When we think about an ally, our initial thought about the term might be a political one like how Canada and the U.S. are allies. We might think of the idea in terms of two countries that join forces despite whatever differences they have to pursue a common goal or to simply keep the peace by not becoming enemies. The countries have decided to set their differences aside to focus more on their common goal (which is hopefully bringing peace to the world… eventually).
For those of us who are heterosexual individuals, the LGBT community might sometimes seem like an entirely different country composed of different beliefs and practices and while this might be true in some cases, in many cases the two communities do share some things in common.
Before I became an ally, I had several misconceptions about the LGBT community. I viewed their lifestyle as a choice and maybe sometimes a trend even. I believed that they wanted to just go to gay clubs all the time and dress as the opposite sex. Needless to say, I was terribly misguided and just utterly wrong. As I began to become more open to meeting people of the LGBT community and getting to know them, I learned that they have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. They want to be able to find a career that will pay enough for them to be able to at least take two vacations a year. They want to find someone that they connect with on a physical and emotional level who they can spend their life with. They want to find ways to help others in their community. They want to buy a house on a hill and live happily ever after.
Being an ally to the LGBT community does not mean that you must dance in gay clubs or attend peaceful protests for equal rights (although it would be helpful to speak out about equal rights for all people), it literally means that you unite with another for mutual benefit. Since we can all benefit by helping each other and creating a peaceful environment, here are three important things that you can do to become an ally:
Listening to understand is the key to this one. It is very important to practice empathy. Empathy is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. No one wants to be discriminated against for any reason. Try to understand what challenges they face everyday and picture yourself facing those same challenges. Also, try to consider what your hopes and dreams are. Chances are, people of the LGBT community have similar hopes and dreams.
2. Ask questions
Learning about their practices and beliefs can help debunk those silly misconceptions that you might have about the LGBT community. If you don’t personally know anyone from the LGBT community, then everything you thought you knew about them is probably false.
3. Be a support
Let them know that you understand them and find ways to be of assistance. If you can, help them get a job where they can work without fear. Help them to find an apartment complex that doesn’t care about sexual orientation. Help them by correcting other people’s misconceptions about them.
After all, LGBT people are people. We can all benefit from helping each other and keeping the peace. Helping one another makes us all allies.
Counseling Intern Level 1