How to Be the Ally Your Friends Really Need
Do you care about someone in the LGBTQIA+ community? If so, I’m right there with you. The horrific attacks in Orlando weren’t just a random act of violence—they were a hate crime. I feel sick, sad, powerless, and I know my friends feel far worse. I want to take away their hurt, make them safe, change the aspects of the world that threaten and marginalize them. I want to ally, more than ever. But what’s the best way to do that?
That question has lingered on my mind for half my life, with ever-evolving answers, and it eventually led me to write The Inside of Out, about a teen ally whose attempts at advocacy go comically awry. After her best friend comes out, Daisy is overcome with love for her friend and anger at the discrimination of her school board. She jumps heedlessly into the fight—and fumbles it, outing people who aren’t ready to be out, talking over LGBT+ voices, and treating the movement carelessly, not stopping to think about the ways her actions could impact the very people she’s trying to help.
Some of the lessons I took away from writing this book are obvious, others more personal. In reacting to injustice, I always avoid naming names, even if I’m confident that someone is out. Instead of launching into of a barrage of my own thoughts, I consider first a retweet, allowing members of the community to be heard instead of me. I’m also wary of taking steps that smack in any way of jumping on a bandwagon—instead of putting a supportive filter on my Facebook profile pic, which, though clearly well-intentioned, has always felt to me like sticking a Band-Aid on a broken bone. I look to my LGBT+ friends and see what they suggest as more active ways to help.
There is a positive takeaway from Daisy’s vocal advocacy, of course. At times, it’s vital to speak up, even when it’s scary. We live in an echo chamber world in which opinions are becoming increasingly polarized, growing quickly from off-hand comments into deeply entrenched and dangerously toxic views. So when you hear someone make a small homophobic comment, say something. Even if a family member or authority figure such as a teacher attempts to pass off views that you find hurtful as “a difference of opinion,” let them know what you really think—that what they’re expressing is hateful and that you won’t stand by and let it go unchallenged. It will feel risky to take a real-life stand…but imagine how much more personal and dangerous it may be for your friends to speak up.
When in doubt, think of the people you’re doing this for—not as a monolith or a cause, but as individuals. What do those people want from you? If you’re not sure, ask. If you don’t know any members of the LGBT+ community personally, you can find vibrant voices on Twitter who speak with raw honesty about both their day-to-day experiences and their reactions to current events.
Learn and care and then act accordingly. Focus on being the best friend you can be, not just in the wake of tragedy, not just during Pride Month, but all the time. If you master that with passion, courage, and honesty, you’ll already be the ally your loved ones need most.
Follow YA author (and recent NYU grad!) Jenn Marie Thorne on Twitter and get her book The Inside of Out.
By Jenn Marie Thorne