Allyship is vital to social justice and activism. Technically speaking, an ally is generally defined as an individual from a dominant group who recognizes that their privilege is unearned, and advocates for those who don’t possess that privilege.
As burgeoning research shows, identifying as an ally comes with certain psychological benefits. Consider a study led by psychologist Sharon Rostosky of the University of Kentucky. She and her team sought to better understand the positive aspects of being a straight ally to the LGBT community. To this end, they conducted open-ended interviews with adults 18 and older who identified as LGBT allies about their experiences. Upon analyzing the data, Rostosky and her team found eight reasons why being an ally of the LGBT community is positive for those who embrace this role.
So as Pride Month comes to a close this year, let’s look at the ways in which this form of allyship can benefit us all:
Increased Knowledge and Awareness
Participants reported that they gained greater knowledge, experiences, and awareness from being a straight ally to LGBT individuals. One participant, a 28-year-old woman from Florida reflected:
“I think that being an ally helps with perspective-taking and empathy. I have always felt that I supported individuals to be confident in their sexuality, regardless of orientation, and I have always advocated for equal rights. But having friends who identify as LGBT has raised my awareness of some of the challenges they encounter, and thus has made me think more critically about politics and culture.”
The expanded knowledge and awareness gained from being a straight ally was of particular importance to study participants. In particular, they felt that it increased their understanding of their own sexuality, as well as privilege and oppression as it pertains to the LGBT community and beyond.
Upholding Values of Justice
Participants felt that being a straight ally to LGBT individuals meant that they were living their lives in keeping with their values of justice, morality, and equality. A 30-year-old woman expressed:
“This is such a strange question. The advantage of being an ally to LGBT people is that you can live your life normally without suffering from the cognitive dissonance associated with many negative viewpoints. Taking a positive view of everyone allows you to flourish and grow, and fosters spiritual and personal development in the community. What other option is there but to be an LGBT ally?”
The participants also felt that their role as an ally facilitated personal growth, as they gained greater knowledge and self-awareness that encouraged further exploration of their values.
Beneficial Individual Relationships
Giving and receiving support as a straight ally was also important to the participants. They described their relationships with LGBT people as enriching and satisfying. For instance, a 22-year-old female from Kentucky lent support to a friend when he was coming out:
“I feel that being an ALLY for the LGBT community is something that is important in opening me to other people’s lifestyles and ideas about life and what we do in our community both in our town and across the nation. I come from a small town that is very religious and conservative, especially when it comes to the LGBT community. I only had one friend growing up who identified as such, and it was something he kept well under wraps in order to avoid familial consequences and trouble in school. I supported him when he did finally come out to his family, and while I could understand their hurt, I was more proud to be a part of helping my friend realize himself and start living as he felt most comfortable.”
Through being a straight ally, participants were able to become part of a new community. They grew their social network and felt that they were more deeply connected to people who shared their political and social values. Participants' sense of belonging to the LGBT community ran deep. A 33-year-old woman from New York stated:
“Maybe I’m naive but I don’t even really consider myself an ally, just a not-insane person. My husband and I are kind of like queer straight people—have been dubbed such by our many gay friends. So it doesn’t feel like this other community that I’m allied with, it feels like a community that I’m part of.”
Straight allies felt that educating others about LGBT and minority issues was a positive component in their experience. They described feeling gratified in their roles as champions of the LGBT community, and teachers of other straight people who were less involved. A 26-year-old female from New York relayed:
“One of the positive things about being an ally is that I have the opportunity to serve as an advocate to other higher education professionals about the needs and ways to support the LGBTIAP population. Through being an ally I have been able to serve as a voice of reason when speaking to other administrators about how to support LGBT individuals and [by] helping to consult on how to build a more inclusive community.”
Being a Role Model
Participants reported that being a positive role model for children and adults alike was important in being a straight ally. Take the sentiment of a 21-year-old woman from Texas:
“I believe the positive thing about being an ally is ... it teaches our children that people are people and you treat them how you would like to be treated, no matter who they are, what they look like.”
Serving as role models for others, and leveraging their voices and perspectives, in ways that supported the LGBT community was especially satisfying for study participants.
Using Social Privilege
Straight allies described that using their heterosexual privilege in positive ways was at once rewarding and responsible. They connected with the importance of making the lives of LGBT people better. As a 27-year-old woman from Connecticut put things:
“Being an ally is extremely important to me. I feel that it is my obligation (as a person in the majority) to stand up for those that are not being treated equally.”
Speaking Out and Taking a Stand
Participants believed that being an ally activist, that is, by speaking out and taking a stand, was extremely beneficial. By doing so, they fortified their feelings of empowerment and efficacy, and it gave them a sense of pride. A 32-year old man from Ohio reflected:
“When a college student, particularly a White male like myself, sees me stand up and question his language or actions, then the message is sent very clearly that that is not to be tolerated. Hopefully, if my actions as an ally change the actions of those who are not supportive of the lifestyle, even one person, then I will have made the world a better place for my LGBT brothers and sisters. They should be afforded the same privileges that I have.”
Positive aspects of being a heterosexual ally to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.Rostosky SS, Black WW, Riggle ED, Rosenkrantz D. Positive aspects of being a heterosexual ally to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2015 Jul;85(4):331-8. doi: 10.1037/ort0000056. Epub 2015 Mar 23.