Look, I appreciate the fact that there are so many people allied to the LGBTQ community here on campus. I appreciate the fact that usually I feel safe being a member of that community here, and that the “Vote No” campaign was successful amidst the support that was shown on campus.
What I do not appreciate is people claiming they support the LGBTQ community when they only truly support the “L” and the “G.” Sometimes the “B” is in there too, though not very often. I do not appreciate fair-weather support. I do not appreciate how many people stand up to purchase the “Love is Love” shirts from the Straight and Gay Alliance, but so many of those same people turn a blind eye to the members of the LGBTQ community who are harassed, bullied and killed every day.
I appreciate each and every person who I can refer to as an ally. I do not appreciate those allies who believe they deserve a gold star. Being an ally does not make you special. It does not make you a voice for the LGBTQ community. It does not, in and of itself, make you a good person. Being an ally to the community makes you a decent human being. If you are the type of ally who seriously thinks you deserve recognition simply for being an ally, you are wrong. If you are an ally who occasionally talks over a member of the LGBTQ community because you have something important to say about an LGBTQ issue, you need to learn to be a better ally. I feel that is something many people should learn in all branches of social justice: how to be a better ally. This is something I struggled with myself and is one of the largest problems in the social justice movement today.
Step one: when a member of an oppressed group is speaking up about their oppression, you shut up and listen. Do not try to input your story about how a friend of yours was being oppressed, and you stepped up to help. Do not input your opinion about the oppression. Do not input a way in which you are oppressed. Not only is this rude, but it is taking the voice away from a member of a community under oppression and is indeed a form of oppression.
If a person you know is a member of an oppressed community that does not have a single set of defining characteristics (such as the LGBTQ community) do not, under any circumstances, out them. For those of you who may not know, outing someone is the act of telling a third party details about their sexuality, gender identity or even lifestyles. To out someone as part of an oppressed group they are not easily associated with can be extremely detrimental to a person. By outing a friend, you could be risking their personal relationships, their mental health and even their physical safety.
Step Two: educate yourself. Never rely on a member of an oppressed community to teach you about their oppression. It is not their job or duty, and it is certainly not always an enjoyable undertaking. In fact, as an ally, it is your role to learn as much as you can about the oppression being suffered by the groups you support and finding ways to overturn this oppression. Just remember: never make your voice heard over the voices of the oppressed.
Step three: vocalize. Did a student in your class just make fun of a Trans individual? Did that TV show you enjoy so much just make a racist or sexist joke? Speak up. This is your chance to put what you have been learning to the test. As an ally, you can help the community by not letting these happenings go unnoticed. By keeping silent you let people know such joking and hate-speech is acceptable around you. The most difficult moment in this step is the moment when you will have to call out one of your friends. At times like these, think about those who cannot safely speak for themselves. Even if your friend gets a bit upset with you, knowing you did the right thing will make you feel better about the situation, I promise.
There are many more steps out there, but this is a good start. I challenge every member of our campus community to take their stance as an ally one step further. I challenge you all to see allied status not as a special tag to add on to your name but as a weight to carry with you. An ally is only as good as their actions.
This letter to the editor was written by Nicole Wagner, a contributing writer for The Concordian.