Think about how you would feel if your entire workplace played clique, just because of your sexual orientation? How would you feel if you spent your whole life yearning for a hint of acceptance from your family because you came out with a same-sex lover? How would you feel if you were labelled a criminal for choosing…love? Seems terrifying, doesn’t it?
This has been the reality of the queer community for a long, long time now. Discrimination and harassment against the LGBTQIA+ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and others) remains rampant across various social spaces across the world. According to a survey conducted a few years ago, six in ten youth still view homosexuality as wrong. Another study undertaken by the Boston Consulting Group, Indian Institute of Management and Pride Circle Foundation revealed that 92 per cent of students belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community faced discrimination in the form of mocking and bullying. These forms of systemic discrimination prevail beyond educational institutions—in hospitals, the judicial system and so on and so forth. Despite the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, we’re far from any kind of acceptance, or equality.
While the community itself has been fighting the battle for equal rights and justice for decades now, there have also been several straight and cisgender people who like to think of themselves as ardent supporters and allies of the community. But is identifying as an ally enough? When does it become tokenism? What does it really mean to be an ally? It’s simple really—being an ally is being compassionate and empathetic and knowing that love is love. But it goes beyond changing icons to the pride colours, and using hashtags for the month of Pride.
I’ve always been a little lost on how to navigate being a better ally—so, I did what I usually do—asked questions and tried to write a story about it.
What does it mean to be an ally?
We spoke to several members of the community and allies to understand what the term means to them and what it entails. The conversation that followed, filled our hearts. Sakshi Juneja, co-founder of Gaysi Magazine says, “An ally to me is somebody who doesn’t need to walk in my shoes to be empathetic towards me and my experiences. An ally is someone who trusts and believes in my experiences—whether it’s about my pain, apprehensions, or desires. Someone who is inclusive in their way of being—that is an ally.”
Delhi-based artist Raqeeb Raza says, “I think feeling comfortable and safe around people makes them an ally. Queer people are usually bullied or ridiculed for being themselves, so, if as a cis-het person, you can be respectful and kind, create a space of comfort where queers can be themselves without feeling judged or different, you are an ally.”
Suhail Abbsi, co-founder and chairperson of the Humsafar Trust (an NGO that promoted LGBTQIA+ rights in India), speaks from the perspective of the being a member of the community. “It means a great deal to have an ally because we are out to ourselves, we are comfortable within our own skin, but if an ally comes, it’s additional support and any kind of support that comes to us is helpful. Often, if we have this support, then half the battle is won for us. Allies are the ones who take our voices to the mainstream and they make people realise that we are also part of the mainstream and tax-paying individuals like any other. When it comes to tokenism, we can see that through because, they believe in the cause only at face-value because it’s politically correct to be pro LGBTQ but somewhere deep down, there is no total acceptance.”
Theatre artists Vishal Asrani and Jiji Subi put simply and beautifully. Here’s what they have to say: “The word ally means a friend. To be a friend…you need to first be someone who can be trusted…and to be trusted you must be non-judgemental. To be non-judgemental, you must be someone who is open minded. To be open minded, you must understand that diversity is the very essence of nature. Live and let love.”
While the practice of sharing gender pronouns has been done within the queer community for a long time now, it is now becoming an increasingly popular practice. However, it is new and can be tricky to navigate for those unfamiliar with the terms. So, if you are unsure of someone’s pronouns or how they would like to be referred as, there’s nothing better than politely asking them their preferred pronouns. “I think the best thing to do is always ask first. Ask people for what pronoun they prefer and ask if they are comfortable sharing,” says Raza. “Remember, exude warmth, and always smile! A smile can go a long way, showing that you are accepting!” says Asrani.
When someone comes out to you—celebrate their story
While prying into someone’s personal life and asking about their sexual orientation is an absolute no-no, “If you are close to someone, let them be the ones to open up to you about their sexuality. When a person decides to be open about their sexuality, give it time. Let them tell you at their own pace about how they feel. Do not probe asking silly things like ‘when did you know? Or ‘is it a phase?,’” says Asrani. In A Straight Guide to being LGBT Friendly, written by Priya Dali, she writes, “It’s a wonderful feeling to be open about your identity and in a country like ours, it’s not always the easiest thing to be yourself. When someone comes out to you, thank them that they could trust you and celebrate their love.”
Empathise and take action
Like we said, there’s a lot more that you can do than just changing your status on social media. “You ought to be empathetic towards the cause and the people. I think if you internalise the process instead of being overtly conscious about it and just support the cause in every possible way—it would help a lot. Little things often matter the most—if you see a write up which is very anti LGBTQIA+ you can speak up about it or write a letter to the editor. The more voices are heard, the greater is the impact. Every bit counts,” says Abbasi, “Educating people is also on the community itself—it works both ways.”
Often, our lack of support to the community comes from sheer ignorance and lack of information and knowledge about the community. “There’s no end to unlearning the social constructs and behaviours that harm others, so unlearn that,” says Raza. Reading books and watching informative films is always a good idea. Here’s what you can watch to get started; Call Me By Your Name, The Kids Are Alright, Moonlight, Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, and The Handmaiden among many others. You can even squeeze in some me time by reading books such as Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar or Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. You can even learn more about the various queer movements that have taken place across the world, including in India by following the work of platforms such as the Aravani Art project or the Dalit Queer Project.
Start accepting and know that love is love
“Be friendly, we won’t bite back. We are a part of families. I’m not saying we are holier than thou, we make mistakes, and we are like any other human being. What we seek is not tolerance but acceptance and a little bit of love helps everyone,” says Abbasi. According to Arsani and Subi, “The world is a diverse multi-layered tapestry of different hues and colours. Don’t see things as only black and white or you will miss out on all the rainbows! Remember, abilities aren’t hindered because of differences, talents aren’t any less because people are unique, and worth isn’t defined by diversity”.