5 ways to be a good LGBTQ+ ally

LGBTQ Health
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If someone close to you comes out and tells you they're part of the LGBTQ+ community, chances are, you'll tell them you love them and that being their authentic selves doesn't change anything. Whether it's your gay child, best friend or partner, you'll want to give them your support.

Words are one thing, but action is another.

"In this setting, being an ally means being visible," says Main Line Health Director of LGBTQ Services Dane Menkin, CRNP. "As a person who supports LGBTQ+ people, it could mean that you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, or it could just mean that you're supportive."

Because support takes many forms, depending on who you ask, you might not know how to be a good LGBTQ+ ally.

"There are many ways to show your support," Menkin says. "A good ally is someone who visibly supports the LGBTQ+ community and advocates for equality and inclusiveness."

Some of the most important things you can do are to be open-minded, show your allyship through action — not just the label — and not assume everyone is straight.

Here are five ways to be a good ally:

1. Don't make assumptions.

You can be a good LGBTQ+ ally by not assuming someone is heterosexual. You shouldn't assume that all your friends and coworkers are straight, and you shouldn't assume someone's gender identity or pronouns.

"The easiest way I've found is to introduce myself and use my pronouns," Menkin says. "It opens the door for somebody to know they can share, too. I also tell people to trust their instincts. If you feel it's not something that applies in the setting you're in, don't ask."

You'll never use someone's pronouns while speaking to them, he says, but if there's a situation where you do need to know, then Menkin suggests keeping it simple. Ask, "Is there a pronoun that works best for you?" And if you mess up, don't make a big deal out of it. Simply say, "Sorry, I won't do it again."

By erasing all assumptions, you'll be able to create a safe space for people to be their authentic selves.

2. Listen to understand, not just to hear.

If someone you know chooses to open up to you, then simply listen. Be an active listener — listen to understand, not just to hear. Being a good ally of an LGBTQ+ friend or family member means taking on the responsibility of learning about their issues and challenges. It's not their job to teach you.

"It's a little tricky to expect the person in front of you to be the one that educates you," Menkin says. "The burden is on you to learn to be the ally and not put that burden on the already vulnerable person."

Social media is a great way to learn. Start by following LGBTQ+ people who have created educational content.

Specially trained health care professionals and nurses at any of our Main Line Health Inclusive Care practices also can answer questions. They understand the unique needs of the LGBTQ+ community.

3. Check your privilege.

Most of us have experienced some type of challenge in our lives, but many of us also have some type of privilege that others may not have — whether it's education, racial, class or being able-bodied. Privilege allows you to not think or worry about certain things until you consciously choose to. It allows you to not carry a burden about who you are and how the world might react to you if you share that burden.

"If you're in a position of privilege, the burden is on you to use that privilege for people that don't have access to it," Menkin says.

4. Be inclusive.

Another way to be a good LGBTQ+ ally is by being inclusive. There are many ways you can signal you are an ally.

For example, you can:

  • Use gender neutral language (e.g., "they").
  • List your pronouns during an introduction or in an email signature.
  • Don't exclude an LGBTQ+ person from events or activities.
  • Be deliberate in invitations or groups you create. If you are creating a "women's support group," be sure to include language that is deliberate "anyone who is female identified is welcome to attend."

Sometimes being inclusive means adding words so no one is left out. Menkin gives the example of a recent hospital policy. While reviewing it, he noticed the phrase "mother and breastfeeding" throughout. He recommended changing it to "mother/birth parent and breast/chest feeding."

"Being inclusive is sometimes as simple as slowing down," Menkin says. "Just take a minute to understand what you're trying to communicate, and who the intended audience is."

5. Defend against discrimination.

Being a good LGBTQ+ ally is more than a label, but an action. For example, if friends, family or coworkers are heard making anti-LGBTQ+ comments, call them out. Let them know you find their comments offensive.

Also, if you see someone do or say something that's offensive or discriminatory toward an LGBTQ+ person, ask the person if they're alright, or if there's something they'd like you to do to help.

If it's in the workplace, your company should have policies on how to address discrimination.

Being a good LGBTQ+ ally looks different for everyone.

There's no exact way to be an ally, as long as you're doing something within your comfort zone. Not everyone has to wave a flag or hold a banner. Some might want to make an anonymous donation to an LGBTQ+ organization.

Other support can include:

  • Supporting your community's local LGBTQ+ artists
  • Hosting panels for queer sex educators
  • Providing a meet-and-greet space for marginalized identities
  • Volunteering at a booth or table at an LGBTQ+ event

These actions are important, but ultimately you want to be their voice.

"It's important for allies to understand that it's very difficult for somebody who is LGBTQ+ to be the ally," Menkin says. "It requires putting themselves out there in a way that may not be safe."

What we do at Main Line Health

Health disparities exist in the LGBTQ+ community due to discrimination. If an LGBTQ+ person is avoiding a provider because they've either already experienced discrimination or are expecting it, their access to health care is now compromised or even prevented completely.

Making sure everyone has access to quality health care so they can live healthy lives is what we strive for. To increase access to care for LGBTQ+ communities, we believe that creating a welcoming, inclusive, affirming health care environment is crucial.

Hundreds of our physicians, clinicians and advanced practice providers have been trained in inclusive care that focuses on getting the terminology right and addressing patients how they wish to be addressed. You'll be able to get regular check-ups, immunizations and screenings, among other LGBTQ-focused services.

Next steps:

Schedule an appointment with an LGBTQ+ specialist
5 things you didn't know about gender care at Main Line Health
Kelsy's story: One patient's journey with gender-affirming surgery

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