The mass violence we have witnessed in the last month—a month when we are supposed to be celebrating who we are and how far we’ve come—has shaken members of the LGBTQIA community and our families.
In addition to the Pulse Nightclub shooting (which has disproportionately affected Latinx people), there have been a number of other blows against the LGBTQIA community. In 2016 we have seen more than 200 anti-LGBT bills introduced by lawmakers across the country, not to mention all of the current laws that make it legal to discriminate against us in housing, healthcare, and jobs in 29 states. Out of the 200+ laws, the ones that have passed have done everything from preventing us to use the restroom in public in North Carolina to allowing mental health care providers to refuse treatment to us in Tennessee.
In the aftermath of this tragedy and others, I want to speak to parents of LGBTQIA children about allyship and support. Some parts of this, or maybe all of it, may be difficult and uncomfortable to read; please don’t let that stop you from being an ally. While I cannot understand the pain and discomfort you may feel when you see attacks against a community to which your children belong, I know how necessary it is to discuss these issues as a queer person.
Every parent wants their child to be safe, supported, and loved. I hope that now, more than ever, you feel a sense of urgency in your allyship because, quite frankly, we need it. We need you to show us that you’re serious about your allyship. We need to know that it’s not just something you say to make us feel better, but rather something you are always doing so we can live better.
Below, I’ve outlined some principles of urgent allyship for parents.
1. Engage in the Process of Parental Allyship
Allyship is about work. As a parent who doesn’t experience the oppression that your child does as an LGBTQIA person, you are standing with us in the struggle to change our world. Standing with us means placing our experiences and voices in the center of the conversation and trusting us. As people who constantly experience oppression in society, we have a perspective that you cannot have, but one that you can certainly respect.
The process of allyship is a never-ending cycle that looks a little like this: listening to our struggles and believing us even when you can’t understand them, reflecting on your values and actions, changing those values and actions when we tell you (or you realize independently) that they harm LGBTQIA people, and working to change society so that your child and their community doesn’t have to face those same struggles anymore.
The reason this cycle is never-ending is because there will always be new struggles. Our new life experiences will reveal what struggles are the most pressing for us. No matter what the reasons, our struggles will change, and so will our goals. We need you to engage in the process of parental allyship actively and constantly to change our culture so that your LGBTQIA children feel accepted and, above all, safe.
2. Allyship Must Be Intersectional
If you aren’t familiar with intersectionality, it’s essentially the idea that everyone has multiple identities (race/ethnicity, class, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, etc.) and these identities intersect to produce specific experiences for people. For example, being a white transgender person affords me more safety in society than being a transgender person of color, specifically a transgender woman of color. This is largely due to the institutional racism and misogyny that exist in our society, among other problems.
The reason allyship has to be intersectional is because we are intersectional human beings. No one in the LGBTQIA community has the exact same set of identities, which means that we don’t all have the same needs. Some basic principles of intersectionality can be applied to being an ally and a parent.
Being an ally means being intersectional. For example, in the case of Orlando, it’s important to recognize that the attack not only happened at a gay nightclub, but on Latinx night, and targeted queer and trans people of color. You cannot be racist, xenophobic, ableist (meaning your allyship only works for non-disabled people), sexist, Islamophobic, or anti-Semitic and still be a good ally to the whole LGBTQIA community. Otherwise, you’re saying that some LGBTQIA people deserve to live free from violence and oppression while others don’t. That’s not allyship.
3. Don’t Contribute to Our Oppression
I know this one’s pretty broad, but it’s supposed to be. Contributing to your LGBTQIA child’s oppression can look like many things, and you may not even realize when you’re doing it.
First, don’t support institutions and organizations that condemn LGBTQIA people or portray us as “less than” in any way, including some businesses, bands, or churches.Faith is often an important part of people’s lives, and there are many places of worship that accept and celebrate the LGBTQIA community. However, supporting a church that is outright homophobic or transphobic is contributing to our oppression.
Another crucial aspect of not contributing to our oppression lies in the realm of politics. Regardless of your political beliefs, I think this is fairly straightforward: when you give power and a platform to people who want to make our lives worse, our lives will get worse. Whether that comes through preventing policy or legislation that could help us, introducing legislation that would make life harder (or downright impossible) for us, or using their public presence to spread hateful ideas about us, elected officials are important to the conversation about allyship and LGBTQIA oppression.
Put aside your “I don’t vote” or “I don’t talk about politics” rules for a moment. Politics is where the rules about how we live are made. Not having to worry if a politician will make your life worse (healthcare, housing, jobs, etc.) is a privilege that queer people often don’t have. So please, get involved in politics—from city councillors to the presidency. Who gets elected into office may not directly affect you, but it certainly affects the lives of LGBTQIA people. Take the opportunity to change society by putting people in office who don’t hate LGBTQIA people (or anyone, for that matter).
Finally, don’t use language that contributes to our oppression. If you say “that’s so gay” when you mean that something is negative or undesirable, then this contributes to the belief that LGBTQIA people are inherently negative and undesirable. The same goes for language that is racist, classist, xenophobic, ableist, Islamophobic, etc. When you use people’s identities as synonyms for another negative word, you are communicating to those around you (as well as reinforcing the idea in yourself) that those identities are inherently negative, whether you mean to or not.
Use language that builds us up, not tears us down. I’m not going to be humble here–LGBTQIA people are incredible. So why not tell us that? Trust me, we don’t hear it enough, and that makes a big difference in how we see and think about ourselves. We’re definitely resilient, but we shouldn’t have to be the ones telling ourselves that we deserve to be loved and love others in the face of being constantly bombarded with negative messages about our identities.
4. Take Action
You can’t be an ally if it’s all talk. We need you to put in the work to dismantle our oppression because when you don’t, you contribute to it. When you elect politicians that hate us, you contribute to it. When you organize an event for a church that believes we can only get into heaven if we are celibate, you contribute to it. When you write a book about families and only talk about heterosexual, cisgender parents and children, you contribute to it. When you tell a racist joke, or laugh at one, you contribute to it. When you blame immigrants for some problem that a hateful politician you elected told you was the fault of said immigrants, you contribute to it.
You cannot be idle when it comes to our oppression.
Please, take a stand against the hatred and violence that LGBTQIA people are facing in this country. Don’t stand by while people in our society are actively working to make life more difficult or impossible for us. We need you to stand with us all the time, when it isn’t easy or convenient, when you don’t understand, and even when you disagree with us. We need your allyship not only because we are your children, but because we are human beings.
Five Words and Phrases That Might Be Offending Your LGBTQ Kid | My Kid Is Gay
How Parents Can Challenge Unintentional Homophobia | My Kid Is Gay
Why Do People March in Pride Parades? | My Kid Is Gay
Dealing with Homophobic Workers | My Kid Is Gay
What You’re Actually Saying When You Ignore Someone’s Gender Pronouns | Let’s Queer Things Up
Eight Ways Allies Can Show Up for the Queer Community After Orlando | Everyday Feminism
Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism–from Ferguson to Charleston | Citizenship and Social Justice
In Honor of Our Dead: Latinx, Queer, Trans, Muslim, Black — We Will Be Free | Black Lives Matter
Latinx LGBTQ Community & Its Stories of Survival Should Be at Center of Orlando Response | Democracy Now
Kai River Blevins is a genderqueer/femme poet, community organizer, and graduate student from western New York who now lives in Salem, Oregon. When Kai isn’t doing homework or writing on their blog, Queer as Life, they love to read, color, cook delicious vegan food, and spend time with their loving partner and adorable fur-child, Sir Reginald, the Earl of Puppydom. Follow them on Twitter @queeraslife
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