7 Ways to be a Better Ally this Pride Month and Beyond
Reading time: 8 Minutes
June 16th, 2021
You may have already heard about the importance of being an ally to friends, family and colleagues who are members of minority and marginalized communities. However, it's not always easy to know the best way to show up in every situation. In honor of June being Pride Month in the United States, we decided to take some time for a discussion of how to learn more and further develop our allyship skills.
What does it mean to be an ally?
An ally is someone who may not be a member of a marginalized community, but who takes action to support that community. This means using one's standing and privilege as a member of a non-marginalized group to advocate for those who may not enjoy the same rights, access or ability to fully thrive in society. An ally can be a trusted force for good who works in partnership and solidarity with marginalized groups to dismantle systems of oppression based on gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, religion or disability.
Here are a few tips on how to be an effective ally, standing up for individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and beyond (LGBTQ+); these are principals that can also be applied toward allyship with women, as well as Black, indigenous and other people of color.
This list is intended to be a jumping off point for your own journey of understanding, rather than the be-all, end-all on allyship. As with any important subject, further and ongoing research is recommended. (At the end of this article, we've included a list of online resources where you can continue learning.)
This may seem like an obvious first step, but actively listening with a sense of presence and empathy is one of the biggest ways you can help. Hearing and validating people's experiences, stories, needs and concerns helps create solidarity and is a crucial form of support in any space. Always keep an open mind and, if appropriate, ask questions respectfully.
Let people know you're a receptive audience and that they can share with you about incidents of discrimination they've encountered. Just because you haven't personally witnessed problematic language and behavior doesn't mean it's not happening, and it's the responsibility of a good minority ally to listen and learn more.
2. Educate Yourself
Taking the time to learn the history of marginalized groups and the context behind social justice movements is important, because a lack of knowledge can lead to blind spots for even well-meaning allies. Learn from the LGBTQ+ community, people of color and women if they're willing to share their wisdom and experience—but understand that it is not anyone else's responsibility to teach you.
Instead, put in effort to do your own research. Learn the history of important events, such as the Stonewall riots, the civil rights movement, the women's liberation movement, and the transgender rights movement. Stay up to date on current politics and world events.
An active ally takes the time to deepen their own understanding, in whatever form that takes: reading informative books and articles, watching movies and documentaries that analyze issues; listening to thoughtful podcasts; and remaining curious and open to learning more about the history and challenges facing LGBTQ+ individuals, women and people of color, including Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI). One important note: being an ally toward one community is great, but there's no need to limit yourself, or conflate multiple categories into a single one. Each marginalized community has its own unique history and challenges, and is worth becoming familiar with on its own merits.
Your learning journey can take place both in your personal life and at work: Inquire with your employer to find out what resources may be available to help you become a better ally in the workplace.
Being an effective ally means recognizing and acknowledging the opportunities, resources and advantages you have automatically received throughout your life due to your ethnicity or gender that others may have been subtly or overtly denied. It's of course true that having privilege doesn't mean you haven't worked hard, or that you've never had to struggle in life. Instead, it means that your sexual orientation, your gender, your ethnicity or the color of your skin has not contributed to your struggles, as these things often can for many others.
It can be difficult to identify every barrier you've never had to experience, but the more you're able to empathize with the barriers and struggles that others face, the better position you'll be in to help. How can you use that lived privilege to support and help others grow?
Consider your own prejudices, even if this process feels difficult or uncomfortable. Everyone is biased in some way; the key is to confront feelings with honesty and to recognize the gaps between what one should do versus what one actually does, and work towards closing those gaps. This work is part of being a true ally.
4. Amplify Others' Voices
Minorities and marginalized communities are often familiar with the experience of having their ideas or messages minimized, ignored or rejected. Lend your voice to help signal-boost others' messages, to ensure that all voices can be heard, whether at work or in your personal life.
At the same time, be mindful to avoid performative allyship, which includes using words, gestures or social media posts that do more to promote an individual's own image than actually helping the causes being mentioned. This type of “virtue signaling," when not coupled with tangible, meaningful action, often becomes an empty gesture. It's important to keep the spotlight on where it belongs: on the LGBTQ+ community and other minority groups.
5. Speak Up
As the saying goes: If you see something, say something. Report discriminatory behavior at work. If a colleague, friend or family member uses racist, sexist or derogatory language or slurs, even as a joke, call out their hurtful behavior and explain that such comments aren't OK. Don't wait for LGBTQ+ individuals, minorities or people of color to react first, as you may be in a better position to speak without fear of criticism or reprisal. Intervene even if there's no one present who identifies with that marginalized group (if it's possible for you to do so safely).
6. Show Up
Think of allyship as an action, not an identity: You have to participate, in an ongoing way. Show your support by attending events—such as the annual Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival in early August and the Honolulu Pride Parade each October, which celebrates not only LGBTQ+ culture but also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) heritage—as well as marches and protests for peace and justice, signing petitions demanding political action, volunteering your time to worthy causes, and donating funds, if you can. Register to vote if you haven't already and support candidates who reflect your views and who are trying to make a positive change in the community. A good LGBTQ+ ally's actions match their words.
7. Keep at It
Part of treating allyship as an ongoing activity is recognizing that no one is perfect, and that success is measured over a longer arc of time than today. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable at times, because being a good ally to marginalized groups will be a process of constant learning and evolution. The best way to learn is often through trial and error and, as you learn and grow, you are bound to sometimes speak out of turn or do the wrong thing.
Perhaps you'll call someone by the wrong name or pronoun, or make an incorrect assumption about someone's background or experiences—don't worry, you haven't completely failed as an ally. Apologize and ask for guidance. What's important is to acknowledge when you're wrong, accept feedback from others, and try not to make those same mistakes again.
If you'd like to learn more about what it means to be an ally and ways you can assist LGBTQ+ communities, people of color, and women during Pride Month and beyond, the following are some good resources to explore as a start:
Definitions, Vocabulary and other Basics
- The New York Times' ABCs of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A+
- the Human Rights Campaign's Glossary of Terms
- Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)'s National Glossary of Terms
- It's Pronounced Metrosexual's List of LBGTQ+ Vocabulary Definitions
- The Racial Equity Tools Glossary
Guides on Being a Better Ally
- The Human Rights Campaign's Being an LGBTQ+ Ally
- Straight for Equality's Guide to Being a Straight Ally
- GLAAD's Tips for Allies of Transgender People
- The Better Allies email list
- Mireille Cassanda Harper's “10 Steps to Non-Optical Allyship"
Here in Hawaii
To get involved locally, check in with the range of organizations providing resources to educate and raise awareness of the LGBTQ+ community-at-large across the Islands, including events, workshops and webinars:
- the Hawaii LGBT Legacy Foundation
- the Hawaii Rainbow Chamber of Commerce
- Pride Guide Hawaii
- the Gay Island Guide
- the Honolulu Gay & Lesbian Cultural Foundation (HGLCF), which hosts the annual Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival
Also, learn about 200 years of African American history in Hawaii at the Obama Hawaiian Africana Museum.
Explore the non-partisan collective Pono For The People as well as the nonprofit Popolo Project, which includes a syllabus of recommended literature.
Read critical essays by scholars including Joy Lehuanani Enomoto, Kumu Hina Wong-Kalu, and compiled by Maya Gee.
- Allyson Smith's “Non-Black People Need to Speak Up for Black Lives"
- Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) maintains a list of political educational resources.
- Metoomvmt.org, an online hub for the #MeToo movement, with the latest info to stay informed and how to take positive action
- To learn how men can be allies in the #MeToo era, this article from the University of Michigan and this podcast segment from WNYC Studios provide good direction.
- For additional resources, including those for students or victims who are in the military, have disabilities, or are incarcerated, visit the Me Too Rising resource page by Google Trends.
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