I’ve recently read that if we need to have a national or international day for a topic, it means that the other 364 days of the year that topic fails to be noticed. Unfortunately, that is the case with the LGBTQ+ community, since we come from a history full of inequalities and violence towards this population and these issues are still present nowadays. That is why, as a society, we need to keep this topic in our agenda and keep working together to eliminate such inequalities and violence.
As its name indicates, LGBTQ+ people are people, and, as such, our human rights and needs have to be guaranteed and respected.
To understand the acronym LGBTQ+, we have to acknowledge that there are as many versions of it as there are gender identities. That’s why including the + symbol is key to integrating us all. Some of the most common terms included in the acronym are the following:
Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Trans, Queer, +Non-Binary, +Intersexuals, +Asexuals.
Who? Why? How?
Now that we already have some context, let’s review 3 relevant questions that will lead us to answer our opening question ‘are you an LGBTQ+ ally?’
An LGBTQ+ ally is a person outside the LGBTQ+ community who understands the inequalities in opportunities that the community faces, and who makes an effort to correct those inequalities.
There are many reasons to be an LGBTQ+ ally. Here is a non-exhaustive list:
For the business case: Data shows that diverse and inclusive teams will be more productive, more innovative, and, hence, more profitable. One of the reasons is that being more diverse ensures incorporating more points of view, and, therefore, reducing bias in design and decision making.
For fairness and social justice: We have a long history of oppression and inequality that we need to work on together. This would include what we usually call ‘solidarity.’
For your kids: You can feel compelled to become an ally to do the best for your children, nieces, nephews, grandkids, etc., so that they grow up with equal opportunities and then create equal opportunities for others.
For all of the above or for different reasons: For me, it’s all of the above. For you, it can be these or any others that may resonate with you.
This theory is great! But how do we apply it to our everyday realities? Here is a list of ideas to implement to become an ally:
Do not interrupt: Underrepresented people are more likely to be interrupted, so just take a step back and listen. By being constantly interrupted—and underrepresented in the mainstream culture—, these groups receive the message that what they have to say is neither important nor interesting, and they start taking up less and less space. By letting them speak freely—and encouraging them to express themselves—, we reinforce the idea that what they say is indeed important and interesting, and we help them regain their space in society.
Maintain an open mind: Listen, learn, unlearn, make mistakes, and relearn. Remain open to different ways of being and understanding the world we live in. Let us remember that it is not necessary for us to understand something (an idea, a concept, a feeling, an identity, etc.) in order to respect someone.
Detect and destroy microaggressions: Microaggressions are intentional or unintentional comments or insults that deliver hostile, derogative, and negative messages to a marginalized group. In the case of the LGBTQ+ community, some examples of microaggressions may be the following:
Talking about LGBTQ+ identity as if it were a decision or a lifestyle
Strengthening LGBTQ+ stereotypes
Denying the existence of bisexuality
Excluding an LGBTQ+ family member and/or their partner from family life
Pay attention to language: Language is a powerful tool to understand ourselves and connect with our environment. Pay attention and learn the words a person uses to describe their identity, such as their pronouns, or the words they use to describe their disability, religion, etc. If you are not sure how to refer to someone, the best thing you can do is ask. If you make a mistake, that’s fine; you can apologize and correct yourself. Having and showing an attitude open to learning is what’s most valuable. It is always better to ask than to assume.
A BIT ABOUT MY PERSONAL PATH
One afternoon, I was with my teenage sister, Sol, visiting my grandparents, Elvira and José. We were having some mates and an ice-cream cake, while casually catching up, when my grandparents asked my sister whether she had a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Their question caught my attention and I thought it was really sweet. My sister replied she didn’t have either one or the other and we kept talking about other topics. A few weeks later, that same simple question turned out to be very important to me, when I realized I was in love with a woman for the first time. When I started dating this girl, I felt comfortable sharing the news with my grandparents; their response was loving and supportive. My grandparents, Elvira and José, are great examples of LGBTQ+ allies. Long before I knew I was part of the LGBTQ+ community, a small gesture from my grandparents was very important, because it made me feel comfortable. They are still a great support for me nowadays, especially with those family members whose reactions were substantially different.
For me, once I realized I was part of an underrepresented community, I started looking at life through new lenses. I started paying attention and learning about diverse experiences and needs, such as those of the black and brown communities, people with disabilities, indigenous communities, and neurodivergent people, to name a few. However, this does not have to be the case for everyone. Actually, my grandparents do not belong to any underrepresented community and yet they are great allies.
My intention was that through this article you would learn infallible techniques that can be applied in your daily lives to make sure we respect all people in their diversity. I also added some simple notions that often escape us when we are in “automatic mode”.
I hope these tips have been useful for you to activate your empathy for every person you interact with, especially with the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups.
About the author
Lara Rivas is part of the Capacity team and an LGBTQ+ ambassador at intive. She is also an English-Spanish translator specializing in humanitarian translation.