Tips on how to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community
June’s history as Pride Month spans three presidential administrations, and its evolving official title reflects society’s developing views towards the LGBTQ+ community. In 1999, President Bill Clinton first declared June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, and later, President Barack Obama changed the title to be more inclusive, naming June as LGBT Pride Month. This year, President Joe Biden has extended the reach even further by declaring June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
In the years since it was first announced, the country has set aside June as the month to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ ((Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and other gender and sexually expansive identities) issues for good reason. Since the Stonewall riots in June 1969, when the gay community in New York City protested police raids, we have come a long way in accepting LGBTQ+ individuals, but there’s always room for improvement. In spite of increased awareness and acceptance, coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or other gender and sexually expansive identities remains difficult for some people. Fears about the reactions of family, friends, coworkers, and society as a whole can contribute to anxiety, depression, isolation, and suicidal thoughts. Consider the following data:
- 40% of LGB adults have a mental illness vs. 18% of all adults.
- 39% of LGBT youth seriously considered attempting suicide in a 12-month period.
- 2 times more lesbian and bisexual women experience suicidal thoughts compared to heterosexual women.
- 37% of bisexual adults are likely to report depression-related symptoms vs. 17% of heterosexual adults.
- Within the LGBTQ+ community, individuals are 2-3x more likely to avoid care compared to heterosexuals and 2-3x more likely to attempt suicide and be homeless.
- Bisexuals have higher rates of behavioral issues compared to lesbians and gay men.
Coming out can be liberating as LGBTQ+ people learn who they are and discover a community of support. Indeed, we all have a role to play in supporting LGBTQ+ family members, friends and coworkers. Below are some suggestions on how we all can be more supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.
Create an atmosphere of acceptance
- Be open and approachable, and consistently convey you are supportive of LGBTQ+ concerns.
- Be sensitive and respectful to all orientations and identities. Avoid making assumptions about a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Don’t assume that everyone is heterosexual.
- Use inclusive language and preferred pronouns. Choosing to include your pronouns in introductions to others and in email signatures can eliminate confusion for some and foster an all-around more inclusive environment. This practice helps minimize mis-gendering and can be an important strategy toward inclusivity.
- Seek out information and educational resources to increase your understanding.
Listen and be willing to talk
- Listen without judgment. Often, your LGBTQ+ family members, friends, or coworkers need someone to listen as they share their feelings and frustrations.
- Ask what you can do to better support them, while not asking intrusive questions.
- Be an ally and offer empathy and support.
- Normalize the discussion around LGBTQ+ issues by speaking supportively across different settings, such as social, work, or places of worship. Doing so helps to make others comfortable doing the same.
- Say something if you hear someone make a disparaging remark or tell a joke that stereotypes LGBTQ+ people. Silence can convey acceptance.
Provide resources and assistance
- Share helpful resources when appropriate, such as the Gay-Straight Alliance Network (www.gsanetwork.org) or It Gets Better (www.itgetsbetter.org).
- Validate concerns, experiences, and feelings. If someone shows signs of distress or depression, contact local support groups or your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you have access to that benefit.
- Be aware of resources available for urgent or emergency situations. For example, texting “HOME” to 741741 will connect you or a loved one to a crisis counselor, or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month is a reminder to embrace differences. We’re not all the same, and recognizing that makes us better as individuals and ultimately as a society. As you drive by a rainbow flag hanging from a storefront, restaurant, car or home window, pause to remind yourself of your role in being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.