There’s a very fine balance between supporting and standing up to the issues, and then making it about yourself.
Certainly. It’s not enough to not be homophobic or transphobic yourself, but allyship doesn’t need to be marching the streets with placards. It can happen in an everyday way, like challenging a sexist comment around the dinner table, or a remark that uses an oppressed group as the butt of the joke
I agree, Allyship at home is just as important. Who do you feel is another great example of an LGBTQIA+ Ally?
There are some straight, cisgender celebrities and public figures who do great work for the queer community. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Timothée Chalamet come to mind. In my personal life, the friends who are my best allies as a woman and as a queer person tend to be straight men of colour, perhaps because they have first-hand experience of prejudice and systemic inequalities. I’m lucky that my colleagues at Lincoln Law School who are not queer tend to be really informed and supportive. And my students too, for that matter! However, I’d question when looking at straight allies in the public eye how much of it is because of good press.
Yes! So, when we were talking about being a good Ally, I think being part of a good Ally, is not doing it for the press. As a lot of people today will publicise good acts. I suppose a good Ally would do something because it’s right, not because it’s something they can use to their advantage.
Yeah. You have to brave enough to do the right thing instead of the easy thing when conflicts arise. If doing the right thing is going to have personal costs, how likely are you then to stand up for these groups? How far would you go? Are we still allies when nobody can see us? There can be a personal cost to allyship including, in extreme cases, discrimination and hate crime. People have lost their lives, like the protestor Heather Heyer, a white ally killed at an anti-racism march in America. So, it does require courage. But it’s worth it.
At QLT we focus largely on intersectionality, so I wondered what your thoughts were in relation to intersectionality and Allyship?
I think intersectionality has become a bit of a buzzword and it’s often misinterpreted. People tend to think it’s about being a member of two oppressed groups at the same time, but it’s more than that. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality’ to describe experiences of multiple oppressions that affect each other and complicate your experience as a member of those separate groups, like traffic coming from several directions at an intersection. So, the experience of a black lesbian is not the same as the experience of a straight black woman or a white lesbian. I think there’s been a lot of work in recognising membership of more than one group at the same time, but less understanding of how those oppressions intersect and interact, which is more difficult. It’s one of the reasons I’m uneasy with the word ‘community’ here, even though I’ve just used it myself. We’re not a ‘community’, we might live very different lives, even in the same towns and cities. My life as a bi woman is different to those of other bi people. I think the term ‘LGBT community’ implies we all feel the same way and have the same needs, or opinions about a certain issue, and it’s just not the case. I’m privileged in other ways that drastically improve my experience. Awareness of intersectionality is useful for recognising that other people don’t face the same challenges you do just because you’re both gay, or both trans. There may be concurrent issues of class, disability, race that shape your life as a queer person.
Dr. Katie Hunt, Law Lecturer at the University of Lincoln
Hello Dr Hunt, can you please start by telling me a bit about yourself?
Hello! My name is Katie Hunt. I’m a lecturer in law at the University of Lincoln, where I’m out to staff and students as bi- or pansexual. I live in Lincoln with my cat Matilda, and I like books, long baths, and Motown music.
Brilliant! Can you please tell me what Allyship means to you?
An ally to me is somebody who recognises that they are privileged relative to an oppressed group and wants to use it for good. In our context, it would be a straight and/or cisgender person who recognises they have privilege and wants to help LGBTQIA+ people who do not.
In an overarching manner, why is Allyship important?
Because of that privilege and that platform. We’re thinking here about the workplace, where allies may have more ability to respond to issues of inequality and discrimination, compared to the people that are disadvantaged by them. It could be said that straight and cisgender people have less to lose, they have more social and cultural capital, so it’s easier to have those difficult conversations. Sara Ahmed writes in Living A Feminist Life that when you expose a problem, you pose a problem. She means that, as far as the institution is concerned, when you speak up about issues of, say, racism, it is you who presents a problem to the organisation, rather than the racism you identify. If you’re saying this feels sexist, or homophobic, or this policy operates in a way that alienates queer people, as far as the employer is concerned, it is you that is the issue rather than the policies and practices in question.
Do you think that it could be because queer people may be more vulnerable as well, on a wider scale? For example, coming into the workplace if you’ve had a rocky path to ‘coming out’, maybe even discovering your sexuality as you’re approaching your mid to late twenties and you’re still hesitant to tell people, do you think Allyship is like putting your hand on someone’s shoulder and saying we’re here to support you, it’s ok?
Certainly, and not just professionally, but also economically, and socially. Typically, allies are in a better position to speak up than people of colour or queer people and are more likely to be taken seriously when they do.
When you spoke of social capital, and suggested that Allies have less to lose, I think it could be because they’re so entrenched, with this idea that society is shaped around the majority. The majority, especially in a professional sense, tends to be a straight white male, and more-so a straight white female too. In your opinion, how can you be a good Ally?
First, make sure that you’re welcome in these queer spaces, black spaces, female spaces. What feels like allyship to one can feel intrusive to others. You spoke earlier of coming to QLT as a straight person and not wanting to tread on anyone’s toes, and allies are sometimes hesitant to get involved because they aren’t speaking from personal experience. I think this is a tough balance to strike. On the one hand, good allyship means avoiding speaking for, or over, marginalised groups, but “It’s not my place” can often sound like “It’s not my problem”. So, on the other hand, there is the danger of putting that load and the emotional labour onto the people you’re trying to support. For example, with the BLM protests recently, we see workplaces saying they want to help, asking what they can do. But it’s largely white people putting the onus onto their black colleagues and service users to come up with solutions. Good allyship means being prepared to do the work yourself, without speaking on behalf of other people. Don’t expect marginalised people to do your learning and thinking for you.
Certainly, Liv, Joe and I did a video on what it means to be a good Ally a little while ago, and I completely agree with you there. It’s almost being supportive and acknowledging, especially if a friend comes out to you, that they feel that way and you support them through everything. But you don’t let it define them as a person, it hasn’t changed them. You can’t see them as an accessory, which sometimes happens. The queer community aren’t a box you tick on your friends list, you have to acknowledge them as an individual and not as a label.
Yeah. At my last institution, when I came out, the reception was good and I didn’t experience any discrimination. But then there was an expectation that I would get involved with inclusion initiatives, sit on equality committees. What was part of my personal identity was now part of my professional identity. Even – perhaps especially – in the most tolerant settings, for members of oppressed groups, diversity activity can become a kind of ‘second shift’. This puts an additional burden onto people who may already be struggling. Allies can help by sharing the workload and standing with us.