At GLYS, an organization committed to creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth and spreading education to all, I am the only ally on staff. Growing up in a very conservative town, I knew very few people who were members of the LGBTQ+ Community. When I went to college, I learned how offensive I could be to people because of the unconscious biases I was taught growing up.
Privilege is a hard pill to swallow. If you don’t identify as part of a marginalized community, being an ally is not always the easiest, most natural role to step into. It involves sticking your neck out in situations that may be uncomfortable. However, we allies know that nothing compares to the discomfort that our LGBTQ+ friends and youth experience.
If you are beginning your journey to becoming an ally or seeking to continue growing as an ally, here are five best practices to keep in mind.
1. Educate yourself.
You are never too old to learn something new, and it is not uncommon to know very little about the LGBTQ+ Community. Much of the discrimination that the Community receives comes from a lack of education and accessibility to an authentic representation of the LGBTQ+ experience. To be a good ally, it is your responsibility to actively seek out resources and information. There are many resources out there that can educate you, help you brush up on vocabulary, and so much more.
2. The Community is all about inclusion.
To be a supportive adult or mentor to a LGBTQ+ youth, you do not need to identify as a member of the Community. Not everyone has a personal connection, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a young person feel supported and accepted. Show them that you care about who they are authentically as a whole person.
3. Focus on the positives.
Just like mentoring any other mentee, it is important to focus on the youth as a whole and not just the hardships they may face. You can acknowledge challenges and still make space to focus on things the youth loves to do. Build a connection that will help uplift them and reinforce that there are people out there who love and accept them. Find joy in places you did not think you could.
4. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
Use all the resources at your disposal to become the best ally you can be – including those in the LGBTQ+ Community. While you should not rely exclusively on LGBTQ+ youth and Community as an information source, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you have not been able to find an answer on your own or if you want to understand a specific individual’s perspective. Many members of the community are more than happy to answer any questions you have as long as you approach them from a place of genuine interest and willingness to learn. By reaching out to resources, it will make you even more supportive and accommodating to your mentee.
5. Listen to their stories.
No one’s journey is the same, and LGBTQ+ youth’s journeys are so vast and interesting. As an ally, you can listen to their stories to better understand their perspective. While many young people in this community will unfortunately face adversity, they are resilient and build character as they overcome. Their stories are so fascinating, and they connect with people on an emotional level, which encourages them to be more knowledgeable about the community. By sharing their stories, LGBTQ+ youth can own their lived experiences and become more comfortable and accepting of themselves. As an ally, you have the amazing opportunity to be a part of their growth and self discovery simply by being a good listener.
To be a good ally is to be an active ally. You have to actively stand up and speak up for the LGBTQ+ Community. You have to actively seek out information and resources about it. With these five tips, you can begin or continue your journey to being the ally that our young people need.
To learn more about how to support LGBTQ+ youth through mentoring, explore the supplement to our Elements of Effective Practice in Mentoring for Mentoring LGBTQ+ Youth or contact MENTOR New York to help implement best practices.
To access the resource, please click here.