Recently, I have been thinking about what it means to be an Ally. My contemplation has been prompted by others' misunderstanding of this notion, which lies in believing that if one supports gay rights or accepts trans people or generally approves of LGBTQIA individuals in our heteronormative and cisnormative society, then one can be considered an Ally. Although one can wish it were the case, support and acceptance are only the first steps. The gist of being an Ally is action.
Members of marginalized populations are typically the ones fighting for their rights and advocating for themselves. For example, LGB individuals may speak up for freedom to marry; trans individuals may speak up for name change on their birth certificates; LGBTQ individuals may step up to protect their fellows from violence or hate crimes. However, those who truly hold power are White, heterosexual, cisgender males. They are the ones who created our system, they are the ones who keep the system in place, and they are the ones whose voices are being heard. That, of course, is so until some of them decide to change the system. Some historical examples include the abolishment of slavery, when White people supported underground railroads and freedom papers; or emancipation proclamation that was written and implemented by White, male federal government. If you are privileged to be born heterosexual and cisgender, you have a responsibility on your shoulders - a responsibility to take some kind of action that would speak on behalf of LGBTQIA individuals and prompt change. Certainly, the same principle applies to any marginalized population.
There are various things counselors can do to take action:
- Meet with other counselors to discuss issues in the community that affect disadvantaged populations (e.g., the rate of recent hate crimes, availability of safe spaces, etc.).
- Send letters to representatives or speak to them on the phone to support a proposal that benefits disadvantaged populations.
- Create YouTube videos to increase awareness and encourage others to take action as well.
- Propose gender neutral bathrooms in your office or building.
- Go to colleges or universities and educate counselor students, social work students, medical students, and law students on the issues in the real world, as the textbooks may not introduce them to what is happening in the community at that time (e.g., medical students may not know that there is a dire need for professionals, who are aware of trans issues, such as hormone treatment, options for reconstructive surgery, etc.; law students may not know specifically how some parts of legislation disadvantages certain populations in their state).
There is no need for any grand action, unless one prefers something grand. Any action that is aimed toward change is enough. Some of us may choose to create safe spaces themselves; others may choose to simply educate someone, who is clearly oblivious to the issues plaguing disadvantaged populations. Being an Ally is risky, because Allies face rejection and judgment from others. I have lost friends and even my dearest family members because of my active support and dedication to the well-being of LGBTQIA individuals. However, I also know that if I chose to stay quiet and remain in my safe hub, I would inadvertently perpetuate ignorance, which often leads to abuse, discrimination, and violence.
Evelyn Pavlova is a counselor and an Ally, whose preferred population is LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, invisible minority, asexual, and ally) individuals. Her areas of interest are eating disorders, mood disorders, mindfulness, and spirituality.