The word Ally changed and developed in meaning extensively over the past few decades. Growing up when I thought of the word ” war” I thought of the word “ally” and as societal wars surrounding race, sexuality, gender, and mental illness the word ally has evolved to fit these wars as well. When coming out as a member of the LGBTQA community you can use all of the support and allyship that you can get from both within the community as well as outside of it. In this article, I will give a few tips on how to be a good LGBTQA ally in both of these ways. For the purposes of this article, I will be using the term queer in reference to members of the LGBTQA community as it is an umbrella term being taken back by the community. Queer can apply to anyone identifying as anything other than a CIS and/or heterosexual.
1. Confidentiality is Key
The first rule of being an LGBTQA Ally is not to out anyone without their consent. Ever. It is easy to think that it may fall in the person’s best interests and while there are many people out there that shout their pride from the rooftops, there are also still many people who are afraid to come out. This fear is solidified when you think of events like Stonewall and the Las Vegas shooting that are only two instances in which people were killed for being queer.
Whether they are afraid because they are in true danger, or just because they aren’t ready to say the words out loud it is important to always respect your friends’ wishes. After hundreds of years of discrimination queer people have earned the right to decide when it is time for them to tell people about their sexuality. If we lived in a perfect world no one would have to come out and there would be no fear or taboo that force even the safest of our community into the closet, but unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world and queer people still have every right to feel nervous or afraid to come out.
2. Be a Friend, Not an Investigator
On finding out that your friend is L, G, B, T, Q, A, or + you may have a few questions. It may feel like it is your opportunity to understand your own sexuality, or to become a better ally by learning more, or maybe even just to be a little bit nosy and fulfill all of your deepest curiosities. While all of this is commendable and understandable, remember that this is about your friend’s experience not yours. It is important to remember that your friend is not your educator, and that they are looking to you for support in this situation not to play 20 questions. While it is perfectly reasonable for you to have questions, I recommend turning to google after a friend comes out to you. While at first it is fun to answer everyone’s gay questions, it often becomes exhausting and can begin to feel like the sole piece of someone’s identity. Your friend may never tell you this, but eventually they will get tired of answering the questions that could be found with a simple google search.
For people who are a part of the LGBTQA+ community, you probably understand this feeling as well, but it can be easy to fall into this habit when you meet friends with identities that differ from yours. Always remember to be sensitive and empathetic towards the experience of fellow queer people. We have a community for a reason, so that there is a safe place where we can live and breathe without having to answer a million questions about what it is like to be queer. Make sure not to take away the benefit of that space from anyone else.
3. Act Natural
One of the biggest fears that a queer person faces is coming out to someone and seeing the way they are viewed by that person change before their eyes. An important thing to remember when a friend comes out to you is that nothing has to change. While a queer person may understand that their sexuality does not define them, friends and family often have a difficult time understanding this. Being queer is not a person’s entire personality, when they come out to you nothing has changed, it is no different than if your friend told you that they have a birthmark that you have never seen. The birthmark was always there, you just didn’t know about it. The best way to be a good LGBTQA ally to your friend is to acknowledge their feelings and then move on. Show your support by not changing the way that you treat your friend because your friendship has not changed. In fact, nothing at all has changed. Sexuality does not influence changes in your friend’s personality any more than your most recent crush changed yours.
Questions to Ask your Friend When they Come out:
“How was your day?”
“Did your crush talk to you today?”
“Did you do the homework?”
“Are you bringing a date to the party this weekend?”
4. It’s Not All About You
Along the thread of questions that are alright to ask your queer friend, one that an LGBTQA ally should NEVER ask is ” Do you have a crush on me?” We all know that stereotype of the Gay Friend falling in love with the Straight Friend and it changing their friendship forever, but as previously mentioned no queer person wants their sexuality to change their life. 9 times out of 10 your friend is not coming out to you under the impression that the two of you will fall madly in love or even hook up.
A friend comes out because it is no fun to hide your crushes and relationships from the people that you are closest to. All you need to do to be a good LGBTQA ally to them is FOCUS on them. They are going through an extremely stressful experience and they may need a little extra support, so instead of thinking about how this revelation may affect you, think about how you can minimize the negative experiences that your friend might encounter. Nothing is more comforting than knowing that you are not facing this life-changing experience alone.
As an LGBTQA member trying to be an ally to other identities this same rule applies, other identities will face different struggles than you did. Try not to make their new experience about your past experiences. It is important to share what you know without forcing them to sit through a therapy session about your coming out process. Try to ask some open-ended questions about why their experience is unique from yours
Open-Ended Questions to Ask Without Making the Conversation About Yourself as an LGBTQA ally
“How are you feeling about coming out?”
“Is there anything that could help you feel more comfortable?”
” Is there anything that would make you feel safer?”
5. Be Positive, Not Pushy
Probably the most important thing to do as an LGBTQA Ally is to never push anyone to do anything. Do not push your friend to come out. Do not push your friend to date. Do not even push them to talk about their sexuality. Being queer can be hard and scary and the process of coming out to anyone at all let alone coming out to enough people to start dating is something that takes time. Every queer person has the right to choose when they do these things. What you can do as an LGBTQA ally is encourage them as you would any other friend. Ask them if they have any crushes, how they are doing at home, what they want to wear to the formal next month. All of these things can be issues in a queer person’s life that they are afraid to talk about for fear of pressure and judgment. When your friend answers these questions choose to be positive and not pushy. Don’t tell them what they should do, but highlight the positive outcomes in whatever they choose to do.