By Taylor S., guest youth writer from Outright Vermont
What is an ally?
An ally is someone who actively and consistently works to unlearn and re-evaluate the systems of oppression within our society, and uses their position of privilege to work with and for a marginalized group of people. Allyship is neither self-assigned nor a form of identity, but rather a continuous process of creating and maintaining relationships based on mutual trust and accountability with marginalized persons or groups of people. The focus of allyship is on the marginalized group or individual because of the lack of needed awareness and recognition within our society, regarding marginalized and subordinated identities.
But what does that mean…
Allyship can be broken down into three main concepts: Respect, Empathy, and Activism.
The easiest way to think about respect, is in terms of the Golden Rule: treat others the way that you would like to be treated. Respect is the ability to be wrong. It is accepting people for who they are, in an effort to promote and create a more inclusive community. For example, we all have pronouns that we use on a daily basis, whether they are she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/zir, etc. Respect is asking someone’s pronouns, instead of assuming, and then continuing to use these specified pronouns in future interactions.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When thinking about allyship, empathy is taking that moment to connect with another person and both recognize and understand what they are feeling. Though you may not be able to connect with their direct experiences, you are able to conceptualize the feelings of loss, sadness, or anger. For example, if a child discloses to you that they lost a friend during their coming out process and are now depressed; you may not know what it’s like to come out, but you can understand the feeling of losing a friend and the feeling of depression. Allyship is connecting over experiences, instead of focusing on difference.
Brené Brown is a self defined researcher and storyteller who is well known for her Ted Talks discussing empathy, shame, vulnerability, and her most recent, trust. This Ted Talk (now cartoon) discusses empathy versus sympathy, as well as provides tools in practicing empathy.
Activism is standing up for what you believe, and the most forgotten part of allyship. In being an ally, it is important to not only check your own beliefs and actions, but to intervene when others are being ignorant or creating an unsafe space. This is difficult, yet important. For example, if your friends/peers/colleagues are using sayings such as “that’s gay” or other derogatory comments around gender identity and sexual orientation, you should step in and discuss the implications of those words. Advocating against hate and bigotry can only create positive change and inclusivity within your community.
For more resources regarding allyship within the queer, trans and questioning community, check out these links:
- Outright Vermont is Vermont organization built on youth-adult partnerships with the mission of building safe, healthy, and supportive environments for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth ages 13-22.
- This Non-Binary Trans Person Answers 7 Questions Trans Allies Are Still Asking
- You Respect A Cisperson’s Right To Choose Their Name, Why Not A Transperson?
- How to start talking about gender diversity with kids of all ages
- Advice for a Parent Whose Child Just Told Them They Are Transgender