Allyship is a word we hear and use often in reference to LGBTQ communities and LGBTQ inclusion – but it’s not specific to that group. Today I’m going to explore what the word means and why it’s important for furthering inclusion, equity, diversity and social justice.
To be an ally means to align yourself with someone else in their struggle. Which implies you are not a member of the group you are supporting. So, straight allies support LGBQ communities, cisgender allies support transgender communities, white allies support communities of colour, male allies support women, etc.
Privilege is an important component of allyship
You’ll notice that in the equity and inclusion context, it’s identities of privilege that support their marginalized counterpart. This is critical for three reasons:
- Sometimes we are more receptive when someone points out an injustice done to others, not themselves – because it’s not personal. It allows us to hear and see the issue, rather than seeing it as an unreasonable complaint. Remember that since we are talking about marginalized identities, sometimes injustices are not seen as such – they are seen as normal, or ‘the way it is’, so when someone NOT of that group shines a light on these we can begin to see the inequity.
- When we have privileged identities, we have more social power. So, our voices and our opinions are more likely to be heard, and are taken more seriously. That means we can move the needle forward for others.
- We lean in to those we even think we have something in common with. This means there is the possibility that we are more open to listening, listen more intently, and give what is said more weight when it comes from someone like us (or who we think is like us). Add the above two points and you have a hat trick for allyship.
Allies speak out against injustice
When you deal with inequity on a daily basis, the struggle is real. That often doesn’t leave room for trying to change the system, and can also can leave one exhausted. Allies are important because, as mentioned above, they have the power, the visibility and the voice to help shine a light on injustice and help to raise awareness, start conversations, and create change. We often think of allies in the context of protests, making noise at a political level and advocating on a large scale. Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globe Awards in 2017 is a great example of big allyship.
But the role of an ally is just as (maybe even moreso) crucial on a “smaller” every day scale. In the lunchroom, on the school bus, on the transit, at work…places where people are treated unfairly, bullied, stereotyped, and often harmed physically and emotionally.
Allies have a role to play any time someone is being treated inequitably and unjustly – by speaking up or stepping in the moment. Providing support. Letting someone know they are not alone. Letting others know that what is happening is not acceptable. In so doing we intervene in situations that are unsafe and unfair, hoping to change the outcome for the individual – but also create the opportunity to help others realize that what is happening is wrong. Allies are role models that can inspire others to be allies.
And you don’t need a cape, or a phone booth in which to change into a superhero.
Allies are everyday heroes
All you need is awareness, courage, and a willingness to step outside of your own world for a moment, see what is happening for another, and shine a light, lend a hand, speak up or step in….
Sometimes we don’t speak up or step in when we think we ‘should’ or could. There are many reasons for that including fear, and our own sense of safety. Those are both real considerations. But allyship isn’t only about stepping in – or forward – in the moment. It’s also about circling back, about support, about listening, and about helping to create systemic change (which is often quiet at first, and requires some strategy). Here is a great example of this at the Board of Directors level through 30% Club Canada.
How to be an Ally…
And finally there are some things to consider about how to be an ally. I have created the acronym ROAR, and I wrote about the parts last year. You can find those posts here (week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, week 5).
I have also written an e-booklet about Learning to ROAR. If this interests you, please send me an email with ROAR in the subject line, and I will send it to you (firstname.lastname@example.org).