Category: VERCIDA, LGBTQI+ History Month, LGBTQ+ Ally, LGBTQ+ Inclusion, LGBTQ+ Champion, LGBTQ+ Community
One August day, a few years ago, I decided to take my children for a day out at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). As the train pulled into Manchester Piccadilly, the kids were delighted to see Spiderman, and what was even more amazing, he was wearing Daddy’s sandals!
As we made our way to MOSI, I quickly realised from all the rainbow flags and people in costumes that it was Manchester Pride. But what I didn’t realise was that the Pride parade starts at MOSI. When we arrived, we were faced with rainbows, flags, loud music, costumes, and bubbles … or a museum. As far as the kids were concerned, there was no contest. Pride it was.
To begin with I was slightly nervous at the thought of my three young children at a crowded Pride parade and worried about answering questions about some of the more risqué costumes, but we managed to find a spot where the floats were lining up that was a bit quieter, and I quickly realised that they were easily distracted by pointing out the next child-friendly costume, or pink fire engine.
I didn’t have long to think about what I would say when the inevitable question came about what the party was for, but I decided to be as honest as I could. I explained that it was a celebration of love because in the UK we can love whoever we want – boys and boys, girls and girls, girls and boys, whatever. I also explained that wasn’t the case everywhere and that in some places you could be imprisoned or even put to death for loving someone the same sex as you. “That’s so unfair! What do we do about it?” they replied and then went back to collecting as many freebies from the floats as possible.
“What do we do about it?” became the reflection of the day for me. I had always considered myself an ally, but had never done anything about it. I also noticed that the company I worked for, EY, while having an active and inclusive LGBTQ+ employee network, was not represented in the many organisations taking part in the parade.
When I returned to the office in Leeds the following day, I looked to see what was happening for the LGTB+ community and was disappointed to find that there was very little. The network locally was going through a quiet phase because nobody was leading it. Manchester Pride had made me realise how important it was to me to work in an environment that was visibly and actively LGBTQ+ inclusive. So I decided, somewhat anxiously, to step up. But, anxiously, because I am not LGBTQ+ myself, I was worried about leading when it was not my lived experience; and what would happen if I got it wrong and offended people?
I set about reading all the guidance I could find about how to be an active ally. I learned the correct terminology and connected with other LGBTQ+ organisations in the city. I canvassed the network and local leadership and organised a number of LGBTQ+ inclusion activities, and the following year, with a group of colleagues, we took part in the Leeds pride parade.
How to be an ally
- Language matters: use inclusive language and pronouns. Terminology evolves rapidly, so if in doubt ask what an individual’s preferences are. Don’t use gender exclusive language like “guys”. Use inclusive words – “partner” rather than “husband/wife”, etc.
- Listen and learn: Learn about the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community and keep up to date with the latest developments. There are lots of online resources available but if someone shares their personal experience, listen and be mindful that it might be triggering, so check if they are happy to answer questions.
- Be visible in your support: Be the change you want to see. For example, join an employee network, wear a rainbow lanyard, talk about LGBTQ+ inclusion and why it is important to you. Call out inappropriate or discriminatory behaviour. If there are no LGBTQ+ activities where you are, organise some.
- Be yourself: Reflect on your own values, perspectives and biases. Be open about why LGBTQ+ equality is important to you and that you are an ally because you want to be.
- When you get it wrong apologise and correct yourself: it takes time to learn new terminology and ways of being inclusive. So when you make a mistake, apologise and correct yourself or ask for guidance. We are all clumsy sometimes – it is part of the learning process.
- Be mindful of confidentiality: Don’t assume that because someone is out in one situation, they are out in all situations. If they come out to you ask how open they want to be.
Caitlin Hartley, Principal Consultant, firstname.lastname@example.org
Caitlin is a workplace diversity and inclusion subject matter expert and accomplished project and programme manager. With a background in global professional services and consulting, she has a deep knowledge of embedding diversity into business processes and has developed diversity and inclusion strategy for organisations in different sectors at both a global and regional level.
She is an accomplished facilitator and an inspiring event speaker who specialises in creating psychologically safe spaces where people feel comfortable to be vulnerable and share their stories. Caitlin is a CMI Chartered Manager, a graduate of the Common Purpose streetwise mba inclusive leadership program and holds a Level 6 Certificate in Inclusion, Diversity and Equality.