Being an acquaintance of the LGBTQ community

These are some guidelines for people wanting to be allies for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. In today's world, lesbian, gay and bisexual issues are being discussed more than ever before. The discussions taking place in the homes are often highly charged and emotional. This can be a scary topic and confusing to people on a very personal level. Being an ally is important but it can be challenging as well as exciting. This list is by no means exhaustive, but provides a starting point. Add your own ideas and suggestions.

  • Don't assume heterosexuality. In our society, we generally assume that everyone we meet is heterosexual. Often people hide who they really are until they know they are safe to come 'out'. Use gender-neutral language when referring to someone's partner if you don't know the person well. In general, be aware of the gender language you use and the implications this language might have.

  • Educate yourself about lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. There are many resources available, reading lists and places to go for information. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

  • Explore ways to creatively integrate lesbian, gay and bisexual issues in your work. Establishing dialogue and educating about lesbian, gay and bisexual issues in the context of your other work can be a valuable process for everyone regardless of sexual orientation. Integration of lesbian, gay and bisexual issues into work you are doing instead of separating it out as a separate topic is an important strategy to establishing a safe place for people to talk about many issues in their lives.

  • Challenge stereotypes that people may have about lesbians, gays and bisexuals as well as other people in our society. Challenge derogatory remarks and jokes made about any group of people. Avoid making those remarks yourself. Avoid reinforcing stereotypes and prejudices.

  • Examine the effect sexual orientation has on people's lives and development. Identify how race, religion, class, ability and gender intersect with sexual orientation and how multiple identities shape our lives.

  • Avoid the use of heterosexist language, such as making remarks implying that all people of the same gender date or marry members of the other gender. Respect how people choose to name themselves. Most people with a same sex or bisexual orientation prefer to be called gay, lesbian or bisexual rather than homosexual. 'Queer' is increasingly used by some gay, lesbian or bisexual people (especially in the younger generations), but don't use it unless you are clear that it is okay with that person. If you don't know how to identify a particular group, it's okay to ask.

  • Don't expect members of any population that is a target of bias (e.g. gays, Jews, people of color, women, people with disabilities) to always be the 'experts" on issues pertaining to their particular identity group. Avoid tokenizing or patronizing individuals from different groups.

  • Encourage and allow disagreement on topics of sexual identity and related civil rights. These issues are very highly charged and confusing. If there isn't some disagreement, it probably means that people are tuned our or hiding their real feelings. Keep disagreement and discussion focused on principles and issues rather than personalities and keep disagreement respectful.

  • Remember that you are human. Allow yourself to not know everything, to make mistakes and to occasionally be insensitive. Avoid setting yourself up as an 'expert' unless you are one. Give yourself time to learn the issues and ask questions and to explore your own personal feelings.

  • Ask for support if you are getting harassed or problems are surfacing related to your raising issues around sexual orientation. Don't isolate yourself in these kinds of situations and try to identify your supporters. You may be labeled as gay, lesbian or bisexual, whether you are or not. Use this opportunity to deepen your understanding of the power of homophobia and heterosexism. Make sure you are safe.

  • Prepare yourself for a journey of change and growth that will come by exploring sexual identity issues, heterosexism and other issues of difference. This can be a painful, exciting and enlightening process and will help you to know yourself better. By learning and speaking out as an ally, you will be making the world a safer, more affirming place for all. Without knowing it, you may change or even save people's lives.