Monday, November 29, 2010

Give A Gift, Be An Ally

Time is flying quickly. Thanksgiving has passed and the end-of-year holidays will be here before we know it. Even though I'm personally trying not to "deal" with the holidays just yet, I'm reminded that this is a time of year when a lot of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people choose to come out to their family or friends for the first time. I want to use my few paragraphs here today to celebrate that fact, but also to offer a bit of advice and a few resources to those who may unexpectedly find themselves in the position of being an ally this holiday season.

Make no mistake: to be an ally and supporter to an "out" person is a valuable gift--one that no monetary purchase can ever hope to equal. I believe that the simple words "I love you" and "I support you" can go a long way toward making someone feel at ease to be themselves around you. Don't underestimate how important such a simple and FREE offering can be.

The news lately has been peppered with stories of young people who've fallen so far from a feeling of acceptance that they've resorted to taking their own lives because of bullying or fear related to being gay, bi or trans. Each and every one of these stories breaks my heart. I want to do my part to stop these tragedies from occurring, because I believe every person, regardless of his/her sexuality, is special and beautiful and has meaning in the world.

I've considered myself an ally for many years now, and I've struggled with sexuality in my own ways, and in the midst of that I've learned a few simple tricks allies can employ that might help people feel comfortable to "come out" to you:

  • Consider using gender-neutral language as much as possible when talking about romantic relationships (i.e. substitute "partner" for "boyfriend" or "girlfriend," even when you know the sex/gender of the person you're referring to)
  • Along the same lines, ask broadly-definable questions (i.e., "Are you seeing anyone?" as opposed to "Met any nice guys lately?" or "Do you have a girlfriend?"
  • When appropriate, make reference to your support of issues like same-sex marriage, ordination of gay clergy, anti-bullying, or your beliefs on equality, sexuality or human rights. Alternately, be open-minded and willing to engage different opinions even when expressing opposition to or questions about such issues.
  • Honesty is important: if you can speak about your own struggles, and express your own questions and doubts, other people will respond in kind.

Also, here are some organizations and quick-link resources for people who are or wish to become allies:

Do you know of other resources for allies? Have you had any experience being an ally, or drawing on the support of allies? What has been helpful for you?

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