In my work with LGBTQ people and their families, I hear an abundance of both heartbreaking and redeeming stories. The heartbreaking ones remind me of why I do the work that I do, while the redeeming ones are a reflection of the work that we as a progressive faith community are accomplishing. However, this past year, I’ve had a handful of both public and private encounters that have reminded me that we have not come as far as we think when it comes to educating those who say they support us. Whether people realize it or not, a great deal of responsibility comes along with being an LGBTQ ally (or an ally of any marginalized group.) This post is meant to outline some traits of a true ally in hopes that you will read it, meditate on it, and grow because of it…and then, that you will share it with others. This post might make you uncomfortable…and that is good. If you can lean into it, you will grow. So I invite you to take a deep breath, open your heart, and read with a spirit that is willing to learn…for that is how we make the world a better place.
1. You Must Identify Your Own Privilege and How it Has Empowered You.
As a straight, cisgender person, there are privileges afforded to you that have not been afforded to LGBTQ people. Have you ever had to scan the room before holding your partner’s hand to gauge the safety level of room? Did you have to think twice about if you would be allowed to get married in the venue of your choice? Have you ever had to correct someone when they see your wedding ring and automatically assume that you are married to a person of the opposite sex? Or worry about losing your job if your employer knows who you love? Have you ever had to deal with the intense anxiety and mental anguish that comes with being disowned by your family for something you cannot change? The answer to these questions, of course, is no. You’ve never had to experience these things because as a straight, cisgender person, you are considered to be part of the cultural norm. But until you recognize the imbalance of power between your privilege and those who are marginalized, you can never truly be considered an ally.
“Until you recognize the imbalance of power between your privilege and those who are marginalized, you can never truly be considered an ally.”
QUESTIONS FOR INTROSPECTION: What doors has your privilege opened for you that you aren’t even aware of? How do those opportunities differ for LGBTQ people (specifically LGBTQ people of faith)? Buzzfeed has created a checklist for you to find out how much privilege you live with. I encourage you to take a few minutes and click here to find out.
2. You Must Use Your Privilege to Elevate the Marginalized.
This is a two-part task. The first part is that you must speak up and speak out. Using your voice (as a person of privilege) to bring attention to, and raise awareness of, the ways in which people are being marginalized is crucial for the forward movement of LGBTQ equality. It is not enough for you to love LGBTQ people quietly behind closed doors. LGBTQ people are dying at the hands of ignorance, fear, and bad theology. We must speak up and speak out in order to reduce the amount of lives that are being lost every day. Whether you speak out in person when you hear someone say something unjust, or whether you use your social media feeds to promote conversations of equality, you must use your voice to advocate for change. Ginette Sagan said, “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor,” and she’s absolutely right. To remain silent implies apathy and consent. You cannot remain neutral (aka silent) and call yourself an ally.
“You cannot remain neutral (aka silent) and call yourself an ally.”
The second part of this task is that actions speak louder than words. As we just discussed, your words and your voice are undoubtedly important. But if your words say one thing (“I’m an ally”) and your actions say another (“I don’t want to lose my privilege”)…you are not truly an ally. Your words must be congruent with your life in order to gain the respect and trust of LGBTQ people.
Questions for Introspection: Where have I spoken up for the dignity and worth of LGBTQ people? Where have I failed to speak up? Are my words and actions consistent with my life? In what way can I use my privilege to elevate the voice of the marginalized?
3. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.
If you truly care about social justice and equality, you need to care about it in every aspect of your life. Words of love and friendship mean nothing if you continue to fuel the problems of injustice with your actions and finances. This doesn’t mean that you have to exceed your budget or do more than you can financially afford. It means that you begin to think differently about where you spend your money and what kind of policies/systems are being perpetuated with that money. Giving or spending your money at institutions or stores that are known for their anti-LGBTQ policies (or who support conversion therapy) continues to perpetuate a society of hate, discrimination, and inequality. A few changes you can consider making are:
Stop donating goods to organizations like The Salvation Army, and instead donate your items to another organization that values and celebrates diversity in all its forms.
Stop shopping at places like Hobby Lobby, and instead shop at Michael’s, JoAnn’s, or another craft supplier.
Stop tithing to non-affirming churches, and instead give to churches that are fully-affirming or to organizations that are working directly with the LGBTQ faith population. (Come on, I know that one made you uncomfortable!)
Intentionally shop at stores that champion diversity, like Target, JCPenny, and Starbucks (who, by the way has the most comprehensive transgender health policy in the world. Read more here.)
Bottom line, saying you support LGBTQ people when you continue to invest your money in ways that directly harm or limit their access to equality is to still live within your privilege, without thinking about those who live without it.
“Continuing to invest your money in ways that directly harm or limit (LGBT people’s) access to equality is to still live within your privilege, without thinking about those who live without it.”
We aren’t perfect and this doesn’t mean that you have to do an in-depth Google search on every store that you ever enter, but it does mean that you think carefully about the places you invest your money, what stores you purchase from on a regular basis, and where improvements can be made. QUESTIONS FOR INTROSPECTION: Am I currently investing my money in a place that is directly or indirectly causing harm or limited access to marginalized people? If so, what changes can I make to invest it better?
4. Put Your VOTE Where Your Mouth Is.
In case you haven’t noticed, this is a critical year in politics. We cannot afford to push issues aside or ignore them any longer claiming that they’re not “our issue.” Black people are dying at the hands of police brutality, children are dying in cages at the border, people are filing bankruptcy due to lack of affordable healthcare, white supremacy is on the rise, racism has somehow become acceptable, children are afraid to go to school because mass shootings have become a devastatingly common occurrence, and we’ve experienced a global pandemic unlike anything any of us have ever witnessed. People, for the love of all that is good and holy, VOTE! Vote for women and people of color, vote for policies that will bring justice to our Black community, to our healthcare system, and to families separated at the border; vote for people that will address our ever-rising concern of climate change and the problems of mass incarceration. VOTE! It is one of the single most powerful things you can do to help create lasting change for the marginalized. And YOU have the opportunity and the privilege to do it simply, easily, and freely. These are not just LGBTQ concerns, these are humanity concerns and you have the opportunity (regardless of political party) to vote in a way that elevates the common good for all people.
“These are not just LGBTQ concerns, these are humanity concerns.”
QUESTIONS FOR INTROSPECTION: How has my voting in the past affected people on the margins? Have I voted for issues that will only benefit me, or have I voted for issues that will affect the common good of all people? What might I do differently this year to better elevate people in the margins? NOTE: If you are not yet registered to vote, you can do that here: https://vote.gov/ You can also learn more about the Vote Common Good Campaign by visiting: https://www.votecommongood.com/love-in-politics-pledge/
5. Listen and Learn.
There is a lot that can be learned by simply listening to the stories of LGBTQ people. Many of them are even open to the genuinely curious questions of those seeking to better understand. But don’t expect LGBTQ people to be the ones to educate you on the “biblical interpretation of the clobber passages.” Just as you shouldn’t expect people of color to educate you on racism in America, you also shouldn’t expect LGBTQ people to educate you on theology, homophobia, or anti-gay belief systems. Instead, educate yourself. There are a number of good books that will help you (a few of my favorites are listed here.) Then, use your time with LGBTQ people to really listen and seek to understand what life is like in their shoes. It is inevitable that you will make mistakes along the way. We all do. But if and when that happens, stay humble. Apologize for your mistake (without trying to justify why you made it!) and simply listen to how you can do better next time. A sincere apology will go a long way; a half-hearted one will not. QUESTIONS FOR INTROSPECTION: How can I become a better listener? What topics do I still need to grow in? What resources will help educate me best in those areas?
You can’t be a half-hearted ally.
There is no middle ground.
You either have all your skin in the game, or you don’t.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t make mistakes. What it means is that you can’t hold on to your privilege and your ally card too. You can only choose one. Because when you try to hold onto both, damage is done, trust is betrayed, and people are hurt. I have seen this multiple times in both my professional and personal life in recent months and I am begging you to step up and make a change.
“You can’t hold on to your privilege and your ally card too.”
We need allies. We need you. We are asking you lay down your pride, use your privilege to elevate the voices of the marginalized, and have integrity to stand by what you say–mean it with all of your heart–and then walk it out on this journey alongside us towards a more just, equal, and safe place for us all to live.