Correction on Feb. 11: This story has been updated to reflect that the "What's Up with Whiteness" event held in January was hosted by the Deconstructing Whiteness Working Group, not the Women's Center.
Since Trump’s election in 2016, polarization and tension have been on the rise. With the increase in hate crimes in the United States, it is a great time to refresh our idea of what it means to be an ally and make sure we are doing our best to support minorities such as the LGBTQI community in 2020.
First and foremost, it is important to know what it means to be an ally to the LGBTQI community and why it matters. Being an ally means supporting those in marginalized groups you are not a part of.
Haley Wilson, the coordinator of the University of Oregon’s LGBTQI Education and Support Services, explained that it is more than this. “The concept of being an ally is more of a verb than it is an identity. If we view it as more of a verb, then we can see that when you have privilege in any identity, you have the choice to act or not in certain situations.”
Wilson also emphasized that learning how to be supportive to folks in and outside of your community is entirely advantageous and supportive to survival and progress.
UO offers many useful services concerning allyship and learning how to support others. One such service is the Queer Ally Coalition.
Camryn Schulz, a UO student and the Queer Ally Coalition coordinator, explains the coalition as a training for the community to be better allies for the LGBTQI community. Facilitators present on what pronouns mean and the different identities that people have in the community.
“The training allows you to learn more about intrapersonal support tools and how to take some of these tools into your respective departments or areas that you work in,” Wilson said.
Another program at UO is the Bridges Speaker Bureau, which is a panel program where members of LGBTQI groups can be a part of learning how to tell each other’s stories to organizations and classes. There was also the “What’s Up With Whiteness” event that was hosted by the Deconstructing Whiteness Working Group in January on how best to support and be allies to womxn of color.
Wilson said that the Women’s Center event was particularly important for folks in the LGBTQI community. “The movement as a whole is much more hospitable and supportive to white-identified folks. It is really important for LGBTQI people, especially if you are white, to be able to engage in that privilege so you can better show up and make a community that is safe for the people who created it, which are trans and gender non-conforming people of color.”
Along with all of these resources available at UO, there are a few things to keep in mind if you are someone who is trying to become a better ally.
It is important to learn how to take feedback from those in the community who you are learning to support. “It can be difficult to hear feedback, but it can also be really difficult to give feedback,” Wilson said. “Whenever we are in a place of privilege and someone who is marginalized is expressing that we harmed them in some way, it's really important to be able to hold emotional space for those feelings and not sink into wanting to explain intent.”
Schulz said another helpful part of listening to others is believing them. Listening to others talk about their experiences, believing them and taking in their feedback are all important skills to practice allyship.
Beyond that, knowing how to navigate pronouns and creating a space for them to be shared is crucial. “It is important to normalize sharing pronouns in all spaces because it’s creating a standard of carving out space for other people who have to navigate that all the time,” Wilson said.
The best way to create this space is to share your own pronouns in circumstances where you are introducing yourself. “The caveat to that is not to expect people to share their pronouns,” said Wilson, as there may be a reason they are uncomfortable doing so.
If you are not sure of somebody’s pronouns, a good way to find out is to simply ask, “How may I best refer to you?”
“If you don’t know, you can always use their name, especially if you are working out the muscle of using they/them/their pronouns,” Wilson said.
All of these resources and skills are useful for learning how to be a reliable and effective ally, but it is also critical to be mindful that everyone is different. “It's complex with every single relationship,” Wilson said. “How we feel best supported and seen is going to look a little different.”