What is an Ally?

According to Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, an ally is someone “joined with another for a common purpose.”

Being an ally with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA) individuals is the process of working to develop individual attitudes, institutions, and culture in which LGBTQIA people feel they are valued. This work is motivated by an enlightened self-interest to end homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, heterosexism, and cisgenderism (J. Jay Scott and Vernon Wall, 1991).

An ally is a person who works both to facilitate the development of all students around issues of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression and to improve the experience of LGBTQIA people. Allies can identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, cisgender, intersex, queer, questioning, or heterosexual. The University of Illinois has several Ally networks. Allies are invited to join any and all that seem appropriate. And if there isn’t a group that fits you, please talk to Leslie Morrow about starting one.

Persons affiliated with the ally network can be identified by the Ally Network posters. This network includes queer-friendly and queer-identified faculty, staff and students who provide safe space and support for the LGBTQIA campus community.

An ally to LGBTQIA individuals is a person who:

  • Believes that it is in their self-interest to be an ally to LGBTQIA individuals.
  • Has worked to develop an understanding of LGBTQIA issues. Works to be comfortable with their knowledge of gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Is comfortable saying the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” and “transgender.”
  • Works to understand how patterns of oppression operate, and is willing to identify oppressive acts and challenge the oppressive behaviors of others.
  • Works to be an ally to all oppressed groups.
  • Finds a way that feels personally congruent to confront /combat homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, and cisgenderism.
  • Similar to how an LGBTQIA person “comes out of the closet,” an ally “comes out” as an ally by publicly acknowledging her/his support for LGBTQIA people and issues.
  • Chooses to align with LGBTQIA individuals, and represents their needs — especially when they are unable to do so themselves.
  • Expects to make some mistakes and does not give up when things become discouraging.
  • Promotes a sense of community with LGBTQIA individuals, and teaches others about the importance of these communities. Encourages others to also provide advocacy.
  • Is aware that they may be called the same names and be harassed in similar ways to those whom they are defending. Whenever possible, a heterosexual ally avoids “credentializing,” which involves disclosing their heterosexual identity in order to avoid negative or unpleasant assumptions or situations.
  • Works to address/confront individuals without being defensive, sarcastic, or threatening.

Benefits of Being an Ally

  • You open yourself up to the possibility of close relationships with an additional 10% of the world.
  • You become less locked into gender role stereotypes.
  • You increase your ability to have close and loving relationships with friends of all genders.
  • You have opportunities to learn from, teach, and have an impact on a population with whom you might not otherwise interact.
  • You may make a profound difference in the life of someone you love who finds something positive in their sexual and gender identity.

Four Steps to Becoming an Ally to LGBTQIA People

  1. Awareness/Accessing Resources: Become aware of who you are and how you are different from and similar to LGBTQIA people. Such awareness can be gained through conversations with LGBTQIA individuals, reading about LGBTQIA people and their lives, attending awareness building workshops and meetings, and by self-examination.
  2. Knowledge/Education: Become educated on the issues, knowing facts, statistics, laws, policies and culture of LGBTQIA people.
  3. Creating an Open and Supportive Environment: Encourage and promote an atmosphere of respect. Acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate differences among individuals and within groups. Be a safe and open person to talk with. Join one of the campus Ally Networks.
  4. Take Action: Teach, share your knowledge. Action is the only way to change society as a whole. Stand up for and fight for human rights.