Don’t just say it—do it
I heard what happened, that’s so shitty.
Do you wanna talk about it?
Allies are straight and cis people who want to help improve the world for LGBTQ people.
Allies actively support LGBTQ people and work to end homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
How to be an ally
Click to download our Tips to intervening on a homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic attack tipsheet.
1. Understand your privileges
This means learning what you might gain from homophobia, biphobia and transphobia—even if it’s challenging. Uncovering your own buried homophobia, biphobia or transphobia can be painful, but doing this helps you make better choices and live in line with your values.
- What do I believe about LGBTQ communities? Are some of these beliefs stereotypes?
- How does cis or straight privilege show up in my life? How does it benefit me? How do I feel about that?
- What other identities (ability, class, race, etc.) affect how my straight or cis privilege look?
- For example: A cis woman of colour might experience the same microaggressions as some trans women do, for example about being pretty for a brown or trans woman. Still, no one questions if she’s really a woman.
- Do I assume someone’s gender based on their appearance? If so, how? Do I make assumptions based on the gender binary, for example, that all men have penises or that women have higher voices or less facial hair?
When you want to ask an LGBTQ friend a question, pause and ask yourself:
- Why am I asking this question?
- Is my question pushy, rude or upsetting?
- Would I ask a cis or straight person the same question?
- Could I Google it instead?
- Am I leaving my friend the choice to not answer? For example, you might say: “It’s okay if you don’t want to answer me, but I was wondering—” or, “I don’t want to be rude, so let me know if this out of line—”
2. Support your LGBTQ friends
Learn to be a good listener and supporter.
- Offer to go with your trans friend to get medical care because you know it might be difficult for them.
- Hang out in LGBTQ-positive spaces so that your friends feel safe.
- Look for gender-neutral or single-stall bathrooms if you’re hanging with a trans or non-binary person.
- Make an extra effort to include your LGBTQ friends in your social activities.
- If you don’t have LGBTQ friends, think about why not.
3. Call out homophobia, biphobia and transphobia
Call out homophobia, biphobia and transphobia when you see it or hear it. Challenge LGBTQ invisibility and speak out against assumptions that hurt LGBTQ people. This can be scary and difficult, but it’s important.
It can be frightening to witness a verbal or physical attack against someone. Here are some tips on how to keep everyone as safe as possible.
"I work in security with a lot of straight cis males and sometimes I am the only female in the room. This can make it hard to speak out—especially when someone makes a 'joke' about 'trannies' or 'he-shes' and the whole room is laughing when I’m not. When I was asked if I found the joke funny, I stuck with what I believed in, even if that meant the guys didn't like me or were offended that I didn’t find their offensive 'joke' funny . I shot that shit down immediately and said "no, it wasn't funny actually." They responded by saying, "Don't worry we're not homophobic we're just playing around." Because I stuck up for what I thought was right, they think I have no sense of humor. But In my opinion how funny could it really be if people don't understand how hurtful it is?” – Rouchelle F
4. Take responsibility when you mess up
We all mess up. Remember, straight/cis privilege means that we might not always see the ways that we experience privilege. You don’t have to beat yourself up about it. Learn from your mistake and be open to getting feedback. Being humble goes a long way.
5. Take action!
- If you’re in high school, join a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA).
- Challenge policies that separate genders at your workplace or school. Ask for non-gendered uniforms and gender-neutral or single-stall bathrooms.
- Advocate for LGBTQ-inclusive sexual health education in your school.
- Ask for free anti-homo/bi/transphobia workshops for students in your school.
- Advocate for the right of trans women to be included in women-only spaces. Trans women are women, period.
- Create LGBTQ-inclusive spaces, or share resources about how to be LGBTQ-inclusive with people who are in charge of creating spaces.
- Share all of this information on your social media.
6. Get support
Noticing your straight or cis privilege might bring up feelings like guilt, shame, defensiveness, hopelessness and fear. All of these feelings are okay! Talk about these feelings with other straight or cis people, not with LGBTQ people. LGBTQ people have a lot on their emotional plates already and helping you feel better might be a lot of work.
7. Change your language
Shift your words so they're LGBTQ-inclusive. Use the language that people use to describe their own identity and their relationships, or ask how they would like to be referred to. Here are some ways to use gender-neutral language.
|Rather than saying…||Try this||Why?|
You can invite your boyfriend
You can invite your partner, sweetheart, date or significant other
Use language that doesn’t assume a partner’s gender.
Born a boy, biologically male, genetically male, “really” male, male-bodied
Assigned male at birth, designated male at birth, male-assigned at birth
Gender is social, not biological. A person’s biology doesn’t trump their gender identity. The phrase “assigned at birth” clarifies that gender is not in-born.
|Homosexual||LGBTQ, gay, lesbian, queer||Homosexual is a medical word that is outdated.|
Hermaphrodite is a highly offensive work and shouldn’t be used.
Tranny, he-she, it, she-male
These words are extremely offensive and should never be used by people who aren’t trans.
Intersex people, trans people
Use person-centred language. Use adjectives (they describe the person) and not verbs (they describe an action).
“The” operation, sex change operation, sexual reassignment surgery, gender reassignment surgery
Surgery doesn’t change a person’s gender, only their body. A person can be trans without having surgeries, so try to use language that focuses on how surgeries can be affirming rather than essential to trans identity.
Men and women, brothers and sisters, boys and girls
People of all genders, everyone, folks, siblings, children
Use language that includes all genders to be inclusive of trans and non-binary people.
Sexes aren’t opposite, since there are more than two.
8. Use the right pronouns
Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns. For example, if you’re talking about your friend Jordyn, you might say “she” or “her,” instead of saying “Jordyn” or “my friend.” Some people, including many genderqueer, genderfluid, agender and bigender people, prefer to be referred to by gender-neutral pronouns.
Two of the most common gender-neutral pronoun sets are:
- They/them: they smiled, I called them, their cat purred, it’s theirs, they like themselves.
- Zie/hir (pronounced zee/hear): zie smiled, I called hir, hir cat purred, it’s hirs, zie likes hirself.
Tips for using pronouns
- Don’t assume anyone’s pronouns. Listen to what they call themselves or avoid pronouns altogether. E.g. “Jordyn is having a party, I wonder what Jordyn would want me to bring?”
- Do not use pronouns associated with a trans person’s sex assigned at birth. Ask them what pronouns they use.
- If you’re asking what someone’s pronouns are, share yours too. Everyone has pronouns, including cis people.
- It can feel tricky using pronouns you’re not used to, but it gets easier. Practice out loud. E.g. “This is Jordyn, they’re really cool. I love their hat.” Check out this awesome game where you can practice pronoun grammar!
- If a friend changes the pronouns they use, check in with them about when and where it’s safe for them to use those pronouns. For example, a person might use they/them pronouns with their friends, but prefer he/him pronouns at work and at home.
- If you use the wrong pronoun for somebody, apologize and move on. Admit that you messed up, but don’t make it into a big deal.
What not to do as an ally
1. Don’t out LGBTQ people
Don’t tell anyone (including other LGBTQ people) that a friend identifies as LGBTQ unless your friend has told you it’s okay. Being outed may be dangerous for them. Even if your friend is out to a lot of people and in most places, it’s always safer to not disclose unless they give you explicit consent.
2. Don’t take on allyship as an identity
Being an ally is something you do, not something you are. The danger of thinking or saying you are an ally rather than acting as an ally is that it may become an excuse to avoid looking at your own hurtful behaviour—for example, telling people, “I’m an ally, so I can’t be transphobic!” True allies know they are sometimes transphobic, homophobic or biphobic and they stay aware of and accountable for that behaviour.
3. Don’t expect praise for being an ally
Nobody should get rewarded with praise or fame for doing what everyone should be doing in the first place. Allies aren’t in it to prove how awesome they are, they simply do the work to help make the world better.
4. Don't act like an expert on LGBTQ rights
LGBTQ people are disadvantaged in society because they often have less access to resources and power. If a straight or cis person takes the spotlight for LGBTQ rights, that makes the power imbalance worse.
Allies need to affirm that LGBTQ people are the experts on LGBTQ experiences. Allies use their privilege to grab the microphone and pass it on to LGBTQ people. The role of the ally is behind the scenes. If your GSA is having an event and you’re an ally, rather than hosting it, you could put up the posters, respond to mean or phobic social media posts and help with fundraising.
5. Don’t bail when things get rough
LGBTQ people have no choice but to deal with oppression. Allies get to choose how and if they want to intervene. It may be hard to speak out, but don’t retreat. When the stakes are high, you actually have the most influence.
6. Don’t distance yourself from other straight or cis people because you’re “woke af”
Challenging other straight or cis people is a big part of your job as an ally because they may listen to you more than to LGBTQ people. Unlearning oppression is a life-long task that you don’t graduate from.
7. Don't make it about you
If you’re taking up space with your feelings, then LGBTQ people have less space to talk about their feelings and experiences. Your feelings are real, but talk to other cis or straight people when you’re hurting. Allies support one another. Here are some not-so-great examples of allies centring their feelings:
- “It makes me feel bad when you call me cis.”
- “Look, I’m trying to remember your pronouns, but it’s hard. Stop judging me for getting it wrong.”
- “I thought we were friends? Why are we talking about this?”
- “We can’t hang out like we used to, you’re too sensitive now.”
- “It’s not fair that you’re telling me that I’m hurting your feelings. What about my feelings?”
"After my friend noticed that I changed my pronouns on Facebook, she asked me if I wanted her to use them too. I felt really supported in that moment, but after that I haven’t really felt much follow-through. She continues to use the wrong pronouns, she speaks to LGBTQ issues where she shouldn’t and she tells me she’s uncomfortable when I talk about LGBTQ issues because it feels like I’m criticizing her. When I try to explain how she could be more supportive, she tells me I’m alienating her as an ally. She talks about being the token straight person in my group of friends and says she understands LGBTQ issues, but I really need her to be more active. I need to know that even if I don’t communicate something nicely enough she’s not going to betray me and my friends." - Maya
- Allies work on themselves. They reflect on their straight or cis privilege, learn LGBTQ-inclusive language and pronouns, and take responsibility when they make mistakes.
- Supporting LGBTQ people means:
- Being in front of them to intervene during homophobic, biphobic or transphobic attacks.
- Being beside them to support their feelings when things are hard.
- Being behind them when they speak as experts on their own lives and experiences.
- Being an ally is something you do, not something you are. Allyship requires action.