People holding LGBTQ flag

How to Be an LGBTQ Ally

Highlights

  • An LGBTQ ally supports the rights of people regarded as sexual or gender minorities. 
  • Being a good LGBTQ+ ally means taking action against discrimination and for inclusion.
  • It’s your responsibility as an ally to educate yourself on LGBTQ+ issues. 
  • Small steps, like making monthly donations, can make a big difference. 

Being an LGBTQ ally has become popular on social media. People add rainbow flags to their profile photos and post “I’m an ally” statements. But allyship is so much more than declarations. It’s about supporting people’s basic human rights even if you don’t belong to a discriminated group.

Who’s an LGBTQ+ Ally?

LGBTQ+ allies are people who support the rights of those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning. The plus sign at the end of the acronym stands for the ever-expanding range of gender and sexual identities.  

Can you become an ally if you’re a heterosexual, cisgender man (meaning you were assigned male sex at birth and you identify as a man)? Yes! Anyone can stand for equality and against discrimination. 

Why would you want to declare yourself as an LGBTQ+ ally? Some people just can’t tolerate injustice. Others have friends or loved ones who identify as LGBTQ+. Most allies want to live in a fair world where we are free to love whomever we want and live however we wish. 

Being an LGBTQ+ Ally

The key to being a good LGBTQ+ ally is taking action. The smallest gesture is more meaningful than empty declarations or a rainbow badge on your profile photo. Depending on your location, standing up for the rights of marginalized people may take courage and readiness to face negative comments or even violence. 

There’s no definitive guide to allyship, but here are a few tips to get you started.

Women laughing
You can be an LGBTQ+ ally at your workplace or campus

Get Curious

It’s natural to be interested in how other people think and act. But the LGBTQ+ community is tired of being treated like circus curiosities. It’s your job as an ally to get educated first before you ask them questions. 

There are many great resources, such as books and videos explaining all aspects of LGBTQ+ identities. Here are some basic points to research:

  • Difference between gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.
  • What’s gender transition and the different choices trans people make around it.
  • State and national laws related to gender and sexual identity.

Ask To Understand

As an ally, you have the right not to know certain things. A common concern is using the right names and pronouns. A rule of thumb here is to respect the language choices of a person you’re talking to. 

Some of the pronouns you’ll hear may sound weird and ungrammatical. It’s OK — you can ask someone to give you an example of how to use them in a sentence. 

When talking to a trans person, try not to ask what their “real name” is (meaning the name they were given at birth). Go with what they want to be called today. 

Keep in mind some issues are very sensitive. Before you ask a question, think if you would ever ask the same thing of a cisgender or heterosexual person (for example, what their genitals look like or how they have sex). If you’re curious, look for answers in books and educational films. 

Understand Your Privilege

For thousands of years, being heterosexual and cisgender was the only accepted way of living. Those of us who have never been in the shoes of someone identifying as LGBTQ+ may take our privileged position for granted. Something so obvious as holding hands with your partner in the street may put a person at risk of violence (or severe punishment in some countries). 

In America, many people face double or multiple marginalization. For example, if you’re a trans person who happens to be a person of color, you’ll have more challenges than someone who is cisgender and white.

To be a good ally, learn not to make assumptions about others. When talking to friends or coworkers, avoid suggesting that being heterosexual or cisgender is the norm. For example, if someone who identifies as a woman says they are in a relationship, don’t ask, “What’s his name?”. Ask, “What’s your partner’s name?” instead. 

Young man and woman talking
A good LGBTQ ally asks to understand

Use Your Influence

The best LGBTQ+ allies are the ones who make positive change happen. Use your influence to push for new regulations that serve everyone, including those treated as gender and sexual minorities. 

But before you propose something, double check that this is what the LGBTQ+ community really needs. Things you’ve not thought about, such as gender-neutral restrooms in the workplace, can make all the difference and help educate others around you. 

Whenever possible, invite LGBTQ+ people to have a say at the table. Invite them to panel discussions and let them speak on their own behalf. Sometimes being an ally means taking a step back and giving others the opportunity to be visible. 

Parenting as an LGBTQ+ Ally

If you have children, even if they are still small or have not come out as LGBTQ+, you can become a role model of allyship for them. Read books about diversity and equality together. Encourage your kids’ self-expression — let them wear whichever colors they want and make friends of all genders. 

Make sure to let your child know that you will always love them. Don’t panic if they begin to question their own identity. If you feel anxious about it, get professional help. Talk to a child or adolescent development psychologist to understand how gender and sexual identity are formed and how you can be there for your child. 

Support With Your Wallet

Some people say being an ally is a lot of work and they don’t have time for it, but that’s not true. Remember, good allyship means taking action. If you can’t invest time in LBGTQ+ activism, consider supporting the cause financially. 

Here are some ways you can help:

  • Make a monthly donation to an LGBTQ+ organization.
  • Buy at queer-owned bookstores, cafes, and shops.
  • Support politicians who champion LGBTQ+ rights at the local or national level.
  • Hire people from marginalized groups.

Resources for LGBTQ Allies

Being an ally means constantly educating yourself about LGBTQ+ issues. Visit a local group or diversity office and ask about recommended reading. You’ll find handy guides on the GLAAD website. Another great site to visit is PFLAG, especially if you’re a parent or family member of an LGBTQ+ person.

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