The Changing Landscape of LGBTQ+ Identity
According to a 2022 Gallup poll, 7.1% of U.S. Adults now openly identify as LGBTQ+. That’s up from 3.5% of adults just ten years ago in 2012. Nearly 20% of Gen Z adults now identify as LGBTQ+. These statistics would indicate more people feel confident in coming out and living as true as possible to their authentic selves.
Even the term “queer” has lost its original negative connotation and is now commonly used as a positive term for self-identification. Years of stigma and shame are being cast off as individuals reclaim language and identities that were once considered moral failure, sickness, or psychopathology.
All major professional mental health organizations have affirmed that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. And the healthcare community now openly affirms that being transgender or gender variant is not a mental illness and does not imply any impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities.
The LGBTQ+ Community Still Faces Adversity
Despite these changing tides, many LGBTQ+ people remain survivors of bullying, trauma, and abuse, resulting in a pervasive feeling of disempowerment. Many of these individuals are forced to relocate to cities where they can find an affirming community. Still, others are being forced to relocate to other states where they can access LGBTQ healthcare.
In the first six months of 2023, more than 75 anti-LGBTQ bills have been signed into law in state legislatures across America. The NAACP and Equality Florida recently released travel advisories for LGBTQ+ individuals who may be traveling to Florida. As of June 2023, Human Rights Campaign has issued a national “state of emergency” for LGBTQ+ individuals in the United States. Reports of homophobia, transphobia, violence, and aggression are being heard more and more often. Now—more than ever—the LGBTQ+ community needs the support of allies.
What is Allyship?
Allyship is the consistent and sometimes difficult practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group. It often requires deconstructing what one thought one knew in favor of taking on a new outlook and fresh mindset. It requires an attitude of curiosity and humility while listening to and learning from those in the marginalized community.
Allyship is not an identity. It is not a badge to be worn lightly nor a box to tick on one’s performative, politically correct checklist. It is a lifelong relationship-building process based on trust, consistency, and accountability.
It’s important to note that allyship is not self-defined. In other words, it needs to be recognized by the people one seeks to ally with. We must be intentional with allyship and how we do it.
Areas of Awareness for Allies
What should you keep in mind if you seek to work as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community?
First, be mindful of how much space you take up in conversations. Often in our zeal to show support, we can unintentionally dominate the discussion with our own experience instead of listening to others’ lived experiences. Even how we show up physically can be an issue. For example, taking up a lot of physical space with how you stand or sit can be off-putting to a gender, non-conforming individual conditioned to limit their personal space. They may feel overwhelmed or shut down.
Are we aware of terms particular to the LGBTQ+ community? When we use these terms, do we use them correctly? The language we use is important. We must remember that some slang terms can be perfectly appropriate for a member of that community but utterly inappropriate if used by someone outside the community. The slang words were homophobic or transphobic epithets that were used with the intention to “other” or wound the individual. Often, communities reclaim the slang for use in their community with each other as a form of endearment or empowerment instead of degradation. But it is for their use and not necessarily for outsiders.
Finally, we must learn more about the LGBTQ individuals we seek to ally with. What are our assumptions about their lives or lived experience? How aware are we of biases coming from heteronormative standards? Are we unwittingly imposing our biases on them? For example, asking which individual is the husband or the wife in a same-sex marriage would be insensitive, just as commenting to a trans woman that she “looks good as a woman” would be inappropriate.
Good allies strive to use person-centered language and try to refer to people by how they self-identify. In many cases, it is okay to ask someone how they self-identify. Ask them what their preferred pronouns are. Often, individuals are grateful for the courtesy shown and more than willing to share.
Practical Actions to Show Allyship
There are some practical things allies can do throughout the year, not just in Pride Month.
• Utilize “shares and likes” on social media that amplify LGBTQ+ voices and lived experiences.
• Add your own pronouns to your email signature at work and home.
• Display the Pride flag or an affirming symbol in your office, home, or car.
• Let people know you and yours are a “safe space” for queer folk.
Most of all, it allows people to come out at their own pace and on their own terms. Every individual has the right to control whether, when, and how they come out. This applies as well to those within the LGBTQ+ community as we seek to create an atmosphere where people can be authentically themselves on their own terms.
In short, be sensitive to those who are working through their own identities. Identity is complex. For some, it is a process of change and discovery that can go on for many years.
LGBTQ+ individuals flourish when words of life are spoken to them. These are statements of affirmation that create a greater sense of inclusivity and belonging:
• Welcome! We want you here.
• We love and accept you just as you are.
• You are good.
• You are worthy of love.
• You have been made for so much more life and love than society has told you to expect for yourself.
• Let go of what you cannot control or change. Tomorrow is a new day.
• Tell me your story. What was difficult with it? Where is there joy in it?
• We will walk with you on your journey to the best of our ability, not just on the good days but also on the difficult ones.
Embracing Allyship with the LGBTQ+ Community
The thoughts shared here are by no means the last word on allyship. Don’t be afraid to try something and get it wrong. We will make some mistakes along the way. But we also will apologize, learn from it, make a change, and live differently.
Today, start with something simple that you can do to show your allyship with the LGBTQ+ community. Your actions will be appreciated and will make a difference.