What Does it Mean to be an Ally?

Identity is ever-changing, it may be difficult to understand where you stand and that is totally okay! Sexuality and gender are fluid, the most important part is letting yourself explore and learn what you feel the most comfortable with. With that being said even if you don’t find yourself within the LGBTQ+ spectrum there are always ways to be a supporter, better known as an ally.

In this article, we’ll tackle what it means to be an ally and how you can support those in the LGBTQ+ community. 

What does being an ally mean?

The exact definition of the word ally in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “one that is associated with another as a helper; a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity or struggle.” Now put that into the perspective of supporting those within the LGBTQ+ community. Someone who considers themselves to be an ally directly supports and brings awareness to issues and problems surrounding these oppressed communities.

An ally steps up for those who might not have a voice. Because of their circumstances, they are able to speak for a community that needs visibility or support. Allyship is building trust and accountability with LGBTQ+ members and listening to what they need and want. 

Being an ally does not equal a sentiment. An ally goes beyond just saying “I support the LGBTQ+ community,” they demonstrate their support through actions and actively try to better learn the experience of those who are persecuted. There is a big difference between performative activism and being an ally, it is important to ensure you are being proactive.

History of the word ally

The word genderqueer itself comes from the Latin word alligare, meaning “to bind to” as well as the Old French word alier which means to “combine, unite.” Although the word “allyship” has been around since the 1800s it of course did not carry the same definition we know today. It more so referred to uniting forces or groups. 

It wasn’t until the late 90s and early 2000s that we see the word being used in reference to supporting the LGBTQ+ community. During this time groups such as the Gay Straight Alliance which is a student-led or community-based organization helped popularize the usage of the word. 

In 2020, the word ally began to change. Because of some of the tragic events that began to come to light such as the murder of George Floyd the word ally began to refer to allies of marginalized communities due to racial injustice. The word ally now carries a very political connotation that is well-recognized within society. 

Alternatives to the word ally

Although the word ally is pretty recognized and generally hardly misunderstood, some might use alternative words to describe an ally. Here are a few. 

  • Supporter
  • Affiliate
  • Friend

What makes someone an ally?

As mentioned above an ally is someone who proactively acts upon their support. Just because a person is supportive of a community or is not discriminatory towards them does not make them an ally. It is also important to remember that an ally does not mean you should always assume that marginalized people “need help” it instead means that you are listening to their needs and then acting upon that because you have the power and privilege to do so. 

An ally does not center the attention of said communities on themselves. They are instead trying to shift the awareness and visibility onto communities that might not be getting their voices heard. A good ally is always listening to those who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community and constantly updating their thinking. Because sexuality and gender is ever-changing and new labels and identities come up it is important to understand that being an ally means keeping up and supporting these changes. 

It is no secret that an ally is someone who is well-educated on the issues that marginalized communities face. On top of being educated, an ally takes this a further step by then acting upon it and finding ways to help support the LGBTQ+ community. If they notice there is a protest, they join, if a petition needs to be signed, they sign it, and most importantly if someone needs a friend they are there for them. 

How to be a proactive ally

Now that you know what being an ally means, you might be asking yourself, how do I put this into action? Below you can find a couple ways in which you can be a proactive ally and stray far away from performative activism. 

  • Educate yourself: The best way to understand where someone is coming from or begin to even comprehend the hurt they feel is to educate yourself on the history of their oppression. The LGBTQ+ community has been through a lot. From persecution to rights being taken away from them, this community has been tirelessly fighting. In addition there are a variety of new gender identities, sexualities and pronouns. If you are new to these ideas and would like some clarification you can visit our website to learn more. 
  • Donate Time and Money: Many LGBTQ+ organizations are new and need financial support to help those who might be endangered or need a safe space. If you have the financial means to do so this is a direct way to help. If you don’t have the financial means necessary that is completely okay and there are other ways to help such as donating your time. Attending protests, events, and organization meetings are all ways in which you can make visibility and awareness possible for the LGBTQ+ community. If you need some help deciding what organizations to support we have a couple of suggestions here
  • Be Vocal: Calling out bad behavior when it is occurring can be highly effective. There are many members of the LGBTQ+ community that are unable to speak up for themselves because of a dangerous situation, being able to speak up and address negative situations can help ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future. Being vocal also goes for signing petitions, protesting, and boycotting companies and organizations that negatively affect the LGBTQ+ community. 

The ally flag

Although the creator of the straight ally flag is unknown, it was first seen in the early 2000s where it was waved at various pride events. The flag represents unity and the inclusive world that allies fight for with the LGBTQ+ community. Below you will find what the colors and symbols of the flag represent. 

  • Letter A: Stands for the word ally. 
  • Black and White: Represents the straight flag. 
  • Rainbow Colors Within the ‘A’: Represents the LGBTQ+ community. 

Bottom Line 

All people are deserving of respect, regardless of gender, sexuality, or any other aspect of their identity. Understanding what it means to be an ally is critical. Being a good ally means that you are listening to the community, not ever assuming that they need help, but there for them when they do need it. 

A fight for a more inclusive world is a fight worth fighting for. Something as simple as calling someone out for using a derogatory term can help bring awareness and visibility to the LGBTQ+ community. There is always something you can do to help rid our world of oppression. 

The best definition of an ally is someone who is a good friend. Someone trusted and compassionate. Be vocal, spend time educating yourself, and be a listening ear for those within the community. Being a proactive ally goes a long way in terms of supporting a marginalized community. Not every person has the voice to speak up for the issues they might be going through. 

In addition, be sure to learn about the other identities that make up the LGBTQ+ community subscribe to the INTO newsletter to learn more.

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