Being an LGBTQIA+ Ally
by See Change Ambassador, Jen Ronan
When I sat down to first write this article, I had a severe case of melty-brain, because at first glance it seems like an ally and an ambassador are too similar to differentiate. But once I shut off the usual anxious sirens in my brain that kick off whenever I agree to do something to a deadline, I took a few minutes to reflect on the differences between the two, because the purpose of this piece is to offer some ideas on how we as See Change Ambassadors and the general public can better serve the Irish LGBTQIA+ community as people who work to try and reduce the stigma associated with mental health. Given that the LGBTQIA+ community has battled with massive stigma on a global level since the existence of humankind, we can certainly learn a hell of a lot from them about the fight against stigma. But additionally, we at See Change and members of the general public can offer our active support and unwavering allyship to our fellow humans who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community – and what better time to really go for it than during Pride?
Now I’m not an expert by any means; I’m not entirely sure what label I assign myself in terms of who I’m sexually attracted to. Having had experiences with both men and women but nowadays being in a proper grow-up adult type relationship with a wonderful caring man, I could probably nail my colours to either the bisexual or straight mast. But that’s definitely a privilege I have that many in the LGBTQIA+ community are not afforded. Being a cis, mostly straight woman, I have very little stigma to battle in terms of how I present myself to the outside world or who I hold hands with walking down the street. Again, that’s a massive privilege; so, before I step up to offer my services as any kind of ally, the first thing I need to do is acknowledge my privilege. That’s not a bad thing or a character flaw, in fact, the act of recognising privilege can open up certain avenues of conversation with people who may not necessarily realise that they are being exclusionary in the language they use or the jokes they make etc. If you are in company that (to put it diplomatically) wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to diversity on a regular basis and you recognise that they could do with a little enlightenment, then the floor is yours to help knock a few bricks off their wall of stigma! (Good analogy eh?)
The next hugely important thing in working towards being an awesome effective ally to the LGBTQIA+ community is a very simple exercise: Read the Room. If you don’t know what makes the community tick over, or the issues they are up against both locally and nationally. Any incidents of homophobia / transphobia / hate crimes / discrimination that may have occurred to people, or even any campaigns against certain government policies like what same-sex couples who are parents are working on improving, then you can’t be more than a Facebook fan. To be an ally requires homework and understanding of the needs of the community you are endeavouring to support. On the back of this, I would also say never be afraid to be wrong, and by extension, always be open to being corrected if presented with the opportunity. That shows compassion, caring and understanding that you don’t know all the answers but you’re ready and willing to stand up and do what’s right and what’s needed to help our LGBTQIA+ folks beat stigma and create a world of acceptance and celebration.
The final thing (for this article anyway!) is almost comical in how obvious it is: Use our Magical See Change ambassadorship powers! See Change has many members of the LGBTQIA+ community in its Ambassador program, and they are amazing people. They reach their community in a far more understanding and accurate way than cis /hetero-normal people ever could, because they have lived experience of stigma both within the mental health arena AND battled the stigma surrounding LGBTQ people. They deal with a stigma double-whammy that would cripple most folks, yet they are fantastic; they are titans of ambassadorship. So those of us who DON’T have the extra burden of stigma surrounding our gender identity or sexuality have a responsibility to our fellow ambassadors and the LGBTQIA+ community to help them in any way we can. We can do this by offering to organise public events, speaking to the community on the mental health resources available for those in the LGBTQ community battling with crises, we can write articles (like this one!) acknowledging that we might not have the same battles they do but we are ready and willing to stand with them and speak up against any discrimination we might encounter in our own lives. We can blend events with the Pride program and work in parallel with our local Pride committees to see what the best events or information campaigns could work best to target anyone who may need to access services because they are suffering due to the stigma surrounding their sexuality or struggling with finding their place in the world and need to strengthen their coping skills. I’m sure there are far more, so I guess my job is to chat to my LGBTQIA+ friends and colleagues and see what those needs are. I’m most definitely not an expert in this area by any means, so these are just some thoughts I’ve jotted down to get the mental ball rolling on the best ways we can be proactive practical effective allies to the LGBTQIA+ community. Time to get cracking!!
Wishing all humankind, a happy healthy safe and immensely proud PRIDE this year 🌈
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