By Audrey Ford, Eric Peterson, Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale, and Taylor Greene
June 11, 2019
Allyship is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals or groups of people. This June, a group of our Cook Ross LGBTQIA colleagues are sharing their guidance and tips on how to become a better ally for the LGBTQIA community in your workplaces and communities. This guidance will come out in two parts, with the next set on June 25th. Use these tips to challenge yourself, friends, families, and colleagues to build more open, stronger, and productive relationships.
Understand Your Privilege and Educate Yourself
To be an ally, you have to understand your own privilege and educate yourself! The privileges you possess as a straight ally may not expose you to some of the very real obstacles for members of the LGBTQIA community, so you need to do your homework. For example, are you aware that only 21 states in the U.S. prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity?
Seek out the work of LGBTQIA educational organizations, as well as authors, artists, film makers, etc. The more you know about the complexities of sexual orientation and identity, the easier it is to be a trusted and respectful ally. Gathering information from trusted sources like the ones listed here by GLAAD can help you ask better questions of your LGBTQIA colleagues and friends. Great questions to ask include, “How can I support you?”; “How can I get involved?”; and “How can I identify my own part in heterosexism?”
It’s also important not to assume one person can speak for the whole community, and don’t ask them to. If you ask your queer friend what she thinks, that is one queer woman’s perspective, not all queer people’s nor the LGBTQIA community’s perspective. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out her perspective, just recognize that she has a unique point of view that is only partially informed by her queerness. And certainly, don’t use her as a scapegoat if you get pushback from other community members.
Be sure to own your own growth and communicate your willingness to be respectfully called out when off target, but do not solely rely on your LGBTQIA friends or coworkers for feedback. It’s not up to your LGBTQIA family, friends, and colleagues to expend the mental and emotional energy to teach you when there are plenty of resources out there. Plus, any conversations you have with them will be much richer if they don’t have to first explain the basics.
Be Aware of Your Own Biases
Identify your blindspots. Use the tools linked above to educate yourself, and to learn from your community how you can best serve as an ally. Once you identify where bias lives for you, take action. For example, if you notice that you’re less knowledgeable about trans rights, read up on it. Own what privileges you benefit from as a cisgender person. Use someone’s correct pronouns. Fight for gender-neutral bathrooms at work or in your community. Address biased comments and actions when you see or hear them. Ensure that others know you value a respectful, caring, and welcoming workplace. No matter how small or big, you have a responsibility to investigate and disrupt your own biases.
Mind Your Language
Be aware of the biases that exist in your language use. Do not assume that everyone in your office is straight or uses binary pronouns. If you are unsure of the pronouns your colleague prefers to use, ask. If you accidently use the wrong one, apologize and like remembering someone’s name, get it right in the future. Do not share someone’s sexual identity or orientation for them. Understand that they may have shared it with you but not with everyone in the organization and it is not your place to tell others.
Check Your Ego at the Door
What are your motivations for being an ally? If you’re overtly concerned with appearance of support, then you’re not doing it right. If you’re in it for likes over learning, you might need to re-examine why you’re seeking to be an ally in the first place
Think about how you can leverage what you have to be of service to the LGBTQIA community. What intersecting identities or lived experiences do you have that could contribute powerfully to the movement or on an individual level? What resources do you have access to that might help? Do you have time to volunteer? Or it can be simple small things—like ensuring you’re not subconsciously engaging in microaggressions (assuming a woman’s partner is a man, for example).
We are extremely grateful for our allies and believe you are critical in moving our causes forward. That being said, true allyship comes from dedication, respect, and solidarity. Your solidarity should exist because you genuinely care about the LGBTQIA community, not because you’d like a constant outpouring of thank you’s or ally cookies. Together, we can make our communities and workplaces inclusive so everyone can bring their whole selves to work. Happy Pride Month!
Audrey Rose Ford is a queer womxn and serves as a Project Manager at Cook Ross. Audrey oversees all aspects of client engagements, ensuring high quality and timely deliverables. Audrey has held a variety of project management positions in both the for-profit and non-profit spaces, working in organizations as diverse as Microsoft and PBS NewsHour.
Eric C. Peterson, MSOD is a gay cisgender man who serves as Senior Consultant with Cook Ross Inc. He is a recognized facilitator and educator in the diversity and inclusion space with over 18 years of experience in Unconscious Bias, diversity and inclusion, learning strategies, and organization development.
Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale is a Principal Consultant with Cook Ross. She is an African American cisgender lesbian with more than 30 years of experience leading learning-based interventions in over 48 countries across 5 continents. She provides transformative consultation to organizations and leaders across industries including finance, manufacturing, technology, education, and healthcare.
Taylor Greene is an Instructional Designer with Cook Ross. She is a queer woman who applies her expertise in organizational culture, strategic communications, and branding to create customized solutions that meet the needs of each Cook Ross client.