Even if you don’t consider yourself a part of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s extremely important that you’re there for your LGBTQ+ friends—in other words, an ally. Although supporting things like gay marriage may seem like enough to you, it often isn’t. That’s why we’ve talked to members of the LGBTQ+ community to find out what you’re not currently doing that will make you a better ally.
1. Let your LGBTQ+ friends know they have a safe space
Although your close friends may know you’re an ally, other people may not be so sure. “I know it may seem uncomfortable or weird to do so, but identifying yourself publicly as an ally is a huge help—whether that's by joining the campus QSA and announcing you're there as an ally, by wearing an ally pin somewhere on your person or by having some sort of sign on your dorm/apartment door (esp. if you're an RA or involved in student affairs, or you teach classes as a TA, etc),” says Alaina Leary, a second year graduate student at Emerson College. By publicly displaying your alliance to the LGBTQ+ community, your peers will know for sure that you’re safe to talk to and be open with.
2. Be a peacemaker
In order to be a good ally, you have to be able to be open. Christine Burney, a senior at Savannah College of Art and Design, says you have to be “able to see both sides of any story without bias. Letting your friends and peers come to you, no questions asked, will make you a strong person they’ll want to have by their side. Christine also says that “being able to look into any situation and see what would be the most strategic way for both sides to come out on top” makes someone a good ally. When you keep the needs of everyone in mind, specifically the LGBTQ+ community, you’ll be a person everyone wants to be around.
3. Educate yourself
In order to be a good ally, you have to educate yourself about all things LGBTQ+. Ask your friends, read a book or search the web. It’s also important to learn on your own rather than always going to the LGBTQ+ community. Although they can be great sources of info, it makes you a stronger ally if you can also research independently. There’s a ton of information out there! You can even visit your school’s LGBTQ+ resource center. “If you know that you have a passion for something, why not become an expert in it and go to school?” Christine suggests. “Then, you become the resource for people dealing with injustice. If you can't stand injustice, why not go into the fields that have more power to do something about it?” When you know what’s going on in the LGBTQ+ community, feel comfortable with various identities and terms and go after what you’re passionate about, you’ll be able to educate others and ultimately be a better ally.
4. Be an activist
It’s one thing to support your LGBTQ+ friends and even speak up when they receive hate, but it’s another to be an activist yourself. This could include things like sharing pro-LGBTQ+ content on social media, attending Pride events or getting involved with an LGBTQ+ alliance on campus. When you’re actively involved in helping progress the LGBTQ+ community, your friends and acquaintances will appreciate your support even more. If you’re truly an ally, you’re actively working to better the lives of the LGBTQ+ community. If you’re pro-gay marriage but don’t stick up for your friends or pursue change, you’re not doing much to help.
5. Use inclusive language
Although it can be difficult at first, using inclusive language is an extremely important factor to being a good ally. “Try not to gender situations if it's at all possible—don't say, ‘Isn't having a boyfriend so hard sometimes?’ say, ‘Isn't dating / having an SO so hard sometimes?’” Alaina says. When you use this kind of inclusive language, it gives everyone a chance to be part of the conversation.
Also, for your trans, non-binary and gender fluid friends, it’s important not to assume anything about their identities and to use the pronouns they prefer. “That kind of small inclusive language and making queer people feel just as valid as everyone else may only take an extra second of thought for you, but for us it's huge,” Alaina says. “Having someone who is on our side and goes out of their way to make events, conversations and language accessible is a huge thing.” It may take a little while to get used to, but your LGBTQ+ friends will be forever grateful.
Although you may already be an ally, you can do a lot better! By being open and actively supporting the LGBTQ+ community, you’ll make them feel safer and more included. Just because you don’t identify as being a part of the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t mean you can’t help them fight for rights and equality. Wave those rainbow flags, collegiettes!