Should you claim that you’re an ‘ally’? It’s become commonplace to claim that you're an ‘ally’ to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, if you’re not a part of the community yourself. However, people often claim they are an ally because they challenge distasteful jokes, attend a Pride parade, or share the latest social justice campaigns that are trending on social media. While, yes, these are all valuable and commendable things to do, it’s important to stop and think about what being an ally really means. Using one-off moments to claim ‘allyship’ can undermine your message and what it really means to put in the work to be an ally.
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act in solidarity with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community
Being an ‘ally’ isn’t a button or pin you wear. It’s not an identity that you claim either. ‘Allyship’ is an ongoing practice that should be described based on your continual actions. Instead of saying, “I am an ally,” try saying, “I’m working in solidarity.” Or, more accurately, “I’m working in solidarity with this [social group] by taking these actions/steps.” Being specific about your actions and how you’re supporting the community is key here.
One of the core problems with “allyship” is that it is often centred around people who identify with the status quo rather than those who are actually part of the community. Although it’s admirable that you want to be supportive, sometimes it’s better to step back and let the community you’re trying to support take the spotlight. Try to step back and truly understand what the community is going through and how you can take actionable steps to support the community.
Ideally, the label of 'allyship' should be given to you by the community rather than you claiming it for yourself without any real action to back up your words. For example, suppose the community sees you working towards something and taking steps to educate yourself and stand in solidarity. In that case, they will feel your 'allyship.' You'll also feel more value in the meaning of 'allyship' in earning it, rather than giving yourself that title. 'Allyship' should not be preformative. Just because you have a pride flag at your desk, that doesn't make you an 'ally.' It's in the same sense of big corporations commoditizing the pride flag on their merchandise or showing up to the pride parade, to only put their logo on a float, and move on.
Often, people label themselves as an 'ally,' which is meaningless because it's not backed by action. Being an ‘ally’ is taking proven steps to help stand in solidarity with the community. Take a moment to think whether or not you're confronting your biases to support and advance 2SLGBTQIA+ people, or are you merely labelling yourself as a 'safe' person to be around? Then, show your support through actions rather than words.
actionable steps to allyship
What can you do to be an ‘ally’? One of the first steps you can take to become an ‘ally’ is recognizing and understanding your privilege. Although you may experience challenges in your life, you may also have privileges that make your life easier. This is especially important if you’re white, cis-gendered, and heterosexual because you align deeply with the status quo. So why recognize your own privileges? Because it can raise awareness about your advantages and disadvantages in society and it can help you challenge the norm. Can you find ways to use your own privilege to help amplify voices and allow the community to take a spotlight in places they might not have been able to occupy before? Always speak up, but never speak over the voices within the community.
When asking a person from a marginalized group to explain things, it’s asking them to take time away from advocating for themselves to educate you. There are so many different resources out there for you to educate yourself, from meetings to online to forums to a lot of research. You can find everything you need with a click of a mouse. If and when you do have questions, you can certainly reach out to someone within the community once you’ve already done your research. Always make sure that you keep on educating yourself and keep learning.
“When you step forward as an ally, you have to take that as a commitment and a responsibility. If you say you are an ally, that means you are educating yourself, and you are committed to truly listening when someone comes to tell you something, and not reacting and being on the defensive.”
- Oliva Baker, LGBTQ+ activist and advocate
allyship in the workplace
The best way to be an 'ally' within the workplace is to raise the voices of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community who are already in your workplace. Take some time to support and nurture the 2SLGBTQIA+ community within your company. This means mentoring them to be able to promote them into more senior positions. This will allow you to create a more diverse workplace and allows you to raise voices that may not have been heard before.
You can also start by creating a workplace that normalizes non-heteronormative and cis-gendered language. This is a huge step to make a workplace that is more inclusive to everyone. For example, instead of saying "you guys" or "hey guys" to refer to a group of people, try using terms such as "everyone," "all," "y'all," or "folks" — words that do not imply gender. In addition, do not perpetuate anti-2SLGBTQIA+ jokes or hateful language in the workplace. Let it be known that you will not stand for this behaviour and will not tolerate jokes or punch downs. Do not accept this kind of behaviour from anyone in the workplace, even if you think you're among friends.
Last by certainly not least, be willing to be uncomfortable. It's always difficult when our worldview is challenged, but listening and understanding with an open mind is always the best way to better yourself and help to stand in solidarity with the community. It's often quite tricky when our inherent biases and worldview are being challenged. Being uncomfortable is learning. Think of 'allyship' as something that you do, something that you make an effort to practice, rather than something that you are. It's not a label. It's a lifestyle.
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