Take a look around you right now. No matter where you are, odds are there are at least a few people nearby who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. In GLAAD’s 2017 Accelerating Acceptance survey, the organization determined that some 12 percent of the population identifies as LGBTQIA+, including 20 percent of those ages 18 to 34, and 5 percent of those ages 72 and up.
With so many people now openly identifying as LGBTQIA+, it is becoming increasingly important for others to learn how to be active allies to this growing minority group. Of course, change doesn’t happen overnight, but you can start with these tips that come directly from LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Listen with an open mind.
“An important way for someone to develop themselves as an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community is to listen non-judgmentally and take feedback,” says Louise Head, a certified sex educator and member of the LGBTQIA+ community. “Learn to listen without correcting or questioning the validity of the experience being shared.”
Ask someone how they identify instead of making assumptions.
The GLAAD Accelerating Acceptance survey found that in 2017, 4 percent of people ages 18 to 34 identified as either genderqueer or gender fluid. That means they see themselves as being outside the binary of female and male. They also may sometimes identify differently at different times.
The National Center for Transgender Equality notes that the best way to ensure that you don’t say something offensive is by simply asking which pronouns a person prefers. “Asking whether someone should be referred to as ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘they,’ or another pronoun may feel awkward at first,” notes the organization, “but [it] is one of the simplest and most important ways to show respect for someone’s identity.”
Avoid asking derogatory or overly personal questions.
It’s only natural to be curious and inquisitive about certain things related to the LGBTQIA+ community. However, it helps to remember that just because someone is out—and proud—doesn’t mean you can expect them to be an open book about all elements of their personal lives.
“The best thing you can do is get to know someone before you start asking them about their personal lives,” says Sarah Benoit, who’s been an open member of the LGBTQIA+ community since she was 14 years old. “That being said, there are some questions that I feel are off-limits unless you know a person is OK talking about certain topics.”
According to Benoit, those questions include things like, “Weren’t your parents upset when you came out?” and “How do you have sex?” Ultimately, your safest bet is to avoid uncomfortable and potentially offensive questions that you wouldn’t ask a heterosexual person. In other words: Treat LGBTQIA+ people the way you’d like to be treated.
And make sure to ask if it’s OK to ask questions first.
If you really can’t resist asking your LGBTQIA+ friends a few questions, make sure to ask for their permission before doing so. Benoit suggests starting the conversation with something like, “Do you feel comfortable if I ask questions about your sexual orientation, gender identity, relationship status, etc.? If not, that’s not a problem!”
Learn from your mistakes.
At the beginning of your journey toward becoming an LGBTQIA+ ally, you are naturally going to make a few mistakes and say the wrong thing from time to time. However, Head notes that when these mess-ups happen, it’s important for you to live and learn rather than get upset and angry.
“Allies must learn to be called out gracefully,” says Head. “We are all going to stumble and put our foot in our mouth at some point in our allyship. If you are called out by someone in the LGBTQIA+ community for an unintentional microaggression, thank the person who offered the feedback and think about how you can incorporate it into your behavior.”
Support LGBTQIA+ businesses.
You can support the LGBTQIA+ community with your actions by making a conscious effort to shop at businesses run by queer individuals. “This is the best way to show you support the community—to actually do something that makes a difference,” says Benoit. Plus, it’s easy to find queer-friendly establishments. Directories like Pink Spots list all of the businesses and events in your area that are LGBTQIA+ friendly.
And stop supporting ones that feed into homophobic agendas.
If you want to be an LGBTQIA+ ally and you notice that a company or business is making homophobic comments or donating to anti-gay organizations, you have the choice to stop supporting that business.
“I would love to see more allies taking a vocal stance against businesses via social media that discriminate against the LGBTQIA+ community,” says Josh Robbins, an HIV+ sexual health advocate and spokesperson for DatingPositives. Consumers have the unique power to make or break a business—so your protests can go a long way in changing how an organization operates.
Do something when you see a member of the LGBTQIA+ community in trouble.
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community still experience verbal, physical, and cyber harassment. If and when you see this happening, your job as an ally is to make sure that the person being accosted is safe. In these situations, Benoit specifically suggests that you “ask [the person] if they are OK and stand with them or walk with them until the people harassing them have left.”
The laws pertaining to LGBTQIA+ individuals are constantly changing—sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. Either way, an ally of the community needs to stay on top of these shifts if they want to successfully support LGBTQIA+ people.
“Allies should stay informed on the issues that are attacking our community and stand with us,” says Joseph Oddo, board president of the Gay&Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada. “The LGBTQIA+ community is under constant ridicule from those who don’t wish to understand. LGBTQIA+ people are being turned away from businesses, and more than 50 percent of all Americans live in a state that allows sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. Those looking to get involved should reach out to their local LGBTQIA+ community centers to see how they can support.” And if you’re looking for more ways to be a better member of your community, check out these 33 Small Acts of Kindness You Can Do That Will Change Your Life.
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