9 Things We Wish Straight Allies Knew

We know many straight people who are interested in actively supporting the LGBT community. Some people choose to be allies by simply being our close friends, other people choose to be allies by lobbying for legislation that can mitigate harms being done to the LGBT community, and still more people choose to be allies through different mechanisms. Some of our friends have felt compelled by their Christian faith to learn more about LGBT issues and concerns to be agents for positive change. So many of our straight allies have worked to educate themselves when encountering LGBT people with unfamiliar stories. Yet at times, we feel that messages regarding what makes a person an ally are given with the assumption that all LGBT people have the same needs, views, and life experiences. From our perspective as a celibate, LGBT, Christian couple, here are 9 things the two of us wish our straight allies knew.

1. We are individuals.
LGBT people are just as diverse as the rest of the population, so there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to being supportive of all of us. What one LGBT person might perceive as supportive, another may see differently. This is also true of LGBT Christians. For example, many LGBT Christians are grateful for allies who advocate for change in their denominations’ theologies of marriage. However, there are also LGBT Christians who are in complete agreement with the teachings of their respective Christian traditions on this matter. There are LGBT couples who desire that their relationships be recognized as marriages within their denominations, and there are LGBT couples who understand their relationships as something different from marriage. Because we are individuals, it is helpful to ask us what we would find most supportive instead of assuming that all of us have the same feelings, needs, opinions, and theological positions.

2. Our stories belong to us.
Regardless of sexual orientation, every person has a story. Stories are powerful and dynamic. They come in many varieties: childhood stories, coming of age stories, coming out stories, faith stories. They hold vital pieces of ourselves, so to share one’s story with another person is to become vulnerable, entrusting that person to safeguard a precious gift. Please remember, especially with stories related to our coming out processes and faith journeys, that these stories belong to us even if we’ve shared them with you once. Not every LGBT person is comfortable with his or her story being used for political purposes. If you’re going to share our stories with other people, cultivate real relationships with us where you can stay current on how our stories are developing over time.

3. We are glad to answer your questions.
We really mean that. Of course, the two of us can’t speak for every LGBT person, but at least from our perspective, questions are welcome. We would much rather answer questions about our way of life, our self-understandings, and our faith than be told what we should or shouldn’t be doing by people who haven’t walked a mile in our moccasins. We have many straight ally friends who are constantly posing new questions to us. Often, these questions challenge us to think more deeply, and to become better Christians. However we have also encountered many allies who seem to think they know everything that is best for LGBT people. They’ve done a lot of reading, talked to a lot of people, and formed their own conclusions. We would like to stress that we appreciate all the researching and communicating our allies do on a regular basis, but what you have read, heard, and seen from other people and sources does not give you the right to make blanket statements about what all LGBT people should do in a given situation.

4. We aren’t just LGBT. We are people, first and foremost.
Our self-understandings as lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, queer, etc. are very important to us. However, our identities also have many layers. We are sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, teachers, engineers, church members…but we are also people, and that is what matters most. We are not just your “gay friends” or “transgender friends.” We are human beings made in the image and likeness of God. While we are glad to talk with you about LGBT issues, our lives do not involve thinking constantly about our sexual orientations. Start conversations with us in the same way you would with other straight people you know. Ask us about our trip to the art museum last weekend, or our favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes, or the time we spent volunteering with the local wildlife rescue. There are far more interesting subjects to discuss with us than how we feel about the most recent case of a gay couple being denied a table at a restaurant. The more you talk with us, the more you’ll probably see that our lives aren’t very different from yours.

5. Gay marriage isn’t the only issue.
It seems almost anytime a straight person realizes that we are members of the LGBT community, that person’s conversation with us ultimately ends up at the topic of gay marriage. Sometimes, that person will self-identify as an ally and begin telling us how ardently he/she supports gay marriage and how deeply shameful and oppressive he/she thinks it is that gay relationships do not have legal recognition in every U.S. state. We’ve written on the issue of legal recognition before, so clearly we see it as an important topic worthy of serious discussion. But gay marriage is not the only issue of concern for LGBT people. We’re also concerned about the discrimination we can encounter in our places of work, the fact that our LGBT statuses could prevent us from being offered a lease on an apartment, and the reality that we could be refused services at a local business on the basis of our sexual orientations and gender identities. But much more significant than any of those issues are the experiences of LGBT people in countries with far fewer freedoms. There are countries, like Uganda, in which being gay can land a person in prison with a life sentence. There are also places in the world where gay people face the risk of being killed. In the grand scheme of things, we believe situations like these call for a much more urgent response, including constant prayer from the entire Body of Christ.

6. Celibacy and self-loathing are not synonyms.
Frequently, well-intentioned straight allies assume that if an LGBT person is celibate, he or she is trapped in a state of self-loathing. Secular allies can be quick to tell celibate LGBT people that we are allowing ourselves to be manipulated by religious dogma. Christian allies can be just as quick to offer the message, “Jesus loves you no matter what. I can support you in accepting that it’s okay to have sex.” Sometimes, allies make assumptions about the sexual activity statuses of LGBT couples; if a person is in a relationship, this must mean he or she is sexually active or intends to become so in the future. These kinds of attitudes and remarks can be exceptionally wounding, and just as hurtful as the common message we get from many conservative Christians: “You can’t be gay and a Christian.” When straight allies either state or imply that we are repressed because of our celibacy, the message we hear is, “You can’t be gay without having sex.” Asking more questions about our way of life is a much kinder, more compassionate approach.

7. Not all LGBT people want to be activists and educators.
It’s true that some LGBT people feel drawn to the roles of activist and educator. However, not all are so inclined just by virtue of our sexual orientations and gender identities, and we do not “owe it to the LGBT community” to fill those roles. Many of us want only to live our boring, daily lives in peace. Please do not assume that if there is a local protest regarding a marriage amendment that all your queer neighbors will be penciling that into their calendars. And please do not expect that we will want to make the national news if we experience discrimination in some aspect of our daily activities. When we share an experience of hurt or injustice with you, “Which news outlet should I call first?” is not the appropriate question to ask. Forcing us into the spotlight over said incident is not doing us or the broader LGBT community any favors. A better question to ask might be, “How did you feel when that happened?” or “What can I do to support you as you process this?”

8. Pronouns matter.
Many LGBT people can feel exhausted by having to play pronoun games. We sincerely appreciate friends who care enough to learn our patterns of pronoun use. For some of us, respecting pronoun preferences can be as simple as asking, “What are your preferred pronouns?” Yet for others, the pronoun questions are not so simple. Transgender and genderqueer people might relish in having a safe place where others use the right pronouns but could also fear being outed in public. Some genderqueer people prefer avoiding pronouns all together. Be willing to ask questions, practice using appropriate pronouns, and understand why certain people might feel like they have no choice but to try and play pronoun games.

9. We are grateful for your support.
We know many LGBT people who probably wouldn’t make it without support of straight allies. The two of us have been tremendously blessed by some of our straight friends who have committed to travel with us as we adventure through life. As we reflect on the people who have been most supportive and just generally wonderful friends, we can identify an incredible number of straight allies. Some of our straight allies were the first people to know our LGBT identities. Many of our straight allies have helped us feel safer and more welcome in various church communities. We have been so blessed by sharing our lives with some of you for 10 years or more. Thank you so much for seeing us not simply as your LGBT friends but as members of your family.

Whether you are an LGBT person or a straight ally, we’d love to hear from you in the comments. What do you wish straight allies knew?

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13 thoughts on “9 Things We Wish Straight Allies Knew

  1. To be an ally, you have to think the church should treat gay people all the same as straight people. There is not a difference in gay marriage and straight marriage. I don’t understand why a gay person wouldn’t want their church to marry them.

    • I totally agree. If your gay, why not go to a church that will marry you? Why tell our allies that they have to support gay people that don’t support getting married in a church?

    • We think it’s worth mentioning that the blanket statement of “All Christians should marry” is exceptionally problematic. God calls people to many different ways of life where marriage is but one way. Marriage is certainly not the only way.

      Additionally, there’s a difference between getting married “in a church” and getting married within a Christian tradition. While it might seem like splitting hairs. getting married in a church can be simply about which venue a couple decides to book. Different Christian traditions have varying views about a theology of marriage (and a theology of celibacy). In some Christian traditions, the theology of marriage present advocates calling many different relationships marriage. In other Christian traditions, the theology of marriage present defines marriage a bit more specifically. ALL Christians should be afforded the opportunity to study, observe, reflect on, and pray about how their Christian tradition presents marriage and celibacy. We honestly suspect that more people (GLBT and cisgender heterosexual) would find a better vocational fit if encouraged to explore more vocational possibilities.

  2. Hi, I’ve just discovered your blog, and I’m finding it wonderfully open, sincere, & (quite a refreshing change of pace from most of the internet). Thank you both, Sarah & Lindsey, for being willing to share your thoughts & experiences! Speaking as a straight, Christian ally, this post in particular is making me nod appreciatively almost to the point of looking like a bobblehead. 🙂

    Speaking as a writer, though, I have to admit that the thought of dialogue with no pronouns at all is like the thought of driving with four flat tires–Sure, you can get where you’re going, but it’ll be a slow, bumpy ride with an extremely grating sound. :-/ Do you know if those who “avoid pronouns altogether” even avoid first- & second-person pronouns?

    And, in a less aesthetically-driven ponderance: How delicately do you think one should approach that question? I worry that I’ll ask somebody who takes offense at the question itself someday. (I’ve encountered people with such an attitude before; fortunately they made it known before I asked.)

    • Hi Joey! Thanks for commenting. Responding to individual’s pronoun requests is a learned skill. Some genderqueer people prefer “they, them, their” as their pronouns of choice, which can grate against some people exceptionally grammar aware. Most of the time, people want to specify their 3rd person pronouns because these pronouns gender people in the English language. When we are in situations where we find pronouns to be especially overwhelming, we tend to default towards 2nd person pronouns. Using “we” and “our” has been great for decreasing the isolation we feel.

      An easy way to learn a person’s preferred set of pronouns is to ask, “What are your preferred pronouns?” Some people may feel a bit put on the spot if they’re not used to people asking the question. Overwhelmingly, our experience suggests that cisgender folks take exception to the question. The offense speaks to how gender gets automatically conferred onto individuals. Lindsey was once talking to a person where Lindsey only had to use second-person pronouns; the conversation continued for 3 years before Lindsey realized a need for the proper third-person pronoun. One only uses third-person pronouns when talking about someone else.

  3. But don’t you think gay people have a responsibility to stand up for themselves for the sake of other gay people? I don’t understand why you would try to correct an ally who just wants to get the message out there that you’re being oppressed in the world.

    • Hi Jenny, we think you’re assuming that all LGBT people have identically the same goals and concerns. Allies have all sorts of ideas about what gay people “want” and “need.” Many allies rally around concerns of marriage equality, completely overlooking questions of employment non-discrimination and violence against transgender people. Furthermore, we know several “allies” who have no category for us because we don’t desire a sacramental marriage. Must our story be erased for the convenience of patting oneself on the back as a “great ally” who helped advance “the” cause?

      Switching gears a bit, there’s a great deal of conversation about how LGB people frequently misrepresent the concerns of T people. There are many self-proclaimed “allies” who try to align with the right political causes rather than continuing to listen to people who are on society’s margins in different ways.

  4. Thank you for educating us! I like to believe (as Maya Angelou said) that when we know better, we do better.

  5. Regarding 1: we are used to being called “homophobic” if we don’t adhere to certain “one fits all”
    For example, if you say gay marriage doesn’t fit catholic theology and traditions on marriage.

  6. There’s little talk or comment about LGBT folk in our church so straight allies are hard to identify without taking a huge risk to step out. I think simply loving all whatever their stance is best and then when you know their stance not homing in on it but being able to chat and be normal. And discovering our sexuality hasn’t meant we’ve changed we are still ‘us’, still ‘me’ and we don’t need to be told what’s right and wrong but just to feel loved as we work things through.

    • We really appreciate how your comment dovetails with Lindsey’s reflection for today. Especially in more traditionally-minded churches, many straight allies feel like they need to hide with their closeted LGBT friends because the stakes are so high.

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