June is Pride Month, and the question of how people can be allies and advocates to the LGBTQ+ community is increasingly prevalent.
President of the Queer Literature Club and panel program coordinator of the Queer/Trans Student Union, Olivia Behm, receives this question often due to her role as panel program coordinator.
“A lot of people think they are an ally because they tolerate the LGBTQ community, but that’s not it. That’s like the bare minimum. Being an ally is more like standing up for people who aren’t there to defend themselves or are in an unsafe situation,” Behm said.
“It’s about self-education because it should never be on the marginalized community to teach the dominant culture. It’s about standing up for people and being a friend, being supportive and knowing what it means for you to occupy certain spaces. Being an ally is more about being the best friend that you can be even to people you aren’t friends with.”
For recent graduate and former QTSU President Jo Wilson, allyship is only the start of being a true advocate.
Wilson defines being an ally as being “there to support a group or community” whereas advocates are “willing to step in and be that intermediary or physically put themselves between someone who might be being harassed and their harasser.”
Wilson and Behm both believe the best way to be an ally is for people to continually educate themselves about marginalized communities.
Wilson believes the best place to start in terms of education is the internet.
“The internet is a really good way to start queer advocacy and allyship in the educational component because that emotional labor has already been done once and it could impact one hundred people, but it doesn’t have to be said to each individual one of those people,” they said.
Behm added on to this idea by talking about education in terms of the panels she facilitates about the LGBTQ+ community.
“You shouldn’t be afraid of asking questions, I mean that’s why we have the panel program. Yes, it is emotional labor and there could be answers which are hard for us to answer, but that shouldn’t scare you off from asking a question,” Behm said.
Behm also believes being an ally to individuals important to a person requires asking each individual person what they need.
“Everyone’s experience is unique to them and so you should ask your friend how to be an ally to them,” she said.
Wilson also touched on some other ways to be an ally and advocate.
“I think getting involved and identifying if there are people within the community whose voices aren’t always as heard or amplified is important. But also, I think it’s good to do some research in the first place. One way to do this is, I always recommend, is read at least one piece of queer media a week,” Wilson said. “I also think teachers should use their ability to normalize pronoun sharing in the classrooms.”
No matter how people decide to be allies and advocates, Behm and Wilson both agree that it is important to keep growing in knowledge in order to avoid being ignorant.
“It’s a continual growing process,” Behm said. “It’s important to put yourself in new situations and try to give yourself a new perspective.”
Wilson compared this growth in understanding to working out.
“It’s like going for a run or working out. If it aches a little bit, your muscles are growing. If you are aching a little bit having these uncomfortable conversations about queer and trans people, you’re probably learning to be a better person to queer and trans people,” Wilson said.