What Is an Ally?
An ally is a person who supports LGBTQ+ people both personally and on a broader social level. This includes advocating for equal civil rights and gender equality, supporting LGBTQ+ social movements, and challenging prejudice, discrimination, and other antiLGBTQ+ occurrences in everyday life.
Many people think that the word “ally” can only describe people who do not identify as LGBTQ+, but this is not the case. People who identify as LGBTQ+ can be allies to others in the community who may have different identities. For example, a lesbian can be an ally to transgender people even though both are included under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.
- LGBTQ+ (LGBT/LGBTQ/LGBTQIA, etc.): This acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning and/or Queer. The ‘+’ indicates that other identities are also included, even though they may not be explicitly listed.
- Sexual Orientation: The type of sexual attraction a person feels towards others. Usually based on the gender identity of the people to whom they are attracted.
- Romantic Orientation: The type of romantic attraction a person feels towards others. Often (but not always!) correlated with sexual orientation.
- Gender Identity: The sense of being a certain gender, can include comfort (or discomfort) with physical anatomy and societal gender expectations. Gender identity exists independently from sexual and romantic orientation.
- Gender Expression: How a person manifests their gender identity. Includes manner of dress, hairstyle, speech style, and more.
- Gender Binary: Societal construct that divides gender into two distinct binaries (male/masculine and female/feminine) with associated gender roles and dictates that everyone must identify as either one or the other.
- Intersex: General term that refers to any of a number of conditions which result in a person being born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fit typical descriptions of male or female.
- Asexual: Describes a person who does not experience sexual attraction toward people of any gender. Sometimes shortened to "ace". The asexual spectrum includes asexual, demisexual, and grey-(a)sexual persons.
- Bisexual: Describes a person who experiences sexual attraction to people of their own gender and another gender. Sometimes shortened to "bi".
- Homosexual: Describes someone who is attracted only to people of the same gender. Seen by some as an overly clinical term. A homosexual person may prefer to use other terms, such as "lesbian" or "gay".
- Pansexual: Describes a person who experiences sexual attraction to people of all genders, or to whom gender does not significantly influence attraction. May be shortened to "pan".
- Transgender: Describes a person who does not identify as the gender assigned to them at birth. Includes people who do not identify within the gender binary (genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, etc.). Sometimes shortened to "trans".
- Cisgender: Describes a person who identifies as the gender assigned to them at birth.
*Note: The descriptions of sexual orientations listed here can also be applied to romantic orientations (aromantic, biromantic, etc.). 'Heteromantic' describes a person who only experiences romantic attraction to people of a different gender; analogous-but not necessarily identical- to heterosexual or 'straight'.
What Can I Do?
Listen and Learn. To be an ally, education and engagement are key. Ask questions of others, yes, but also do your own research. Make an effort to expand you knowledge and examine the intersections that form between identities.
Respect Identity. The brief list included in this pamphlet is far from comprehensive. There are as many identities as there are experiences. It’s okay if you aren’t familiar with them all. What matters is that you validate the identity that a person claims. Use language that acknowledges their existence, such as chosen pronouns.
Pay Attention to You. Accept that you will make mistakes. Be accountable, apologize sincerely, grow from it, and move on. A mistake is only a failure if the opportunity to learn is ignored for the sake of pride. Arrange time for recovery and self-care when times get tough.
Act. “Ally” is not an identity. “Ally” is an action. It is more than sharing an article on Facebook every now and then. Show up to events in your community. Speak up when it is not safe for others to do so. Amplify the messages of those who can speak but may not be heard. The impacts of your actions matter far more than the intentions behind them.
The LGBTQ Resource Center
19 University Place
LGBTQ Peer Counselors
(under Resources at above URL)
Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER)
Final note: One can and should also be any ally to people of color, disabled people, and other marginalized groups, not just LGBTQ+ people. Acknowledging intersectionality is important.
Courtesy of Generals’ Unity
Many thanks and all the love to inspiring people, especially Ma Purdy, who helped put this together by sharing their resources, knowledge, and insights.