Being an LGBTQ Ally

My journey of being an Ally started early in life when in public school, I lectured a boy throwing stones at seagulls on how those gulls had a right to exist and live peacefully. I think I was shocked and so was he; this quiet girl was standing up for birds! But let me tell you, it was a kind of rush! I think I was hooked at that moment, I have not always been successful or had the courage to be the brave ally I strove to be. In high school, there was another boy, bullied on a regular basis for being gay. While I didn’t partake, I also didn’t offer support. I didn’t offer to be his friend on the bus going home and I didn’t “yell” at those kids, yelling at the boy. I truly wish I had.  It is not easy to stand up for what you know in your soul is right but stand up we must.

I grew up, always felt allied with the underdog, at times, probably felt like the underdog. After university, I then started working at Lovecraft cause I was at loose ends, not quite what to do with that major in History and Minor in Drama (go figure) The thing is, Lovecraft and the open people who worked and shopped there really helped form who I am today. Lots of liberal minded folk work at Lovecraft, kind of outspoken advocates and they helped me come out of my quiet self to be a little more proactive and a little more vocal. Lovecraft and my friends helped centre my focus, helped me become knowledgeable and an advocate.  I’m a quiet person by nature, but sometimes you just have to be vocal and speak out for what you believe in.

To begin this process I asked some friends who identify as LGBTQ questions: How can I be an effective ally?  I got varying responses. I think my friends really appreciated being asked and I think that is the first take away. If you’re not sure about something, respectfully ask. And check in often just to make sure that they are still comfortable and open to your questions. In this case, they were happy to be asked and one of my friends noted that she herself sometimes feels she should ask the same question to other marginalized groups. I really do believe that most of us want the people around us to feel welcome.

In their words: treat me like everyone else, don’t make me feel like I stand out. Don’t let me feel like a curiosity. Listen, provide spaces where we feel like we can speak freely, be supportive and don’t ever judge me.  I have found being thoughtful in my responses when I do encounter LGBTQ animosity, goes a little further than “yelling”. In other words don’t be that troll, but try and respond in a respectful way, maybe ask a question? I can’t take credit for this but I did try it when one day I was heading home, waiting for the bus and out of the blue, the man next to me said what did I think about that same sex marriage business? Didn’t I think it was terrible? Well, now, I was a bit older then, and have a few less inhibitions about letting people know what I think. But instead of responding in an aggressive way, I took a deep breath, paused and I asked him when did he decide to be straight? You know, it actually gave him pause because he didn’t decide to be straight; he just was. Now he probably didn’t run out and get a rainbow flag but I think it did help him to empathize a little. When you can have empathy and it is so difficult then to judge another human.

For many LGBTQ persons, coming out and declaring themselves is still not easy even in a relatively liberal society such as ours. It may depend on your family support, it may depend on your school environment or work space. Even in the most supportive of worlds, LGBTQ people will experience hate for simply being alive and declaring themselves. The most important thing we can do is to show love and respect.

And in being an ally to LGBTQ people in Canada and the western world in general , we may feel, well we’re pretty progressive and sure there are some uptight folks but really it’s fine, nothing to worry about here. Unfortunately that is not the case; studies have shown that LGBT students constantly receive bigoted verbal abuse such as name-calling like homo, fag or sissy more than two dozen times per day. I can barely stand to write these words.  42% of LGBT youth have experienced cyber bullying.  Cyber bullying of LGBT youth is three times higher than other student’s experience. 33% report sexual harassment online, which is four times higher than the experience of other students. LGBTQ teenagers are two or three times more likely to attempt suicide than other teens. And this heartbreaking statistic, if the family of the LGBT youth does not accept them, they are eight times more likely to commit suicide than other teens. If the kids are not accepted at home and don’t attempt suicide, up to 50% of the youth that are on the streets living without a home are LGBT youth, because their families do not accept them.

In the world at large, only a few years ago in Florida, 49 night club goers were shot and killed simply because they were gay and in a space that is meant to feel safe, fun, a place to celebrate.  A Russian newspaper reported last April that authorities in Chechnya had rounded up over 100 gay men or men believed to be gay and tortured them.  In much of Africa, homosexuality is still illegal. In fact, there are a few places where it is punishable by death, like Nigeria and Sudan. In Indonesia, you can be flogged for being gay. The Philippines is facing one of the fastest-growing epidemics of HIV in the Asia-Pacific region. Government policies create obstacles to condom access and HIV testing and limit educational efforts on HIV prevention. Children may be particularly vulnerable to HIV due to inadequate sex education in schools and misguided policies requiring parental consent for those under 18 to purchase condoms or access HIV testing.

 

Thankfully it is not all doom and gloom, for instance in Canada, Bill C-16 was passed and had its third reading at Senate level and passed! So this means that this bill amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. The bill also amends the Criminal Code to extend the protection against hate propaganda to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression. This means the courts have legal precedent to consider this in arbitration and in criminal cases.  This past year marked the first time the Rainbow and Transgender Flags fly high on parliament hill. And hooray a sitting Prime Minister marched in Pride Parades across the country.

We have a ways to go but every day you can be an ally by sharing news on social media, but donating money to your local chapter of PFlag by marching or supporting your local Pride parade. All your actions do make a difference and are felt around the world.

 

 

 

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