How to be an LGBT+ Ally  

On Saturday 31 August 2019, the University of Reading took part in the Reading Pride celebrations.

We’re here to highlight the importance of language and behaviours, and their role in creating a safe and inclusive space for everyone. We’re also sharing some tips and advice on the ways you can be an LGBT+ ally.  

Even if you already consider yourself to be an LGBT+ ally, there is always room to learn more about the different ways you can be an active LGBT+ ally.  

Language and terminology  

The importance of language should not be understated. It can help to shape an environment of inclusivity and belonging, and create safe space.  

However language misunderstanding and misuse can create barriers to understanding and inclusion. A misuse of language such as mis-gendering, both intentional and accidental, can have a negative impact on a person. Therefore it is important that you have an understanding of terminology. 

Below are some definitions of terms used to describe people’s gender and sexuality:  

Trans – an umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity or expression differs from their sex assigned at birth.  

Non-binary/Genderfluid – describes someone who doesn’t identify as male or female, or could be someone who identifies as male and female. The gender identity of an individual is not always constant and can differ during different times.  

Cisgender –  a cisgender person is someone who’s sex assigned at birth is the same as their gender.  

Biological sex –  sex assigned at birth  

Gender identity – the way someone identifies internally and how they choose to express themselves externally.  

Gender Incongruence/Dysphoria – the distress a person experiences due to a mismatch between their gender identity and their sex assigned at birth.  

Misgendering – using a word, especially a pronoun or form of address, that does not correctly reflect their gender identity. This can be intentional or can be accidental, however the impact can be just as devasting even if it is just a mistake  

Preferred name – is a term that can be used to describe when a person has no legal name change yet but use a preferred name.  

Birth/Dead Name – refers to previous identity. You should not use a person’s deadname, refer to them by their preferred name at all times.  

Affirmed gender – is your lived gender. An individual’s true gender.  

Correct Pronouns – the terms people choose to refer to themselves that reflect their gender identity. For example, he/him, she/her or they/them. Please note: Do not use the term preferred pronouns, people’s pronouns are not a preference, they are an identity.  

To learn more about pronouns and the importance of using the correct pronouns, check out Inclusion Consultant Gabe’s blog on ‘Pronouns: Why do they matter?’ 

What happens if I make a mistake?  

Using the correct terminology fosters inclusion, ensures people feel respected and valued and enables them to feel seen.  

If you make a mistake, such as using the wrong pronouns or misgendering a person. Apologise to the person, and reflect and be aware of its impact.  

Try not to dwell on the mistake for too long, or  overly apologise to the person as this can create an awkward situation for both parties.  

What if I notice somebody else refers to someone incorrectly?  

Quietly check in with the person that they are okay and let them know you are there to support them if they would like to correct the pronoun usage.

If the person is comfortable with you sharing their pronouns, then you can step in and correct others who use them incorrectly. Do not always make it the responsibility of the individual whose identity has been mistaken to correct other people’s mistakes. Be an ally by helping to educate others and creating a safe environment.  

In instances where it is not a case of a person making a mistake, but intentional discrimination: challenge it. Call it out, offer support, or diffuse the situation. 

One way you can do this is by using the UHT method – Understand, Therefore, However…  

“I understand that you meant no harm by your comment, however, it is offensive to me or others. Therefore, I would appreciate it if you didn’t do that again”  

Educate people on the impact their language or behaviour has, even if it was not meant to be that way. Create a space to acknowledge comments and microaggressions in order to prevent them happening again in future.  

What can I do to be an LGBT+ Ally?  

Educate yourself and grow your awareness. This creates empathy support and allyship. You can do this by devoting time understanding the terminology, by reading blogs, watching LGBT+ tv series and films, listening to podcasts, and attend awareness training sessions.  

For help getting started:  

  • RUSU host termly bi-inclusion training that all are welcome to attend, and it is held online. This is a session designed to break down the unconscious biases of bi individuals and help to build an inclusive environment.  You can sign up via their events page.  
  • Gender Space founder, and trans public speaker, Christian Owens has a series of podcasts and videos where he shares personal experience as well as advice and support.  
  • Educate yourself on correct pronoun usage, check out this blog about pronouns and why they are important.  

Create inclusivity and respect for all identities. You can do this in a number of ways:  

  • Add your pronouns to your email signature, LinkedIn, twitter and Instagram, or by displaying your pronouns in situations where you where you were a name badge. You can also celebrate international pronouns day.  
  • Reflect and be aware of mistakes and their impact, and call out other peoples mistakes. The charity Stonewall have some tips for how to become an active LGBT ally.  
  • Devote time and energy to educating others. A good example of this is mentioned in an article by Freddy McConnell, the host of the BBC podcast Pride & Joy. He mentioned how a cis friend of his posted on Instagram that fellow cis people were welcome to private message her if they had questions about the Gender Recognition Act reforms or other recent trans stories in the news, and highlighted how this action of shifting the responsibility of educating and explaining away from LGBT+ people is a meaningful way of being an LGBT+ ally.  

Start conversations and provide support. This can be as simple as listening to someone’s story, and offering a safe space for them to talk about their emotions and experiences.  

In some instances, it might be helpful to signpost a person to further support and resources:  

  • Talk to the University’s Student Welfare team can help with any personal difficulties a student experiences during their time at the University.  
  • The University’s Counselling and Wellbeing team offers professional counselling, wellbeing and mental health support.  
  • The local Thames Valley Charity Support U are an LGBT+ resource centre. They offer specialist LGBT+ counselling and reporting hate crime and domestic & sexual abuse support services. They also have events and groups you can join, including the R-Trans Group, Reading’s longest Trans inclusive support and social group. They also have a helpline (0118 321 9111) open Monday to Friday, 10:00 until 17:00, and if you’d prefer to talk face to face you can also book an appointment at their Wellbeing centre in Reading.  

Hopefully you have enjoyed reading this blog and picked up some useful advice on how to be an active LGBT+ ally.  

Make sure to check out our Student Life blogs to learn about the legacy of LGBT+ history in Reading, LGBT+ film icons, and more.  

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