How to be a supportive ally to the LGBTQ community
If someone you know has come out to you as LGBTQ, here’s how you can be an ally.
If your friend has just come out to you, you may be feeling many different things right now. You may be proud of them, shocked, confused, worried or upset. All of your feelings are OK and may change over time. It’s important to deal with your feelings and to be honest, but it’s also important to be respectful. If you want to be supportive of a friend who has just come out to you, one of the most important things you can do is say, “Thank you.” Thank that person for having the courage to share this part of themselves with you.
What do I say to them?
You may not know what to say to your friend right now, and that’s OK. In fact, you may want to say to your friend, “I don’t know what to say, but I still want to be your friend.” Knowing that you aren’t going anywhere and that you care about them will mean a lot to your friend.
What do I do now?
Your friend has trusted you with some important information. Show your friend support by respecting their decision to come out to you. Here are some other things you can do:
- Be there: make yourself available to help your friend. Listen if your friend needs to talk.
- Offer support: ask your friend what they need from you and how you can be supportive of them. Find out if your friend has come out to their parents/caregivers. If not, and if this is something your friend has decided to do, offer support while they face this potentially big task.
- Educate yourself: learn more about the experiences of LGBTQ-identified people by talking to your friend or doing some research online.
- Stand up for others: LGBTQ young people are at a higher risk for bullying and harassment. It’s important to do your part to help your friend and others by standing up for them, if it’s safe to do so, and reporting bullying and harassment to a safe adult.
- Show respect: don’t “out” your friend to others. It’s your friend’s decision who and when they tell. Also try examining your own attitudes about sexual orientation (for example, do you use “that’s so gay” as an insult?). Show respect by using respectful language.
- Take care of yourself: if you’re struggling with the news that your friend is LGBTQ-identified, talk to a safe adult or reach out to a Kids Help Phone counsellor.
- Know when to get help: if your friend is in distress, and you’re concerned about their well-being, it’s important to tell someone such as a counsellor, doctor or another safe adult. If you’re afraid of outing your friend, know that you can get help for them without sharing their sexual orientation with anyone. You can also call a Kids Help Phone counsellor at 1-800-668-6868.
I’m not sure I can accept that my friend is LGBTQ-identified
If you’re struggling with accepting the news that your friend identifies as LGBTQ, you may be feeling angry or even hurt. It can help to remind yourself that your friend isn’t different and you’re not different — the only thing that’s changed is you now know that your friend identifies as LGBTQ.
Even if you don’t like what your friend told you, it’s important to respect their decision to tell you. By coming out to you, your friend showed a lot of courage, honesty and trust in you. If you respond to your friend with disapproval or anger, they may regret telling you and feel rejected. Keep in mind that LGBTQ young people are at a higher risk of suicide, in part, because of lack of acceptance. Acting non-judgmental will help your friend feel cared for as a person, even if you disapprove of their sexual orientation.
Will this change our friendship?
There may be big changes in store for your friend, but your friendship doesn’t have to change. Your friend still has all of the same qualities as before — identifying as LGBTQ doesn’t change that.
Another worry that people sometimes have is that their friend is coming out to them because they’re attracted to or in love with them. Just as you’re not attracted to every opposite-sex person you meet, your friend isn’t attracted to every same-sex person they meet, either. Unless they say otherwise, your friend probably feels the same way about you as you do about them — just friends.
My parent/caregiver is LGBTQ-identified
It can be challenging to have a LGBTQ-identified parent or caregiver, especially if you have not known their sexual orientation or gender identity all along. It’s important to talk to someone about your feelings such as a friend, guidance counsellor or another safe adult. Try to remember that a parent’s or caregiver’s sexual orientation or gender identity doesn’t affect how much they love you. It also doesn’t mean that you’ll be LGBTQ or that they’ll be disappointed in you if you’re not.
Straight, or heterosexual, privilege describes the advantages straight people experience in their day-to-day lives. These advantages are easy to take for granted. Because society is heteronormative, or geared toward straight people, it can be difficult to spot examples of straight privilege, especially if you’re straight. But figuring out the ways in which straight people benefit from being straight can help society better understand the challenges faced by LGBTQ people.
Straight privilege means straight people can…
- assume the people and relationships they see in magazines, TV, movies and video games are straight
- feel confident their friends or family members won’t disapprove of them for being straight
- assume they won’t be excluded, attacked, silenced or singled out because they’re straight
- be certain people won’t ask them why they chose to be straight
- never have to come out about their sexual orientation or gender identity
- find many religions that accept them
- easily locate sex education material designed for them
- get legal or medical help without their sexual orientation or gender identity being held against them
- walk in public with their dating partner and not be stared at or harassed
- not have others assume they’re sexually promiscuous or sexually experienced because they’re straight
- hear the word straight and know that it means something positive or neutral
What can I do about my straight privilege?
If you saw a lot of yourself in the straight privilege list, it doesn’t mean you’re heterosexist or deliberately harming LGBTQ people. It means that you, like all straight people, have advantages in life that the world offers straight people, probably without being aware of them.
Supporting LGBTQ people doesn’t mean giving up these things — it’s more about becoming aware of some of the privileges you have that others do not. When you start to become more aware of your privileges, you become more sensitive to the experiences of people who don’t have these things or can’t take them for granted. When you’re more aware, you’re more likely to question things and find ways to help people who aren’t straight gain the same advantages as everyone else.
How can I be an ally?
If you’re not LGBTQ-identified, but want to show your support for people who are, here are some ways to do it:
- Be mindful: be mindful of the language you use in everyday life. For example, don’t use the word gay as an insult.
- Be respectful: if someone makes a joke that targets people who identify as LGBTQ, don’t laugh. This shows people you don’t find these jokes funny and that they contribute to creating unsafe spaces for everyone.
- Step in: if you see bullying taking place, step in if it’s safe to do so. This helps to show others that this behaviour is not OK. It’s never OK to harass someone or be violent toward them because of who they are.
- Show support: show your support by wearing a pride button, or another visually supportive symbol, on your backpack.
- Join a GSA: if your school has a gay-straight alliance (GSA), you can consider joining it.
- Don’t assume: don’t make assumptions about other people’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s important to understand that not everyone is straight or cisgender.
- Have understanding: recognize that sexual orientation and gender identity occur on a spectrum and can be fluid and flexible.
- Learn more: learn about the experiences of LGBTQ people. If you have a friend who is a part of the LGBTQ community and is out to you, consider asking them about their experiences.
More info on LGBTQ:
- LGBTQ: What does it mean?
- On identifying as LGBTQ and coming out
- Stephen’s story on coming out
- 6 inspiring transgender icons
- Counsellor tips: What to expect at your first Pride
- How to be a supportive ally to the LGBTQ community
- Kids Help Phone’s favourite LGBTQ moments of the year
- Can’t make it to Pride? You can still be an ally.