5 ways to be an LGBT+ ally
- Posted on June 20, 2018
- Estimated reading time 6 minutes
Let’s be honest, getting involved in an organisation’s LGBT+ network isn’t a high priority for many people. I get it. I’ve been there. In fact, if somebody had told me I would eventually be immersed in one and discover a hidden passion, I would have told them to get real. Maybe even suggested they were being absurd. Yet here I am: a cis-hetero woman leading Avanade Australia’s LGBT+ network, Prism – a role I have held since 2016. A role I love.
When taking on the role, I felt trepidation. I thought, “What place do I have running an LGBT+ network?” Naivety didn’t help me, for a start. I didn’t know many people who identified as LGBT+. What I did know was that I had completely abandoned my comfort zone and that having no experience identifying as LGBT+ was going to make things challenging.
Feeling the fear and doing it anyway
I engrossed myself in LGBT+ content on social media, watched TV shows and movies, and read books. I recruited several allies and LGBT+ co-workers and Avanade Australia’s LGBT+ working group was formed.
Knowing that education is the key to changing the world, we put pedal to the metal and launched LGBT+ Ally Week. The five-day awareness campaign provided insights into the challenges LGBT+ people encounter, helped our colleagues understand the role of allies and what they do, and encouraged them to become allies for our LGBT+ co-workers. The event resulted in a four-fold increase in the number of Australian allies. The team was awarded the CEO Excellence in Inclusion & Diversity Award and the initiative contributed to Avanade being named overall #TechDiversity Champion in 2016. The program is now in its third year and has expanded across continents.
Laser focused on inclusion and diversity, we sought to understand Avanade’s level of maturity toward LGBT+ inclusion. In 2017, my team submitted Avanade for its first assessment in the Australian Workplace Equality Index – the national benchmark on LGBT workplace inclusion. It showed we were off to a convincing start, but had some room for improvement. In the 2018 Australian LGBTI Inclusion Awards we were ecstatic to be named Bronze Employer, having doubled our points from the previous year and closely trailing Australia’s leading organisations with our network and ally initiatives.
In just two years, my confidence as an ally and a network lead has skyrocketed. I have evolved from terrified ally to fearless role model. I embrace every opportunity to get involved and have participated in panel discussions, presented at Avanade’s annual TechSummit conference, and represent Australia in Avanade’s global Prism LGBT+ Employee Resource Group, where I’ll eagerly claim Australia is leading the charge.
How to get started as an ally
My journey from zero to a model ally has been gradual, so if you’re wondering where to start, here are my top five tips.
1. Educate yourself about what’s appropriate
With knowledge comes power, so start by learning about different terminology, what is and isn’t acceptable, and discover the issues affecting the LGBT+ community – both historical and current. Learn why Pride is important. Talk to members of the community, attend training and consume information from reputable sources (if in doubt, ask your LGBT+ network for recommendations). Review real-life scenarios, but be prepared for some shocking displays of bigotry and ignorance and to have your heart broken.
Upskilling in everything LGBT+ will not only help you identify and call out behaviour that may be inappropriate, but you will be well placed to take a stand against myths, stereotypes and slurs that lead to prejudice and discrimination. You will also learn to identify your own behaviours so you can stop biased language and the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes.
2. Think critically and make your own decisions
We live in a world of alternative facts; where someone promotes an idea and others jump on the bandwagon. When these ideas are repeated often enough, it can be hard to differentiate between fact and fiction. Those ideas can become so real we don’t question them, eventually thinking of them as “truth.”
Your job as an ally is to critically evaluate information and use it to make up your own mind. It’s time to cut through the noise and challenge your assumptions and beliefs. Stay focused on the real issues and don't get distracted by red herrings intended to stall progress.
Ask yourself questions like, “Why does this make me uncomfortable?” and “Why do I believe [marriage is between a man and a woman/there are only two genders, etc.]?” Remember: No one is born hating another. So, are your feelings based on fact or learned behaviour?
As Dr. Seuss points out in “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
3. Be curious
Engage with members of the LGBT+ community and hear about their experiences. This provides not only a personal connection, but a level of understanding like no other. The need to respect people’s boundaries cannot be overstated. You might be willing to learn, but you can’t dive right in with inappropriate questions. Respect people’s privacy and know that you are not entitled to an answer – be patient, provide a safe space and let the other person choose when and what they want to share with you.
Ask questions like, “What can I do to help?” and “Would I want to be asked this question myself?” And remember, the responsibility for your education falls on you, the ally. That expectation shouldn’t fall on the LGBT+ community.
4. Get involved
Allies who truly support the LGBT+ community help its members feel accepted and equal, so put yourself out there and try things that aren’t part of your regular, everyday life. Participate in events and show an interest in getting to know LGBT+ people as individuals. Talk about topics that interest them. There’s an upside for you, too – you might just meet your new BFF!
5. Use your voice to amplify the voices of others
Humans are social creatures and we love to talk about ourselves. Use this to your advantage and let people know you are an ally. Promote the reasons why it’s important and encourage others to become informed and gain greater insights into the challenges faced by the LGBT+ community. Use your voice to amplify the need for inclusion and provide a platform for those who have been silenced. Inspire others to join you.
As allies, we can’t just be there for the hard times, or condone prejudice and discrimination through our silence. Small actions can add up to make a big difference, so it doesn’t matter where or how you start being an ally. The important thing is that you start.
Get started by brushing up on LGBT+ terminology with this helpful guide.