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Allyship Development

The material on this page has been adapted from the hard work of individuals at the School of Social Work at Tulane University, LGBTQ at Ohio State, and the UCLA LGBTQ Campus Resource Center. We are grateful for their work and diligence.

What is allyship?

Allyship is an active and consistent practice of self-examination, critical thinking, awareness, education, and action. Those who engage in allyship are often in a position of heterosexual and/or cisgender privilege and power; they seek to acknowledge that privilege and use that power to reject discrimination, take action to eliminate the marginalization of others, and educate others on the histories of marginalized groups. Allies can come from the dominant and/or majority group, but not always. Sometimes allies come from other oppressed groups and use their sphere of influence to create positive change. Regardless of background, allyship is rooted in the believe that all humans deserve equal treatment. One person can try to claim an “ally” label, but that does not mean all individuals of the marginalized group will identify and label that person as an ally. Therefore, one must perpetually and consistently engage in the action of allyship.

Key elements of allyship:

1) Self-Examination and Critical Thinking

Allies seek to actively acknowledge privilege and power and openly discuss them. Allies recognize that as recipients of privilege, they will always be capable of perpetuating systems of oppression. Individuals with a heterosexual identity continually evaluate their privilege. Individuals with a cisgender identity continually evaluate their privilege.

Allies receive and accept criticism. Allies must recognize that making mistakes and receiving constructive feedback for improvement is a gift. It is an honor to receive a chance to be a better person. Allies take criticism as an honor because the ability to learn, grow, and do things differently is not afforded to everyone.

2) Awareness and Education

Allies do not expect education from marginalized or oppressed peoples. Allies must continuously do their own research on the oppression and experiences of marginalized individuals. This includes continually learning and evaluating history, staying up to date on current news, and evaluating the distorted realities created by systems of oppression.

Allies seek and maintain direct communication with marginalized groups. Allies take guidance and direction from the marginalized and oppressed people they seek to work with, as opposed to the other way around. Allies must maintain integrity and keep their word as failure to do so only perpetuates systems of inequality.

Allies recognize that allyship does not always feel good. Allies understand that allyship can create distressing emotions. Allies seek to embrace those emotions and not reject the feelings of comfortability, being challenged, and experiencing hurt. Allyship is not meant to be a perfect, pleasant experience; it can cause discomfort and distress as dismantling systems of oppression is not an easy task.

3) Action

Allies listen more and speak less. Allies will hold back on their own ideas, opinions, and ideologies. Allies listen to the experiences of others and work to amplify the voices of marginalized and oppressed peoples.

Allies are not passive bystanders. Allies actively intervene in situations and use their power to support those who are marginalized.

Allies engage in actions that create liberation and freedom from oppression and marginalization. Allies disrupt harmful behaviors, create positive change, and alter environments to increase inclusion and safety.

Allies are not saviors. Allies resist the urge to “save” and “rescue” marginalized peoples. Instead, allies seek to disrupt systems that do not provide adequate resources and support.

The needs of allies must come secondary. Allies typically experience privilege and thus have the choice to resist oppression. While all allies are responsible for their own self-care, they do not seek emotional support or healing from the marginalized and oppressed peoples they are supporting.

Allies do not expect awards, prizes, or special recognition. The work done by allies is to dismantle systems of oppression and create equality for all individuals. Allies will redirect any and all attention to the marginalized and oppressed groups as well as the issues they face.

General strategies for engaging in allyship with LGBTQ+ individuals

  • Know the concept of a microaggression and be aware of common microaggressions perpetuated against LGBTQ+ individuals.
  • Respect and honor individuals whose name does not reflect that of their email, a roster, or paperwork. Many individuals do not use their legal or given name.
  • Provide space for students to disclose personal gender pronouns at the start of each course, meeting, forums or event. Allow for individuals to incorporate pronouns into paperwork and forms.
  • If you are an instructor, include LGBTQ+ histories and issues into your curriculum. Ensure that histories, issues, curriculums, and narratives include LGBTQ+ authors and scholars.
  • Directly challenge micraggressions and -isms when they occur. If you are unable, do so at the next available opportunity. Failure to challenge is using silence to perpetuate oppression.
  • Know the nearest gender-inclusive, gender-neutral, or all-gender restrooms nearest to your office, classroom, or workspace so you will be able to give directions to students in need
  • Include your personal gender pronouns in your email signature (e.g. Jesse Smith, they/them/theirs)
  • Know campus resources to be able to refer students to the appropriate support services. You don’t need to memorize all resources but know how to access the information about them.
  • Mirror your language with that of the person; if they use the term “trans” then please use that term. If someone identifies as queer instead of gay, be respectful and use the term queer.
  • Don’t assume that the other individual needs resource. You can ask if they need support, but don’t perpetually bother them with the question.
  • Know that someone’s identity is more than just a historically marginalized sexual orientation and/or gender identity
  • Be cognizant of power structures and power dynamics
  • Don’t place the burden of representation on students

What to do when someone comes out to you

“Coming out” is a metaphor to describe the process of someone disclosing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to another person. If someone is attempting to come out to you, keep these general guidelines in mind:

  • Be patient and allow them to tell you at their own pace. Do not rush them.
  • Let the determine what they need. Do not place expectations on the conversation.
  • A person who is coming out may have a hard time talking about it. Never force them to disclose anything.
  • Acknowledge the risk(s) they took by coming out to you. Compliment their courage.
  • Do not minimize the importance of what they did by saying things like:
    • “It doesn’t matter to me.” or “I didn’t know you were gay/lesbian/trans/etc.”
    • Instead say, “Thank you for trusting me.”
  • Do not ask intrusive questions like:
    • “Is this a phase?” or “Does that mean you’re attracted to me?”
    • Instead ask, “How can I continue to support you?”
  • Keep and maintain their privacy. Do not disclose that information to anyone else.
  • Make sure to ask, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
  • Follow through on any requests for support.

Last updated: 4/18/2021