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Allyship: The Power of Privilege

One of the most beautiful things about the Pride and Joy Foundation is that it is “striving to build self-awareness within and safety for LGBTQ+ families and their allies.”  Let’s take a second to talk about how important allies are (hint: so freakin’ important!) to the LGBTQ+ community.  Let’s think about it this way - even if every member of a marginalized community banded together to fight for their cause, they would still be up against a majority, making change near impossible.  For any marginalized community, having strong ally support is integral in the fight for equality because allies allow for the community to show up in numbers and to prove that their cause isn’t only their own. 

But what does it mean to truly be an ally?  Queer sex educator and trauma specialist Jimanekia discussed in an Instagram video post her position on allies.  Though her post specifically references non-Black allyship within the Black Lives Matter movement, her message can be generalized to allies to any community.  In reference to the current outpour of social media posts regarding the BLM movement, Jimanekia says that “an ally is someone who is sharing the posts,” but goes on to question whether those people “actually believe it” or if they are “doing it because it’s cool right now.”  This brings into question the idea of performative allyship, sometimes also referred to as “performative wokeness” or “optical allyship.”

Holiday Phillips, in her article on medium.com, outlines the difference between true allyship and performative allyship.  She explains that “[a]n ally is someone from a nonmarginalized group who uses their privilege to advocate for a marginalized group.”  For me, things brought to light another layer of allyship that I had never thought about: privilege.  After reading this statement, I’ve come to realize that privilege is an inherent part of being an ally.  In the case of LGBTQ+ community, if you are an ally, it is assumed you are a cisgendered heterosexual, which of course comes with privilege.  If you are an ally to the BIPOC community, it means you are white, which, let’s be honest, is synonymous with “privileged.”  So, being an ally is all about how someone is using this privilege to call attention to the injustices of and actively advocate for the marginalized groups they claim to support.

Phillps goes on to say that performative allyship, “is when someone from that same nonmarginalized group professes support and solidarity with a marginalized group in a way that either isn’t helpful or that actively harms that group.”  Did you post a black square for #blackouttuesday on Instagram, but do nothing else to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement again?  Did your friend wish you a “Happy Pride,” but never otherwise acknowledged the inequality you face as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.  Did your family member make a comment about how inhumane it is to keep people in cages at the border, but went on to express support of deportation?  These are all prime examples of performative allyship, as they do nothing to support the larger marginalized groups.  These actions are focused on making the “ally” feel heard or supportive; they are not focused on helping the marginalized community’s fight for equality or justice.

So, what does true allyship look like?  The Anti-Oppression Network defines true allies as those who partake in “an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group” and “act out of a genuine interest in challenging larger oppressive power structures.”  By this definition, in order to be an ally, someone must understand the marginalization of the group which they are supporting.  They must understand how or why that group is marginalized and where the stigma attached to that group came from.  They must understand how their privilege and the privilege of others like them caused this type of oppression to occur in the first place.  Then, they must actively work to fight against the system that allowed for marginalization to occur.  By this definition, simply standing in support of a group isn’t enough.  By this definition, claiming allyship inherently means responding to calls to action.

With all of that being said, I call to you to reflect on whether or not you are a real or a performative ally.  For me to say I have not taken part in performative allyship would be a lie.  Do I believe in equal rights, regardless of skin color?  Absolutely.  Have I actively fought to fight against the systematic racism in this country?  Unfortunately, I have not until recently.  In the last week, I have taken the time to email several people in positions of power to demand that they take action against racial injustice.  This is just the first step I have taken towards being a better ally to the Black community.

As a member of the LGBTQ+, I am now looking at who my allies really are.  I am keeping in mind my “friend” who claims to support the LGBTQ+ community, but uses the term “that’s gay.”  I am thinking of my extended family member who “supports” me and my immediate family, but adamantly insists on voting for Trump who has consistently tried to oppress the queer community.  I am reminded of all the people at PRIDE parades, using the LGBTQ+ community as a photo opportunity or an excuse to get drunk and party without even thinking twice about what PRIDE really is about.

We are at a point in time where claiming allyship is no longer enough.  Not only are rights being withheld, but they are actively being taken away.  Communities are being oppressed.   People are being murdered for doing nothing except be who they are.  If you are claiming allyship, what are you doing about this?  Watching it happen does not make you an ally.  Take a stand.  Engage in uncomfortable conversations, and grow from them.  Use the power of your privilege to staunchly advocate for those who don’t have it.  Don’t just be an ally, be an advocate.


Written by Gabrielle Ackerman - a caffeine-drinking, adventure-seeking 28-year-old mom and wife. I was born and raised in Jersey City, NJ, just 10 minutes outside of Manhattan. I lived and worked in New Jersey as an educator, until my wife and I decided to move our family west to Idaho, where she is originally from, to allow me to transition to being a stay-at-home mom.

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

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