“Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on. Part of becoming an ally is also recognizing one’s own experience of oppression.”

–Anne Bishop, author of Becoming an Ally and Beyond Token Change

There are many different definitions for allyship, and there are many ways to be an ally to a marginalized or oppressed community. An ally is generally someone of one social identity group who stands up in support of members of another group. For the LGBTQ community, an ally is typically a non-LGBTQ person who is always open to learning about LGBTQ issues and identities, who builds equitable relationships with LGBTQ people and who stands up for the rights of LGBTQ people. 

Middlebury College defines an ally as a visible member of the community who is supportive of LGBTQ people on-campus and who is willing to provide space and a ready ear to anyone concerned with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Four Spheres of Allyship

The process of becoming an ally to the LGBTQ community is an active involvement and engagement with the four spheres of allyship. 

Awareness: Explore your own feelings around LGBTQ issues and how heterosexism and homophobia affect and impact LGBTQ, straight and cisgender people. Understand your socialization around sexuality and gender. Begin to define what allyship means to you and how you can aspire towards being an ally to LGBTQ people. Gain awareness by self-examination, attending workshops, doing research and talking with LGBTQ people.

Knowledge: Develop an understanding of the issues, policies and laws that affect LGBTQ people. Educate yourself about LGBTQ histories, cultures, and concerns. Understand the various terms used by LGBTQ people to define themselves. Be open to learning and honest about things you don’t understand. 

Skills: This difficult step involves using your awareness and knowledge to communicate to others the importance of LGBTQ competency, advocacy and support. These skills can be acquired by attending conferences and trainings, role-playing with peers and friends, and developing support connections.

Action: To effect change, an ally must be willing to use their awareness, skills and knowledge to speak up and take action. Some ways to engage in action include:

  • Speaking out against offensive statements
  • Listen when someone opens up about their experience
  • Validate people’s sexual orientation and gender expression
  • Attend LGBTQA events, meetings and programs at Middlebury
  • Risk discomfort, and take risks to learn and grow as a person
How to be an Ally to Transgender People

Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity is someone's internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or as someone outside of that gender binary). The transgender community is one of the most underrepresented, misinterpreted, and misunderstood facets of the LGBTQ community. It is important to recognize that being an ally to transgender people will look different from supporting LGBQ people.

Tips to keep in mind include:

  • Always use the proper pronouns and name of the individual. If you don’t know what pronouns to use, ask. Be polite and respectful
  • Do not “out” a transgender individual without their express permission
  • Respect the right of transgender people to define themselves
  • Do not assume an individual’s sex or gender identity based upon their appearance
  • Recognize the diversity of transgender lives and remember that these identities intersect with various aspects of their lived experience

Additional Resources for Being an Ally