Anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, can support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Deepening your understanding of LGBT-related issues, including terminology, can help you support LGBT-identified people in your place of work, at school and in all other environments.
You may have heard of the term “ally” in relation to LGBT issues. Here, we describe some ways to think about what “ally” means and provide helpful tips on how to be one.
So, what exactly IS an ‘ally’?
- A person who has a genuine, strong concern for the well-being of LGBT people
- A person who supports and accepts LGBT people, and advocates for equal rights and fair treatment.
- A person who confronts challenges that LGBT people experience, and believes that we face these problems in society:
- Heterosexism — The assumption that everyone is or should be straight.
- Biprejudice — Harmful, preconceived ideas about bisexual people
- Transprejudice — Harmful, preconceived ideas about transgender people
- Heterosexual Privilege - the everyday privileges straight people have in society. For example, the ability to hold hands in public without fear of judgment or violence.
Why are allies important to the LGBT+ community?
Being an LGBTQ+ ally is about helping to create an inclusive environment where everyone can be themselves. The Stonewall 2018 LGBT in Britain - Work Report found that more than a third of LGBT staff (35%) have hidden that they are LGBT at work for fear of discrimination. The Stonewall 2018 LGBT in Britain - University Report also found that two in five LGBT students (42%) have hidden their identity at university for fear of discrimination.
Allies are important and welcome supporters of the LGBT community. They can be effective and powerful voices for LGBT equality and can not only help LGBT people feel comfortable coming out, but also help others understand the importance of equality and fairness for all people.
It can make a huge difference to confidence and motivation at work and feeling accepted if they witness a supportive environment such as colleagues wearing rainbow or trans flag lanyards or having statements such as ‘proud to be a LGBT+ ally’ in email signatures.
You may also have seen people use their pronouns in email signatures or on social media. This is another way to demonstrate support for the LGBT+ community.
There are also business benefits to being a diverse employer. It can help with motivation, productivity, retention, and it can help employers recruit from a wider talent pool. Large employers such as Barclays have established programmes such as Barclays' Spectrum, to support LGBT people within the organisation. MI5 was also named one of the top employers for LGBT equality.
So how can I be an Ally?
Stay Informed: If you do not know the difference between sex and gender or current LGBT-related news and issues, educate yourself. Ask questions, do research, and do not be afraid to be honest about what you do not know.
Speak Up: There are many reasons why people do not speak up when they hear something offensive, like “that’s so gay”. It can be awkward, people do not know what to say, or do not want to make the situation worse. But words can hurt. When you speak up, it educates others, lets them know their words are not acceptable, and may give others the courage to speak up as well. You can also change how people act in the future. This is powerful.
Be Honest: Speak openly about family members, friends, and colleagues who are LGBT, if they are out and are comfortable with you discussing it with others. People often assume they will offend others or make them uncomfortable if they mention LGBT topics. Also, remember that occasional disagreement is normal and healthy!
Support Equality: Support policies at school, work, or other places that help protect LGBT people from discrimination. Even if the issues seem small, they can have a big impact on people’s lives. If you see or hear of an unfair rule or policy, talk to a peer or trusted adult about your concerns and what you can do to make a change.
Come Out as an Ally: Anyone can be an ally, regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Be proud to support the LGBT community. Remember, being an ally can be joining an LGBT group — for example, Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), a student-run group — or as simple as showing your support online.
What if I am a member of the LGBT+ community?
Even if you identify as LGBT+, you can still be an ally to others within your community. You can also promote and encourage allyship from your colleagues, managers, and friends. You can advocate for an LGBT+ network in the workplace and suggest to your employer that they show support to LGBT+ employees through membership of the Stonewall Equality Index, through rainbow lanyards and participation in Pride marches amongst many other ideas to show inclusivity.
Among LGBT individuals, those without powerful allies, whether heterosexual or gay themselves, are far more likely to feel stalled in their careers, unrecognized for their talents, and lacking in career development opportunities. By contrast, those with allies in the workplace are much more likely to report that they are being promoted quickly, are satisfied with their rate of promotion, and are moving up through the hierarchy of their industries.
How do I find an LGBT+ inclusive place to work?
The Stonewall Top 100 employers list will let you know which employers are doing great work each year to help achieve acceptance without exception for all LGBT people. Employers who feature on the list include Vodafone. Read this NGTU blog on apprenticeships with Vodafone. Yet another employer listed is Barclays. Read our provider profile on Barclays here.
Allyship is a verb. It requires action. So, what action can you take?
- Follow LGBTQ+ topics in the news to keep up to date on the current issues for the LGBTQ+ community. Read blog posts and news articles written by LGBTQ+ people. PinkNews for example is a UK-based LGBTQ+ news site.
- Recognise that language evolves and be open to new concepts and ideas. Look up words you are unfamiliar with. The Stonewall glossary of terms is a great place to start.
- Learn about pronouns, what they are, why they matter and how you can be an ally by introducing yourself with your pronouns.
- If you hear people make homophobic, biphobic or transphobic comments and jokes, call them out.
- Engage with LGBTQ+ charities. If you follow their updates and activities, you can easily find out about opportunities to volunteer or act.
Remember that to be an ally to LGBTQ+ people, you must be an ally to all LGBTQ+ people: this includes LGBTQ+ people of colour, trans and non-binary people, and disabled LGBTQ+ people, whose voices are not heard as often.