June has naturally come to resonate as Pride month to us with rainbow flags visible wherever one sets sight, but the story of how it all began goes way back in time. Queer activism and calls for equal rights began gaining traction in the United States in the 1950s. These uprisings were marred by police brutality supported by the State. In the year 1969, some policemen raided the Stonewall Inn at Christopher Street to arrest non-conforming people for drag shows. However, on that eventful night of June 28, the people at the bar fought back against years of being denied a safe place to be. The following year, on the same date, gay activist groups held the ‘Christopher Street Liberation Day March’ on the streets of New York City, which subsequently came to be known as the world’s first Pride Parade. Brenda Howard, the “Mother of Pride”, helped organize this march which eventually spawned LGBTQ+ rights movements around the world. These picked up the pace with demands being laid forth for historically deprived equal rights.
At a time when Pride Parades are popular, multinational companies show their solidarity to the movement by launching ‘pride themed’ gear, earn millions of dollars and quietly slip away from the stage as the month draws to a close. There is no real lobbying for the cause, just attempts to capitalize on gay pride. A lot of people attend Pride Parades in June the world over, but do not actively support the LGBTQ+ community or fully understand the issues that the community faces. Basking in the vibrance of pride parades is understandable, being a definite crowd-puller, but it is important to ask oneself the difficult questions and to educate oneself about the what, where, when, how and whys too.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an ally as “a person who is not a member of a marginalized or mistreated group but who expresses or gives support to that group”. In contemporary times, an ally is generally a heterosexual and cisgender person who supports the LGBTQ+ movement and is an advocate for the cause, despite as such not being a part of the community. Here’s what you can do to be an LGBTQ+ ally, irrespective of your sexual orientation and gender identity:
1. Educate yourself
LGBTQ+ terminology, preferred pronouns, gender identities, ‘coming out’ and why is it such a big deal, news about the LGBTQ+ movement, additionally, issues the community faces till date, are all the things you must try to learn about. The internet is one of the best tools to make yourself aware and so could be a respectful discussion with someone who has requisite knowledge. Being open to acquiring information along with taking the initiative to do so is the first step towards being an ally.
2. Don’t make assumptions
Refrain from making assumptions about your friends and colleagues. Not everyone you know may be straight (or “cishet”, to be using the correct term). It is not necessary for LGBTQ+ people to look, dress or act a particular manner. There is widespread yet highly flawed and distorted perception created by popular media about the community.
3. Check your own prejudices and biases.
You may not realize, but the smallest of one-liners carry the weight of a hundred tonnes, not to mention, may hurt the feelings of your loved ones, unintentionally or otherwise, if used recklessly. Even people who mean the best come with some ingrained preconceived notions. Recognizing that it is normal to have these, though not necessarily healthy, and taking a proactive approach to verify facts thereby correcting any mistaken assumptions is the desirable approach to move ahead.
4. Be a champion for the cause of equality
The LGBTQ+ movement is about ensuring dignity and equality for the LGBTQ+ community which has long been prosecuted, marginalized, subject to intolerance and systematically excluded for loving who they love. Just the act of being themselves has put them through abuse, torture, denial of familial and medical rights, discrimination in terms of jobs and domestic abuse among others. An ally must stand up for these rights, demanding acceptance of queer lifestyles, non-discrimination, inclusion, and laws promoting equality. All people deserve to be treated with dignity.
5. Take a stand
‘Charity begins at home’ and so should justice. Being an ally means taking action. Baby steps such as asserting your stance if you come across anti-LGBTQ+ remarks, irrespective of them being meant as ‘jokes’, as offensive can go a long way in empowering others through your own self. Educating your immediate social circle with regard to their sociopolitical inclinations and their ramifications on the status of LGBTQ+ rights can be an enriching experience for all the parties.
6. Stay Engaged
People facing oppression do not have the option of going off the grid when things become tough, they have to persevere and toil for things they are rightfully entitled to. Recognize and utilize your privilege: ensure that even if work gets difficult or time is scarce, you engage with something because your engagement at any level, whatsoever, helps. Maybe volunteer at a local NGO or devote some time to a LGBTQ+ rights website over the weekend.
7. Work towards becoming a safe person
A safe person is someone with whom one can be emotionally vulnerable. This person influences one to become who they are meant to be, without attacking them emotionally. Such a person is self-aware, at ease with their emotions with definite boundaries. They are non-judgmental listeners who are compassionate, true and accept the others for who they are. Their empathetic nature is foundational to their ability to provide comfort and validation the other may need, making them a spark of goodness in this world. Safe people help you let your guard down and be vulnerable around them whilst making it a mutually valuable experience for both, them and the other. An ally can be a safe person and create a ‘safe-zone’ for people from the LGBTQ+ community.
Remember that this is an ever-continuing process. Becoming an ally is not a one-size-fits-all approach, there is no perfect formula available out there, no miracle drug you can turn to. With time comes experience and the evolution into a compassionate person. The best you can humanly do is keep these things in mind, have a progressive outlook and venture out on this wonderfully rewarding journey towards ensuring (and fittingly fighting for) universally equal rights.
This article has been written by Sakshi, Ist year