Lately, there seems to be a lot of talk about whether one can or should call oneself an ally. Who gets to speak up for LGBT equality? What voices should be heard? Silenced? Made space for? A few weeks ago, Rachel Held Evans shared a link to an article entitled “10 Tips for Being a Good Ally.”
I read the article and squirmed in my chair a little. The author, Bruce Reyes-Chow, has a lot of good points, including using the term “ally” sparingly and making sure it is not an empty identifier—one in which we can claim, feel good about ourselves, and then sit back on our heels.
Was he talking to me?
As a fellow ally to the LGBT community, Reyes-Chow questions the place of the non-marginalized speaking for the marginalized. His writing leads me to think about some important questions and wrestle with some uncomfortable feelings.
I find myself asking:
Can only women speak to feminism? African Americans to racism? Immigrants to the American Dream? The poor to income disparity and poverty? LGBT individuals to marriage equality and/or homophobia in the Church?
Well, yes. Wait. No! Maybe? To be completely honest, I struggle with this question and others similar to it.
How do we know when to speak up and when to yield the speaking floor?
In the “About” page of my blog, I call myself an “ally.” Is this a title I deserve? Is it one I’ve earned, one I strive to be, or just an empty label, a self-congratulating identifier? What does it mean and what do I mean when I call myself an “ally”?
While the term likely means slightly different things to each of us, when I call myself an LGBT “ally,” I mean that I will:
- Speak out when I can. I will write what is on my heart and speak to those who might be willing to listen. I will be willing to listen, to read, to think, to act. I will be willing to try to do all these things and more.
- Identify myself as a safe person. I will wear my Believe Out Loud pin on my church name badge. I will wear purple on Spirit Day. I will continue to look for other ways in which I can communicate a message of support.
- Try to help dispel the misinformation and misconceptions. I will participate in book studies and engage in sometimes difficult conversations—at times challenging my own relationships with friends and family. I will try to confront stereotypes and myths as I encounter them.
- Advocate for just laws when possible. I will tweet, write, and call my senator. I will hand out postcards to build awareness and support for just laws. I will say “Yes” when given the opportunity to sit down in my state representative’s office with members from my faith community in support of marriage equality. And I will rejoice when he is one of three republicans who votes YES and marriage equality passes in my home state of Illinois.
- Share and “like” affirming statements on social media. I will try not to hesitate or wonder what others might think, because it is not about me.
- Try to be a bridge, or at least be on the bridge. Ultimately, it is not my voice that needs to be heard, but if I can help bring someone in and convince them to sit down and listen to the LGBT voices that need to be heard, then that will be my goal.
But, I must also admit that as an “ally,” I will:
- Make mistakes. I will use the wrong term, make an ignorant assumption, and say hurtful things, even if unintentional. I will presume, assume, and feel too proud of the too little I’ve tried to do.
- Not always know when to write and when to yield the floor. After watching movie Frozen, twice, I could not help but think about how this movie could be an anthem for LGBT folks. The English major in me was making all the parallels and seeing all the layers in the story. But it was not my story to write. It was Justin Lee’s. And he wrote it well. But, I will not always know when to wait for someone else to write the story and when to write the story.
- Lack the necessary courage at times. I will not always challenge homophobic comments made on Facebook, on the news, or even in conversations with family and friends, and for this I am deeply sorry.
- Stand in the wrong place at the wrong time. In trying to stand in solidarity, I will step on toes, stand in front (when I should be behind) and not always know my place.
- Struggle with when, how, and if to call myself an “ally.”
Maybe there is a better word. Maybe I, maybe we, could say we’re “affirming” or we’re “progressive” or we’re not that kind of Christian. Or, maybe we should leave off any identifiers all together and try to let our actions speak louder than our words.
Well, yes. That would be ideal, but it’s complicated.
While I realize that “ally” is a name that I must work toward, I also know that it is a signal.
And, for this time, I will continue to use it. I will continue to use it because, despite the changing tides, those identified as “Christians” or “people of faith” are often more likely to fall somewhere on the spectrum between outright homophobia and “loving the sinner, hating the sin.”
When I say “ally,” I mean I am Christian, and I believe God loves you if you are gay, straight, bi, male, female, transgender or cisgender.
When I say “ally,” I mean I am Christian, and I affirm your committed relationship just as I hope others would affirm mine.
When I say “ally,” I mean I am Christian, and I know that I have a lot of my own sin to deal with, and maybe you do too, but our innate sexuality is not one of them.
When I say “ally,” I mean I am Christian, and I see worth and dignity in you as I hope you might see it in me.
So, yes—I’m Holli. I’m trying to be a good Christian, and I’m trying to be a good ally.
Until those two words are one in the same, I will continue to try to walk this jagged line, stumbling all the way.
How and when do you use the term “ally”? How do you identify as LGBT affirming in different situations? To LGBT folks, how can we best be allies? How can we identify ourselves as affirming without being presumptuous?
Thank you, friends, for your grace.
Originally published by Holli Long; Image via Holli Long