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​​Am I doing this allyship thing right?

How to be a better ally year-round, not just in June

We observe two important moments in American history each June: Pride Month and Juneteenth. These events mark two turning points in the civil rights movement and social change, and they shine a spotlight on the struggles and subsequent triumphs of two marginalized groups in our country.

It’s taken the bravery and support of a lot of people to get this far. In the years that followed these events, we’ve witnessed activism and progress with efforts such as the Black Panther’s Free People’s Clinics in the ’70s and the early advocacy work of the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in the ’80s for people living with HIV. The work is not over. With a rise in police brutality against African Americans and the nearly 240 anti-LGBTQ bills filed in 2022 (as of March), solidarity is crucial.

June is a month of programs, celebrations and events, but it is also a month when the word ally is used often. We hear it in conversation and on social media. It’s a reminder that the work must keep moving–not just in June but beyond. As we raise awareness and educate ourselves on LGBTQI+ and Black issues, it’s important to remember that progress wasn’t easily won.

It wasn’t until June 1999–thirty years after the –the Stonewall Uprising of 1969– that President Bill Clinton proclaimed June to be Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Today, Pride not only celebrates the LGBTQI+ community but also commemorates a critical moment in what was once called the gay civil rights movement. The events of Stonewall, the bravery of those who resisted harassment and mistreatment by New York City officers, and the activism that followed led to the first Pride marches in June 1970.

More than a century earlier, African Americans in Texas first celebrated Juneteenth. June 19, 1865, marks the moment when the last group of enslaved people received news of their freedom and the end of slavery–two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth is an opportunity to recognize the struggle and celebrate the accomplishments of Black people. As of 2021, Juneteenth is a federal holiday, signed into law by President Joe Biden.

If you want to carry some of the weight and do the work, but you’re unsure if you’re doing it right, we’re here to help. In this post, we’ll cover what allyship is, why it’s important and provide suggestions for practice.

What is Allyship (and Why Does it Matter)?

Let’s start with allyship’s base word–a more familiar term.

Ally

Typically used as a noun, ally, in simplest terms, is a person who supports, helps or advocates for an effort or a group of people.

Some would argue that ally is not a noun and that if you see it as such, you are doing it all wrong. Classifying ally as a noun implies that it’s an identity or status. However, it is not something that can be achieved.

Let’s take this a step further and define allyship. Understanding its meaning can get us closer to knowing how to do allyship right.

Allyship

The Rochester Racial Justice toolkit defines allyship as:

Allyship is a proactive, ongoing, and incredibly difficult practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege works in solidarity and partnership with a marginalized group of people to help take down the systems that challenge that group’s basic rights, equal access, and ability to thrive in our society.

Now, let’s break that down.

  • Allyship is active. It’s a process and a practice. It’s going to take time. Make sure you’re up for the challenge.
  • Allyship is not easy work. Practice patience and own your mistakes. You’re not always going to get it right.
  • Allyship requires understanding. Be ready to educate yourself and understand the concerns and challenges of those you want to unite with.
  • Allyship is not a solo effort. Work in unity with marginalized group(s) to disrupt the systems that are holding them back.

The importance of allyship

The communities we belong to–where we live, work and learn–are diverse. As an institution of higher education, we know that inclusion leads to better retention and engagement of students.

Through allyship, we can be powerful supporters of social change and better inclusion. We can create and support more diverse learning communities and workplaces. The impact of this affects the overall well-being of our communities.

Allyship in action

Are you ready to get to work? It all starts with education and awareness. So, here’s a jumping-off point for becoming a better ally.

  • Do listen and ask how you can help.
  • Don’t expect another person to educate you about their identity.
  • Do accept criticism thoughtfully. Don’t broadcast your qualifications for being an ally.
  • Do speak up when you hear biased language.
  • Don’t apologize for the actions of your identity group.
  • Do seek support from experienced allies within your identity group.
  • Don’t expect credit for being an ally.
  • Do acknowledge intersectionality.
  • Do learn about local organizations already doing the work.
  • Do talk to your people about the change you want to see.
  • Do donate money to organizations you trust and whose work you support.
  • Do volunteer work.

LGBTQ+ Allyship

  • Refuse to tolerate anti-lesbian, -gay, -bisexual, -trans or -queer (LGBTQI+) comments, attitudes, remarks or jokes.
  • Ask others that any anti-LGBTQI+ humor displayed in common areas be removed completely or placed within private offices or living spaces.
  • Display positive materials in support of people who are LGBTQI+. If possible, post flyers on activities, support groups, programs, and resources for people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
  • Do not assume that everyone you meet is heterosexual.
  • Use inclusive, non-gender-specific language that does not assume heterosexuality in others. Use inclusive language in conversation and also in written materials, policies, forms, etc.
  • Educate yourself on issues and concerns for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer. Take the initiative to obtain accurate information.
  • Attend events, meetings, or programs sponsored by or for people who are LGBTQI+.
  • Gain insight by talking to people who are LGBTQI+. Learn from their experiences.

African American Allyship

  • Be willing to listen and learn.
  • Help open up spaces without taking them over.
  • Do your research.
  • Resist the “white savior” complex.
  • Start in your own circle.
  • Assume racism is everywhere, every day.
  • Notice who is the center of attention and who is the center of power.
  • Notice how racism is denied, minimized, and justified.
  • Understand the connections between racism, economic issues, sexism, and other
  • forms of injustice.
  • Learn something about the history of white people who have worked for racial justice.

The next step

Allyship is a learning process. It challenges us to think critically, build relationships and create more inclusive spaces. You have the basics you need to get started—all that’s left to do is to continue the work.


Resources and related links

LGBTQ History and Why It Matters: a lesson plan for teaching LGBTQ history from the Roman Empire to 2016.
Gender identity terminology: Spalding University gender identity terms used for self-identification
What is Juneteenth? The History of a Holiday
Anti-Racism Resources: a Spalding University library guide
Collective Care Center: speciality clinic for treating racial trauma
Human Rights Campaign: ways to get involved
NAACAP: take action