Ally is Not a Noun, it’s a Verb
June is Pride month, and given its importance to the gay community, it’s an ideal time to reflect on what the word “ally” means with regards to Underrepresented Groups (URGs). I am a straight white man who was born with massive intersectional privilege. This allows me to go through life without experiencing the discrimination or oppression, based on who I am or who I love, that may URGs endure. This fact is precisely why I speak out. It doesn’t take the experience to be empathetic; it takes thought and care for everyone. My love for everyone is what brings me to the table as an ally.
So that’s how I’ve come to be an ally, but the title of this post is “Ally is Not a Noun, it’s a Verb”, so what do I mean by that? To my mind, allyship without action is not allyship at all. Standing by while members of URGs are discriminated against because it’s “not our place”, is not allyship. Changing a Facebook profile picture to have a rainbow border or posting a black box on Twitter is not allyship. Allyship means action, meaningful action that ushers in change and dismantles the systemic barriers. A profile picture update does not suffice—that’s nothing more than performative virtue-signaling.
To be an ally, we must not only listen to members of URGs as they talk about their experiences but also collaborate with them to advocate for making change happen. Allyship is about campaigning for change in our companies, and in our communities that prioritize the needs of URG members. It’s not about “fixing” injustice for these communities, or broadcasting that we are champions for diversity, but rather about participating and sharing the burden.
To that end, we are not allies if we act against their interests. If we vote for a candidate who espouses anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric and supports so-called “bathroom bills” directed squarely against trans people and their right to exist in this world, we are actively committing an act of hate against them.
Real allyship means work, difficult work. It means uncomfortable conversations. It means correcting people and sometimes ourselves when we are wrong. It means standing up for members of URGs when we see injustice. It means getting involved and spending our time helping to effect change. It means listening to people tell us about the racist comments they hear far too often, or the slurs yelled at them while walking down the street. It means speaking out when a coworker of ours is misgendered during our weekly standup. It means witnessing their pain when our Black friend tells us about how the shooting in Buffalo made them afraid to go to a supermarket for fear of being gunned down. It means researching and prioritizing voting for candidates for political office that advocate for and support members of URGs. It means sitting with the discomfort of our Asian coworker telling us about how she’s inundated with men who fetishize her on Hinge or Bumble when she’s just trying to find a life partner. It’s about voting with our collective wallets and avoiding doing business with companies that support politicians who propose and advocate for anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation. It’s about listening to our trans neighbor who tells us about how they feel the world doesn’t even want them to exist.
In this month of Pride celebration, I hope to see more acts of true allyship. And if you’re interested in participating, I’m here to tell you how. Take the first step and join an ERG channel for your organization, then attend one of their meetings. Check out the resources at the bottom of this post where you can learn more, straight from members of URGs, about what being an ally in their communities looks like. What I genuinely hope to see is more people with an abundance of privilege using it for allyship by exploring what it means to be a member of a URG: what they go through, the challenges they experience, and how you can help—and then take action.
I identify as an ally, but that’s not just what I am, it’s what I do.