Words and illustration by Melissa Santos
When it comes to the LGBTQ community, to become a society that is accepting and understanding without exception, we must educate ourselves, listen and be visibly supportive; but how many of us are actually proactive in this? Unapologetically gay politics student from Queen Mary University of London, Mitchell Clark, helps to shed some light on the true meaning of being an ally and what society can do better.
Unfortunately, homophobia and hate crimes are still prominent in 2018. Certain times and places become more dangerous if you’re gay, trans or queer, as normal acts of love and affection can lead to acts of violence and terror. Being in a position of privilege, when something isn’t within your reality, it’s easy to forget that it is somebody else’s. Discrimination can be a part of everyday life. One in five LGBTQ people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months according to Stonewall Youth. With statistics as high as this it’s paramount cisgender (cis – a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth) people understand how they can help prevent this and support the community. In this age where this homophobia exists, it is also important LGBTQ can uplift and empower each other, recognising the significant figures in their lives.
“Some of the most important LGBTQ people in my life would have to be my other gay friends. They have been hugely important due to the lessons I’ve learn from them on what it is to be a gay man that was different to the stereotypes I had seen whilst growing up. Through shared experiences, they have been extremely supportive with relationships and sex, often teaching me things that sex education and school should have covered.”
Being an ally goes beyond just being friends with somebody gay. More often than not cis people can do more damage than they realise with passing comments such as “I want a gay best friend to go shopping with” reinforcing stereotypes. Stereotyping gay men and other members of the LGBTQ community prevents people from seeing them as individuals. It’s important to not add pressure with any preconceptions and allow members of the LGBTQ community to be who they want to be.
“For someone to be an ally there needs to be authenticity in your motives. You need to be able to listen, take criticism and not take personal offence when someone calls out homophobia. But at the same time as an ally, and anyone, you are entitled to an opinion and I believe that people should be able to voice that opinion. Just make sure that opinion is routed in facts and don’t be offended if an LGBTQ person calls out homophobia. Cis people can make a difference by looking at what gender actually is. We have the privilege of our genders aligning to our natal sex and will never truly understand what it feels like to be trapped in the wrong sexed body. Try to understand how gender is a social construction and because of that people hold the right to identify how they choose. You need to understand that one in nine black trans women will die due to murder simply because they’re being who they are. No one will subject themselves to that statistic through choice. Even if you don’t agree, there is such a thing as transgender or non binary identities, let other people be free to make those choices for themselves.”
There is so much information available to us, such as LGBT foundation, Stonewall, LGBT History Month and The Proud Trust that give information and support surrounding LGBTQ issues. Moving forwards in the future, there is opportunities for growth within society to offer more support and understanding about what has been socially constructed that has led us to buy into particular stereotypes and ideals about gender and sexuality.
“I’d like to see more progression to remove gender as an identity or category because I believe the binary system of gender is an oppressive system in itself. I believe the categorisation of man and woman from masculinity and femininity is entirely and socially constructed as no person is explicitly masculine/feminine, therefore not biologically determined. Gender as a classification or fixed identity is damaging not only to the LGBTQ community, who innately reject the gender binary on the merit of the rejection of compulsive heteronormative, but also women whose oppressive performance of being a woman, which routed in the social construction of what we are lead to believe the ‘woman’ to be.”
Ultimately, all that is asked of cis people is to simply listen and understand. LGBTQ people will experience shocking levels of hate crimes and discrimination in their lives and as a society, we can and will do better. When thinking about allyship, also keep in mind the diversity of the LGBTQ community. They are often people of colour, different faiths and differently abled. Allies help to create an accepting, understanding and all-round inclusive environment for the LGBTQ community. Practicing and carrying this through personal life to professional life means we develop allyship in the system; creating the safety and trust the LGBTQ community needs from society.