Becoming An Ally

What is an Ally?

An ally is “a person who is a member of the dominant or majority group who works to end oppression in their personal and professional life through support of, and as an advocate for, the oppressed population” (Evans and Washington, 1991). According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), allies “to racial, religious and ethnic minorities have been remarkably effective in promoting positive change in the dominant culture, and only recently has their instrumental position been extended to the area of sexual orientation. In recent years we’ve seen more and more LGBTQ Ally organizations strive to make the culture of a campus or workplace more aware and accepting of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals.”

Steps Toward Becoming an Ally

In “Becoming an Ally: A New Examination”, Nancy J. Evans and Jamie Washington list the following four basic steps of allyship involvement:

  • First, Awareness: We all start here, and we encourage you to begin increasing your awareness building before, during, and after attending ALLIES training workshops at UM. Read, read, read! Have conversations with LGBTQ+ individuals, friends, peers, coworkers, family members, and in other social networks.
  • Second, Knowledge/education: As your awareness deepens, acquire knowledge about sexual identities and gender expressions and identities through more formalized channels; take a class! Attend our ALLIES training workshops. Familiarize yourself with local laws, and campus policies that affect LGBTQ+ students.
  • Third, Skills: These must be acquired and developed through practice, attendance, and strategies.  Our ALLIES program flowchart embraces exposure as a component of the ALLIES training process, since skills “can be acquired by attending workshops, role-playing certain situations with friends, developing support connections, or practicing interventions or awareness raising in safe settings.”
  • Finally, Action: For many, this is the most difficult step. “Nonetheless, action is, without doubt, the only way that we can effect change in the society as a whole; for if we keep our awareness, knowledge, and skill to ourselves, we deprive the rest of the world of what we have learned, thus keeping them from having the fullest possible life.”

 

An Ally strives to…

  • Qualities of an Ally
  • Be an open-minded listener and friend
  • Confront their own prejudices and biases, while allowed to have their own opinions
  • Recognize their personal boundaries, and recognize/refer to an individual to additional resources
  • engage in the process of developing a campus culture free of homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism
  • Believe that all persons, regardless of age, sex, religion, ethnicity, race, ability, language, gender expression and identity, and sexuality should be treated with “respect for the dignity of each person”
  • Commit themselves to understanding unearned individual and systemic (group) privileges that cisgender, heterosexual people have
  • Engage in the process of personal growth, despite the discomfort it might sometimes cause

 

An Ally is NOT…

  • someone with all the answers
  • expected to be a counselor or trained to deal with crisis situations (know your limits and refer!)
  • expected to proceed with interaction if levels of comfort or personal safety have been violated
  • expected to defend or account for the ALLIES or M-PRIDE programs in debates or conversations

 

Faculty/Staff Allies should…

  • Respect the privacy of student who may seek you out for support, information, or resources: keep these contacts confidential.
  • Respect students’ changing experience of self as they explore their sexual identity and/or gender expression and identity: use language that reflects where the students are in their developmental process.
  • Respect students’ rights to remain closeted: there can be tremendous negative consequences to coming out for many students, including the loss of friends, family, financial support, and basic safety.
  • Respect the boundaries of the students with whom you have contact: maintain clear, professional boundaries as a teacher, advisor, or advocate at all times.
  • Respect the needs of students who are beyond what you are trained to provide: refer students for counseling when appropriate. If a student is experiencing a good deal of psychological distress and is having difficulty coping, suggest that counseling may be helpful.

 

Ally behaviors and motivations to avoid and embrace…

In “Aspiring Social Justice Ally Identity Development: A Conceptual Model”, K.E. Edwards maps three avenues for motivating potential allies: self-interest, altruism, and a desire for social justice–depending on the situations in which individuals find themselves. Understanding these motivations can help shape more effective ally responses and behaviors.

Aspiring Allies for Self-Interest typically are invested in allyship when someone they know or care about who identifies as LGBTQ+ is being hurt, and these allies take action to intervene in specific discriminatory instances. However, this fails to account for or address the larger systemic oppressions that LGBTQ+ people, as a community, face, and often leads to a “savior” or “rescuer” complex that continues the oppressive cycle.

Aspiring Allies for Altruism can recognize the systemic issues that affect LGBTQ+ individuals as a group, but are often motivated in their allyship by feelings of guilt stemming from their heterosexual and/or cisgender privileges.  Often, these allies place blame on other straight people for the oppressions LGBTQ+ people experience, and view themselves as exceptions to the normative rule.

Allies for Social Justice understand that acting to end oppressions LGBTQ+ people face ultimately benefits us all. The model these allies embrace works toward creating a more just and equitable society, and these allies understand that working “with those from oppressed group in collaboration in partnership to end systems of oppression” is the ultimate goal (Edwards, 2006). This collaborative relationship is the rationale for establishing and developing the M-PRIDE program.

 

Why become an Ally Advocate in Action?

An ally is an action, not an identity. Evans and Washington list the following benefits of being an ally, including:

  • You open yourself up to the possibility of close relationships with an additional percentage of the world
  • You become less locked into sex-role stereotypes (and perhaps also, systems that perpetuate compulsory heterosexuality)
  • You may be the reason a family member, coworker, friend, or community member finally decides that life is worth something and suicide or dependence on chemicals/substances may not be the answer
  • You may make the difference in the lives of adolescents who hear you confront anti-LGBT epithets or who may hear you using gender neutral language in public spaces

 

References

Edwards, K.E. (2006). “Aspiring Social Justice Ally Identity Development: A Conceptual Model.” NASPA Journal, 43 (2), 39-60.

Evans, Nancy J. and Jamie Washington (2000). “Becoming an Ally: A New Examination.” Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, second edition. Maurianne Adams and Warren J. Blumenfield, eds. New York: Routledge: 413-420.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Establishing an Allies/Safe Zone Program