real thing gets old quick. Saying you identify as an “apache helicopter” is distasteful. And AIDS jokes have never been and never will be funny. Knowing how to shut down hurtful stereotypes helps generate more acceptance for the community. Many people see them as jokes at first, but over time they begin to shift the general view of LGBTQ+ people. Lesbian fetishizing, biphobia, transphobia, racism within the LGBTQ+ community and just broad homophobia can all form from these stereotypes. So when your friend says “that’s so gay,” when they don’t like something, shut it down immediately and explain why that’s offensive. That phrase implies being “gay” is inherently a bad thing and should be treated as such. The LGBTQ+ family is so much more than its stereotypes. We are real people with real lives and real feelings. Being a great ally means identifying these harmful stereotypes in situations and shutting them down while providing some education on why they’re wrong.
There is a lot of ally action this year, which is incredible. Having so many people standing with us with open arms is such a big step from where we used to be. However, when allies come to pride events to celebrate, it can sometimes be a good thing gone bad. The intentions are all pure, as they want to help promote the message of acceptance, but a good ally is aware of how much space to take up. This means understanding that pride isn’t just a rainbow Coachella. There is more to pride parades than taking pictures in your rainbow music festival outfit and calling it a day. We love fashion and good pictures as much as the next person, but performative alliances are like empty promises: they don’t do much for the one on the receiving end. Promoting acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community is exactly what an ally should do, but it can become overwhelming when a space made for us becomes a photo-op for straight people. This isn’t to say all straight people are that way but imagine if a huge group of gay people went to a bar and went on a tangent about how much they admire straight people and started calling people their “straight best friend.”
The last tip in this guide is to avoid what we call “rainbow capitalism” at all costs. Rainbow capitalism is when corporations use the rainbow flag for merchandise and designs but will not provide any compensation to pride organizations or charities. They reap the benefits of LGBTQ+ people’s money without donating to the cause they claim to support. Some companies that engage in rainbow capitalism are also notorious for harming the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups by donating money to homophobic government agendas like conversion therapy or mass incarceration. A prime example of this is Wells Fargo Bank, which changed its profile picture on Twitter to a rainbow in the month of June (Pride Month). The issue with this is how heavily invested in the private prison industry Wells Fargo is. Current incarceration rates show that members of the LGBTQ+ and POC communities are at a substantially higher risk for imprisonment and mistreatment within the prison system. Thus, the money people put into Wells Fargo and the business they receive is being put back into a corrupt system that profits off the incarceration of marginalized groups. Wells Fargo isn’t the only company that does this. Many others, like Urban Outfitters, use the rainbow flag for branding purposes in June but don’t actively donate any proceeds to LGBTQ+ charities. As allies, during pride month your purchases should be made from actively supportive retailers and companies, such as Converse, H&M, Target, Chipotle, Absolut Vodka, Disney and many others! Those companies give donations regularly throughout the year and especially hefty ones during pride month that benefit LGBTQ+ charities like the Trevor Project, GLAAD, and GLSEN. Being a true ally comes from more than just wearing a pride flag because the manufacturer of that flag may have benefitted from your purchase without sharing the wealth with whom they claim to care about.
Being a true ally is less about following a strict rule book and more about genuinely being a kindhearted person. While this list is very important, empathy is the biggest takeaway. Being empathetic to the plight of others will allow you to check off all the other boxes in this guide.