By Samantha Ward
With the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage on June 26, some may think the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) equal rights movement is complete, but that is far from the case. While the legality of marriage is no longer an issue, members of the University of Georgia’s LGBT community face issues from transgender and non-gender conforming students dealing with gendered dorms on campus to LGBT members being targeted by hateful slurs on a regular basis.
Only an estimated 3.5 percent of Georgia’s adult population identifies as LGBT. While the group itself is small, allies play a part in increasing the amount of support needed to make social and political changes happen.
Josh Fletcher, the Senior Coordinator for UGA’s LGBT Resource Center, said, “It takes us all in this movement, and we are not going to continue moving forward if people are apathetic or feel like they don’t have a space [in it].”
While empathy is the first step to becoming an ally, people interested in helping the equal rights movement must take action.
Ciera Durden, a first year college student affairs administration graduate student and Graduate Assistant at the LGBT Resource Center, said, “[To be an ally is] to be someone who is actively educating themselves on LGBT issues, and that means knowing the terminology [and] knowing major issues that are going on. It also means that you are someone who supports and advocates for the community whether or not a queer person is around you.”
While education is the obvious first step, it can be difficult to know where to start. Through the LGBT Resource Center, there are several different opportunities to do just that.
Micah Hicks, a first year early childhood education major, said, “The LGBT resource center hosts a lot of events, so if you just want to come to one of our panels or just come here and sit and listen to people. I also think that is a good way to educate yourself in a non-dictionary/definition kind of way.”
Learning more about LGBT issues is an important part of educating yourself as an ally, and different people will give you different answers on what are the most important issues being dealt with today. On campus, there are trans-inclusion and representation policy issues being worked through, such as gender-neutral housing and name policies. Beyond that, there are some cultural and socio-political shifts that must be made if people want to have a more LGBT friendly campus. Take, for example, language.
Durden said, “I hear a lot of slurs, specifically fag is one I hear a lot. If you hear someone say that word, be like, ‘That’s really offensive, and you shouldn’t say that word just like you wouldn’t say the N word.’ It holds a similar impact where you are dehumanizing someone based on this trait by saying that word, and it’s a trait that they can’t help. I grew up hearing the word dyke, and that was a way to dehumanize and invalidate me.”
Another issue LGBT students face is not feeling like they belong in most places on campus.
Chanel Bryan-Pinnock, a second year theatre major, said, “[An issue is] finding the places where they feel the most comfortable. A lot of people come in here [the LGBT Resource Center] because they feel that this is the only space they have that is free for them to be who they are and be ok with saying to other people ‘Hey, I’m so and so. This is how I identify.’”
While these are issues allies can help with, the biggest part of helping is knowing how to most effectively show support. It goes beyond making it known that you are an ally. Rather, there is a balance to be maintained between your voice and the voices of the LGBT group itself.
Amanda Cameron, a third year applied mathematics major, said, “Sometimes the best thing to do is to know when to step back as an ally, so setting the stage for other disenfranchised groups and giving them that opportunity and using that privilege in a more positive context is a great way to be an ally.”
That being said, there are situations where allies are the best ones to speak for the community.
Fletcher said, “I can say from my experience in community organization in this kind of racial, social, sexual movement going forward towards justice that we need our allies of all identities. We need a straight person to be able to have a difficult conversation with another straight person. They can say, ‘Hey, let’s talk about this.’ in a less threatening way.”
Overall, education followed by action is the winning combination when it comes to allyship. The issues faced by the LGBT community are continually evolving and the experiences of each member are vastly different. That is why the continual self-education part of allyship is so important.
For those who want to learn more about the LGBT community and how to be an ally, resources include UGA’s LGBT Resource Center as well as online sources like glaad.org, lgbtqnation.com, and podcasts such as “The Six Pack.”