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How To Be A Better Ally To Chicago’s LGBTQ+ Community: ‘We’re Looking For People To Lock Arms With Us’ 

As anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and sentiment sweeps the nation, here are some ways local allies can support the community — during Pride month and beyond.

The 51st annual Chicago Pride Parade marches down North Halsted Street on Sunday, June 26, 2022.
Lou Foglia/ Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Flying rainbow flags in June is a nice thing to do to show support for Chicago’s LGBTQ+ community — but it’s just a start.

As anti-LGBTQ+ legislation sweeps the country, including laws taking health care away from trans people, restricting the art of drag and banning information about LGBTQ+ topics, community members are calling on allies to take a more active role in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

From enthusiastically affirming people’s identities to calling out homophobic comments, there are countless opportunities every day for allies to create a safer environment for LGBTQ+ people, as long as they step up to the challenge, said Channyn Lynne Parker, CEO of Brave Space Alliance, a Black- and trans-led LGBTQ+ center in Chicago.

“People mean well, and we appreciate our allies, but we’re looking for comrades,” Parker said. “When we think about what that looks like, it’s friendship. We’re looking for people to lock arms with us, stand with us and prove to us that they’re in this fight with us, not passively sitting on the sidelines.” 

Credit: Provided
Channyn Lynne Parker (right) will assume the role of Brave Space Alliance CEO May 1.

Eleven states (and counting) have passed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in 2023, and though Illinois is not among them, Parker said homophobia and transphobia exists everywhere.

“I’m a firm believer that there are no safe states — only states that can hold out,” Parker said. “If people don’t step up, there’s only so long that we can hold out. We cannot believe that we are safe; all we can do is challenge Illinoisans to be brave, conspire with us, link arms and fight with us.” 

Being an active supporter of the LGBTQ+ community requires an understanding that creating a world that’s safe for the queer community protects and uplifts everyone, Parker said. 

“True allyship requires an understanding that my liberation is bound up in yours,” Parker said. “It requires seeing ourselves as truly interconnected. We are not free until all of us are free.” 

Block Club compiled ways you can support the LGBTQ+ community every day, even after the Pride flags come down at the end of June.

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Honor People’s Identities

Make sure you’re using the correct pronouns and names for everybody you meet. If there’s any uncertainty, it’s helpful to respectfully ask someone their name and pronouns or start the conversation by sharing your own. 

But referring to someone the way they want to be addressed is just the minimum, Parker said.

Try to affirm and celebrate people’s identities by speaking supportively and making space for them to share their experiences, rather than avoiding topics you might not be used to talking about. Learn to let go of your prejudices and fully embrace every part of a person; you can’t just ignore portions of their identity.

“Tolerance is a dull virtue,” Parker said. “We want to be celebrated as our full selves. It’s not about just having a seat at the table but being fully active at the table.

“We want to tell folks who we are and feel fully accepted.”

Small things can add up:

  • Ask LGBTQ+ friends how their partner or partners are doing.
  • Don’t assume people are straight.
  • Use gender-neutral language when talking to friends, and avoid gendered language like “girls night.”
  • Ask LGBTQ+ friends where they want to go instead of expecting them to feel comfortable in straight-dominated settings.

These kinds of actions show your loved ones there’s no need for them to hide parts of themselves to fit in with the group.

Donate Time, Money To Local Groups

There are many groups already putting in the work to provide resources and support to LGBTQ+ Chicagoans — and by supporting these organizations, you can help many people at once.

Looking for where to start? Chicago can be your first stop: Because Illinois has fewer laws restricting LGBTQ+ people, it’s a place where many people travel to in search of gender-affirming health care and other services, Parker said.

“We’ve stepped into the thick of it to provide resources to individuals in need of these things, but that takes financial support from people who we know love the LGBTQ+ community,” Parker said.

These kinds of investments can have an immediate impact for neighbors.

For example, people can donate money or volunteer their time to Brave Space Alliance, which then provides a variety of resources to LGBTQ+ people, including food, clothing and housing support. The food pantry is one of the organization’s most robust and costly services, so unopened food donations are always appreciated, Parker said.

Supporting a group doesn’t mean you have to give money. You can also donate your time or supplies you no longer need or want.

Here is a list of LGBTQ+ organizations throughout Chicago that you can support financially or through volunteer work.

Speak Up

If you hear someone say something that’s homophobic or transphobic, you should interrupt and correct them. Even if it seems like a small comment or a joke, comments that alienate the LGBTQ+ community can be incredibly hurtful, Parker said.

“When we think about how to create safety, it starts with you and the day-to-day conversations you have,” Parker said.

One analysis of allyship, shared in the Harvard Business Review, found that one of the most impactful things allies can do is take action — and that includes speaking out against discrimination.

GLAAD suggests that allies make it clear to others that they won’t take part in an offensive conversation, and allies should defend LGBTQ+ people from discrimination.

How can you do that? You can proactively talk about LGBTQ+ people and topics in “positive ways,” which will encourage others to think differently, according to Strong Family Alliance. If someone says something offensive, respond “calmly and ask questions,” and try to teach them about why their remark is incorrect and offensive.

The person you’re talking to might ignore you — or you might be able to have a good discussion, leading to a moment of growth for that person, according to the Strong Family Alliance.

At the very least, you’re ensuring people know their comments are problematic and you’re showing LGBTQ+ people you’ll defend them.

Decenter Yourself When Apologizing For A Mistake 

There are going to be times when you mess up and say something hurtful toward members of the LGBTQ+ community. Because negativity toward LGBTQ+ people is so ingrained in our culture, anyone can accidentally misgender someone or make a hurtful comment unintentionally. 

When this happens, apologize in a concise way and move forward quickly. Don’t try to process your mistake with the person you’ve harmed with your words. Instead of trying to explain yourself, prioritize their feelings and work through your guilt on your own time. 

“We know that you’re going to oops and ouch,” Parker said. “But the more time we have to spend unpacking your feelings and navigating your mistake, the more time we have to center you and decenter our own hurt. Just say sorry, say the right name or pronoun and commit to getting it right the next time.”

Remember: When you hurt someone, you should not be the center of attention, and they should not have to try to make you feel better.

GLAAD suggests one of the best ways to be an ally is to be a listener — and this is a good time to really listen and better understand how you’ve hurt someone and how you can be better in the future.

You can get more comfortable with decentering yourself by learning to pause and reflect before you react, learning to allow yourself to be uncomfortable and avoiding tone-policing a marginalized person who is saying something that might make you uncomfortable, according to a guide from Baylor University.

Do Your Own Research

In general, don’t ask LGBTQ+ people unprompted, personal questions about their bodies, health care or lifestyle. It can be exhausting for LGBTQ+ people to repeatedly explain their identities. If you’re curious about their experiences, do your own research online first. 

The Trevor Project, a national organization that supports LGBTQ+ youth, offers information about sexual orientation, gender identity and issues facing the LGBTQ+ community on its website.

GLAAD’s website also has resources you can check out to ensure you’re using appropriate language, being respectful and constantly growing as an ally.

And the Human Rights Campaign has a comprehensive guide to being an ally, as well as educational information about LGBTQ+ issues.

Those are just a few places to get you started. 

It’s also important to seek out information on political representatives and proposed legislation to ensure politicians’ platforms and policies affirm the LGBTQ+ community, Parker said.

“We’re not looking for people to feel sorry for us; instead, what we’re sharing with you is grace and understanding that it’s going to take time to get things right,” Parker said. “While we’re being patient with you, your responsibility is to actively work at getting it right.”

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