Illustration by Leo Walton
Well fuck, it turns out being an LGBTTI+ ally wasn’t quite the Rubik’s Cube I was expecting it to be!
I’m still spelling Wednesday out loud as ‘wed-nes-day’ and see ‘ally’ as my friend’s name from primary school. All-in-all, I’m not overly surprised that I was pretty wrong with what I thought being an ally for the Rainbow community was.
I consider my knowledge of LGBTTi+ terminology about hand-in-hand with my phases of the moon knowledge; If I needed to whip out some info I’d be okay, but I wouldn’t stick my hand up about it in class or anything. If there was a discussion around allies, you might as well have just cut my hand off and given it to someone in better need of it because I knew nothing.
So, I did what any curious millennial in 2019 would do when they’re confused - I asked my Mum...I Googled it.
What does it mean to be an ally? Google told me it’s to “Combine for mutual benefit”. If I was a self-righteous wanker I’d say, ‘What’s mutual about giving support to a community’. I would have thought it should be a selfless act where you don’t expect anything back? But I know better than to sit around and have opinions based off sweet fuck all. So, I thought I’d ask people who knew more than I did.
I spoke firstly with Kate Aschoff from InsideOUT and then with Toni Duder from Rainbow Youth. Both of these organisations offer support, education and advocacy for queer, gender diverse and intersex youth.
Toni talked me through the basics: that being an ally is very malleable depending on what that particular person is comfortable with. She told me it all comes down to supporting those within the Rainbow community. “Being an ally means that you’re not afraid to advocate for people who are different than yourself, that’s all it means.” She said allyships also encompass those who don’t partake in any derogatory language.
It sounds to me like a lot of it centres around being inclusive and not being an asshole - things that some people struggle with more than others.
Kate Aschoff was also super helpful at educating my roadkill of a brain. Kate told me allyship is less about the mutual benefit in the typical sense, but about offering support outwards and knowing that if you needed support for whatever reason, you would have allies that would be there for you too.
I was a bit nervous to look into this topic as it does feel like there’s a lot of room for error. Identity is a huge topic that will sometimes be multifaceted and hard to get your head around, especially if you’re outside of the group and speaking on it - as I am now. I think those outside the Rainbow community sometimes avoid broaching these things altogether through fear of flat out getting it wrong. Kate was really understanding of this: “I think there’s a lot of pressure on people to get it right all the time and I don’t necessarily think that’s fair. I think it’s definitely a learning process and something that people need to be guided through and supported through.”
So where do we go from here? How do we start becoming successful allies? Toni is passionate about the education and conversations that need to happen in open spaces: “We need to focus less on different identities and more around what active allies look like.” She also says we need to have challenging conversations and figure out how to bridge any generational divides.
Before venturing into this piece, sheltered and ignorant me didn’t know what an ally was and I’d never thought it was something I needed to know about either. But there’s so much information and so many people available who can give us clarity. Often we’re just not having these conversations and not educating ourselves further. Kate really pushed this idea home. “I think there’s so many conversations we could and should be having but they happen when people are willing to listen and willing to share.”
It’s time to start talking. To your family, friends, Santa Claus, around the dinner table or in the Sensational Chicken line. It doesn’t matter where you start, but what does matter is that we do start learning. Be an ally, be ready to listen and ready to share. It’s easier than you think.
If you need support from the rainbow community:
Rainbow Youth firstname.lastname@example.org (09)3764155
Or InsideOUT email@example.com 0273314507