What I Mean When I Say “Ally”

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Lately, there seems to be a lot of talk about whether one can or should call oneself an ally.  Who gets to speak up for LGBT equality?  What voices should be heard?  Silenced?  Made space for?  A few weeks ago, Rachel Held Evans shared this link to an article from Bruce Reyes-Chow, 10 Tips for Being  a Good Ally.

I read the article.  I squirmed in my chair a little.  He has a lot of good points – including using the term “ally” sparingly and making sure it is not an empty identifier – one in which we can claim, feel good about ourselves, and then sit on our heels.

Was talking to me?

His article, and others I have read which question the place of the non-marginalized speaking up and out for the marginalized, made me think about some important questions.  {And wrestle with some uncomfortable feelings.  And admit I’m not always going about this in the right way.}

And so, I find myself asking:

Can only women speak to feminism?  African Americans to racism?  Immigrants to the American Dream?  The poor to income disparity and poverty?  LGBT individuals to marriage equality and/or homophobia in the Church?

Well, yes. Wait. No!  Maybe?

To be completely honest, I struggle with this question.  And others.  How do we know when to speak up and when to stay silent and yield the speaking floor?

In my “about” page of my blog, I call myself an “ally.”  But is it a title I deserve?  Is it one I’ve earned, one I strive to be, or just an empty label, a self-congratulating identifier?  What does it mean and what do I mean when I call myself an “ally”?

While the term likely means slightly different things to each of us, when I call myself an LGBT “ally,” I mean that I will…

  • Speak out when I can.  I will write what is on my heart and speak to those who might be willing to listen.  I will be willing to listen, to read, to think, to act.  I will be willing to try to do all these things and more.
  • Identify myself as a safe person.  I will wear my Believe Out Loud pin on my church name badge.  I will wear purple on Spirit Day.  I will continue to look for other ways in which I can communicate a message of support.
  • Try to help dispel the misinformation and misconceptions. I will participate in book studies and engage in sometimes difficult conversations – at times challenging my own relationships with friends and family.  I will try to confront stereotypes and myths as I encounter them.
  • Advocate for just laws when possible.  I will tweet, write, and call my senator.  I will hand out postcards to build awareness and support for just laws.  I will say “Yes” when given the opportunity to sit down in my state representative’s office with members from my faith community in support of marriage equality.  And I will rejoice when he is one of three republicans who votes YES and Marriage Equality PASSES in my home state of Illinois.
  • Share and “like” affirming statements on social media.  I will try not to hesitate or wonder what others might think, because it is not about me.
  • Try to be a bridge, or at least be on the bridge.  Ultimately it is not my voice that needs to be heard, but if I can help bring someone in and convince them to sit down and listen to the LGBT voices that need to be heard, then that will be my goal .

But, I must also admit that as an “ally,” I will…

  • Make mistakes.  I will use the wrong term, make an ignorant assumption, and say hurtful things, even if unintentional.  I will presume, assume, and feel too proud of the too little I’ve tried to do.
  • Not always know when to write and when to yield the floor.  After watching movie Frozen, twice, I could not help but think about how this movie could be an anthem for LGBT folks.  The English major in me was making all the parallels and seeing all the layers in the story.  But it was not my story to write.  It was Justin Lee’s.  And he wrote it well.  {Hint:  Go read Justin’s take on Frozen.}  But, I will not always know when to wait for someone else to write the story and when to write the story.
  • Lack the necessary courage at times.  I will not always challenge homophobic comments made on Facebook, on the news, or even in conversations with family and friends.  And for this I am deeply sorry.
  • Stand in the wrong place at the wrong time.  In trying to stand in solidarity, I will step on toes, stand in front (when I should be behind) and not always know my place.
  • Struggle with when, how, and if to call myself an “ally.”

Maybe there is a better word.  Maybe I, maybe we, could say we’re “affirming” or we’re “progressive” or we’re not that kind of Christian.  Or, maybe we should leave off any identifiers all together and try to let our actions speak louder than our words.

Well, yes.  That would be ideal.

But it’s complicated.  While I realize that an “ally” is a name that I must work towards, a name that others might call me rather than a self-identifier, I also know that it is a signal.  A rainbow flag dressed as black and white print.  And, for this time, I will continue to use it.  I will continue to use it because despite the changing tides, those identified as “Christians” or “People of faith” are often more likely to fall somewhere on the spectrum between “loving the sinner, hating the sin” and outright homophobia.  There are many exceptions to this rule, but it is still the rule.

When I say “ally,” I mean I am Christian, but I believe God loves you if you are gay, straight, bi, male, female, transgender or cisgender.

When I say “ally,” I mean I am Christian, but I affirm your committed relationship just as I hope others would affirm mine.

When I say “ally,” I mean I am Christian, but I know that I have a lot of my own sin to deal with, and maybe you do to.  But our innate sexuality is not one of them. 

When I say “ally,” I mean I am Christian, and I see the worth, the dignity in you as I hope you might see it in me. 

So, yes.  I’m Holli.  I’m {trying to be a good} Christian.  And I’m {trying to be} an ally.  Until those two words are one in the same, I will continue to try to walk this jagged line, stumbling all the way.

Thank you, friends, for your grace.

How and when do you use the term “ally”?  How do you identify as LGBT affirming in different situations?  To LGBT folks, how can we best be allies?  How can we identify ourselves as affirming without being presumptuous?

 

{A version of this article appears on Believe Out Loud and Reconciling Ministries Network.}

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Comments

  1. Good stuff and a helpful addition the conversation. Thanks!

  2. StuckAtHomeMom says:

    As the mother of a gay daughter, I loved your post. To me, anyone who speaks out in love and support is an ally. (On a side note, I’ve been following for a few months, and I love the mix of faith & love that is always apparent on your page.)

  3. If you sincerely want to be a better ally (and I truly believe you do) take a bit of advice and stop using the ridiculous cliche’ ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. Of all the ‘sins’ of Abrahamic based religions the prohibition against homosexuals is the only time this is used. Do you EVER use this when talking about any other groups persecution? Of course not. Know why? It’s specific code word devised to excuse mistreatment of LGBT. Every non-heteronormative person knows this. It’s been offered up for the last 40 years since outright criminalization of homosexuality was overturned. It’s cliche’. It’s offensive. It’s a judgement. Stop and think about it for a minute. You have no more right to judge me for loving who I love that I do to judge you on any other sin.

    There are no official guidelines for being an ally. Everyone participates as their personalities allow. A lot of people want to take credit for the changes in attitude on equality and my answer is always ‘Good for you. Anything you do is fine if it helps get the job done.’ LGBT are 5% of the population. We’re been marginalized for 2000 years. We need everyone’s help in our struggle and yours is sincerely appreciated. If ever you have questions about how to handle ANYTHING that might come up ask me and I’ll try my best to get you through it. m2mcurtis@gmail.com

    • Yes, I completely agree with you about the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” phrase. I do not see homosexuality as a sin and I also despise the phrase. What I meant in using the reference was merely that I think there is an assumption that many Christians feel this way “at best,” but it does not represent how I {or many other Christians} feel, so I feel that the term “ally” helps to clarify.

      Thanks for your input and for your offer for guidance. It is much appreciated.

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