A Refresher Course on Allyship
How to be an ally this Mardi Gras and always
Ally. It’s a beautiful word, probably one of my favourites. Because throughout my life, in times of isolation, fear and discrimination, the word ‘ally’ has provided a sanctuary for me, a sense of comfort and safety, and I am lucky enough to have been surrounded by many of them.
With that said, allyship isn’t always perfect and simply calling oneself an ‘ally’ doesn’t make you one and it certainly doesn’t mean that you’re fully equipped to aid the community in times of need. So in the lead-up to Mardi Gras, I figured it was necessary as a queer person to explore what proper allyship means and how you can be the best support you can be to the community this weekend (and always!).
According to an Absolut report conducted by researcher, author and LGBTIQ+ advocate, Dr Shirleene Robinson, as quoted by GOAT, 75% of LGBTQIA+ Australians have personally experienced negativity or discrimination relating to their LGBTQIA+ status. And when it comes to transgender Australians, this number rises even higher to 80% who have experienced hate. And the saddest part of all is that according to the research, only 25% of allies and friends actually voiced their support. Now, when you consider how many people classify themselves as an ‘ally’, that’s a pretty large gap to how many so-called allies have actually shown up for the community.
I’ve experienced this gap myself in my own life. A few years back I was at a party with a group of mates, all of whom had previously claimed to be allies of the community, when I started getting pummelled with gay slurs from an aggressive stranger. In that instance, and in the days that followed, half of my friends visibly had my back, defended me, and made sure I was okay, while the other half remained silent. Saying that you’re an ally and actually showing up for people are two vastly different things and you shouldn’t wear that metaphorical ‘ally’ badge unless you’re actually going to use it purposefully.
So before you go out and purchase your (eco-friendly) glitter, your pre-drinks, and your pride flag-adorned paraphernalia for Mardi Gras this weekend, first ask yourself: ‘Why am I an ally?’
Is it because you’ve seen the discrimination the LGBTQIA+ community has faced and you’re dedicated to fighting against it? Is it because you have a friend or relative who’s gay? Is it because queer people are fun to party with? If your answer is the latter, please seriously rethink why you’re attending and if you’ve quite reached ally-status. This might sound harsh, but as a gay man, I can tell you that we hear phrases like “I really want a gay friend!” and “Gays are the best to party with!”. Frankly, we’re sick of it.
First of all, telling us that you want a gay friend is extremely tokenistic and basically says that you’re only interested in us because of a stereotype you’ve seen in movies, rather than who we actually are as individuals. It is in fact an offensive blanket statement that’s been perpetuated for years, as has the belief that queer people are rampant party animals.
Sure, we like to have fun, but not necessarily any more so than straight people. The LGBTQIA+ community has been plagued with the stereotype that we drink too much and dance ’til dawn and you might not realise it, but this idea is actually rooted in homophobia and has been used by bigots to malign and demean the queer community for decades. Don’t feed into this by perpetuating the idea that gays are all about drinking and partying. It is simply not true and can be very harmful and offensive to us.
While this weekend is all about celebrating diversity, it’s also about honouring the powerful but painful history that our community has endured in the search for acceptance. Yes, gay marriage did become legal in 2017 and that was an incredible victory, but all I remember when I look back at that period is how many people were hardcore against it. I witnessed so many soul-crushing displays of hate during that time, from “Vote NO” rallies, to negative skywriting, to actual friends and family members not just voting ‘NO’, but encouraging others to do so on social media. While the win was oh-so-sweet, the amount of hate that the community experienced has absolutely taken its toll and we need our allies now more than ever.
Ways to support the community
Ahead of this weekend, do some proper research into the history of Mardi Gras and the overall journey the community has gone on throughout the years. I implore you to make purposeful social media posts that show your queer followers that you’re celebrating their queerness and you’re not just in it for a good time.
If one of your LGBTQIA+ mates feels like having a rant about the shit they’ve experienced, sit back and listen and take it all in without trying to one-up them with stories from your own life because unless you’ve experienced discrimination as a queer or trans person, you can’t really speak on our journey.
And if you see any injustices happening around you, both in real life and on social media, speak up and defend the community. For years queer people have copped tons of abuse while others have remained silent. Break that cycle by standing up against hate and discrimination.
And finally, I’d like to sign this off by thanking you for being an ally. The fact that you’ve read this article means that you’ve already taken the right step in ensuring that you’re the best ally that you can be and I applaud you for that. Honestly, I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t need allies, where there was no discrimination and we all lived in harmony with one another, but sadly that’s not the case. So until we do, just know that you hold great power as an ally to be a world of support to someone.
+ IMAGERY: Bruno Ribeiro