How to be a LGBTIQA+ Ally

26 NOV 2020

A LGBTIQA+ ally is someone who personally advocates for the equal treatment for all people regardless of their sex, sexuality, gender identity or relationships.

Often people are unsure how they can be a better ally, but with just a few small changes in our behaviour we can help create safer spaces in which the LGBTIQA+ community can thrive.

An LGBTIQA+ ally has an intensely important role to play in the LGBTIQA+ movement. Allies can help create a safer space for the LGBTIQA+ community by better understanding the needs and experiences of LGBTIQA+ people and by personally advocating for the equal treatment for all the people regardless of their sexuality, gender and relationships.
Being an ally can feel daunting if you are not sure how to and it is hard to know where to start. We spoke to Bella Broadway (she/her), who is the founder and managing director of Connection and Wellbeing Australia (CAWA) which is an organisation that is focused on providing suicide prevention, mental health and capacity building training and support for organisations, community groups and individuals, including diversity and inclusive practice workshops.

Why the community needs more allies?
Can you imagine your body, identity or relationships being part of what makes you feel excluded in personal, medical, social and work scenarios? Everyone deserves the right to feel comfortable in their own skin and to have their needs understood in a way that ensures they have access to the same mental health and wellbeing outcomes as other community members. There are multiple barriers that exist for LGBTIQA+ people to be able to be their true selves in public spaces and to live lives free from discrimination. LGBTIQA+ people live in a world where assumptions, judgements, stereotypes and misinformation mean that their lives are often up for public debate and discussion. The experience of LGBTIQA+ people needing to self-advocate and correct assumptions made about them can be an exhaustive expenditure of emotional labour.

This means that we need more people to make sure that they are creating safe spaces for the LGBTIQA+ community to be in and helping advocate for their needs. Bella says that although the LGBTIQA+ community should be at the front and centre of creating change, “they can’t carry this burden alone” and it is everyone’s responsibility to help build a more inclusive community.

So, what are the fears or barriers that might stop people from being a better ally to the LGBTIQA+ community?

  1. Everything is ok now isn’t it?: We have come a long way towards acceptance, equality and understanding but LGBTIQA+ people still experience discrimination in their daily lives and this contributes significantly to their mental health and wellbeing outcomes. Marriage Equality brought out a lot of allyship in the wider community and allies were important voices that helped change hearts and minds. But there is much more work to be done to change laws, systems and cultures that can support true equality for LGBTIQA+ people.
  2. Language: When Bella conducts Diversity and Inclusive Practice Workshops, she says that the biggest barrier people have engaging with the community is language and having the concern that they will say the wrong thing. Terms about identity are complex and ever evolving, with people sometimes using terms in different ways to identify themselves personally it can feel like a minefield that you will never be able to navigate or get right. It is important to know that LGBTIQA+ people struggle with this as well! Language should never be a barrier to supporting equality.
  3. Fear: What if I get it wrong? Most people fear accidentally saying the wrong thing or making an assumption about an LGBTIQA+ person. This can lead to the guilt that follows after making a mistake and not wanting to upset or hurt anyone. Avoiding assumptions can help limit some of these mistakes.
  4. LGBTIQA+ experiences are still seen as outside the norm: Bella says this is a big barrier. “It is still seen as the default to be cisgender and heterosexual, so being LGBTIQA+ is still seen as outside of the norm,” she says. “It makes sense that our society will need some time to challenge this narrative and to move away from accepting this as the default and to recognise the wonderful diversity that exits in our communities.” We need to start respecting the individual and celebrate the diversity that exists in WA because it is what makes it a special place to call home.

So, what can you start doing to become a better ally?

Educate yourself: Being aware of the unique vocabulary and needs related to LGBTIQA+ identities and understanding how to use specific terms is a critical first step toward building inclusivity. You can learn more about some of the terminologies here or take an Inclusive Practice workshop here.

Avoid making assumptions: Bella speaks about how people regularly make assumptions about people based in what they look like, sound like, what they are wearing or their past or present relationships. She reminds us that we never know how someone identifies or understand their experiences based on a visual appraisal. We should presume that we do not know and learn about a person as and when is appropriate to your relationship to them. Avoiding assumptions means you provide space for people to disclose details about their life – should they wish to.

Neutral Language: We also make assumptions by the language that we use. By getting into the habit of using neutral language with everyone you are setting up a more inclusive space for everyone. Bella talks about the positive effect this has as it not only makes for a more welcoming space for the LGBTIQA+ community but also for their loved ones too. Imagine having to correct someone every time you were introducing yourself or your parent to someone. Using gender-neutral pronouns can also be a great way to prevent accidentally misgendering someone.

You could start by building some of these into your vocabulary every day.

She/He = They | Mom/Dad = Parents |Sister/Brother = Siblings | Girlfriend/boyfriend = Partner

Made a mistake? We all do it sometimes because we are all human. Also, as people learn and grow they might move around the spectrum of gender and sexuality, their pronouns, names and types of relationships may change. If you do make a mistake, Bella advises to simply “apologise, correct the mistake and move on”. She also suggests avoiding going into excessive apologies. “Don’t make it about you and about how bad you feel,” she says, because this can make the person you misgendered or incorrectly referred to feel even more uncomfortable, and like they are then responsible for comforting you.

Use your voice to challenge discrimination, jokes and misinformation: It can be hard to know when and how to challenge a person who has been homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or discriminatory or derogatory toward the LGBTIQA+ community. Bella suggests remembering that jokes where the butt of the joke is a person’s identity are not only not funny anymore, but they also contribute the way that people feel about themselves and their perceived value within the community. A simple statement like “it’s 2020 and jokes like that are not okay” can have a huge ripple effect. Bella says speaking up for a LGBTIQA+ person can make them feel like they are valid and not alone. It is important to do this whenever you hear, see or even accidentally say something discriminatory – regardless of whether a known LGBTIQA+ person is present or not when it happens. You never know who might be around that needs to hear that action of allyship. All can create a more inclusive environment for everyone.

These small adjustments can be a great start to creating a safer space for the LGBTIQA+ community. Bella does go on to say that ally is verb and that being an ally requires action not statements. Simply existing as a person who respects the LGBTIQA+ community is not enough – a true ally will actively engage in activities and actions that will support an inclusive community. It is the small gestures that will pack a punch. If you want to learn more about how you can better support LGBTIQA+ people in the places you live, work and play, contact Connection And Wellbeing Australia (CAWA) to find out about their workshops:

If you or someone you know wants to talk more about being LGBTIQA+ you can contact QLife. QLife is an LGBTIQA+ peer-based telephone and webchat service. It is available from 3pm to midnight 365 days a year on 1800 184 527.

If you are in need of extra support, then please remember you can always call Lifeline WA on 13 1 14. We can help and just want to keep you safe.

Written by Karen McGlynn

Image Credit: Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash