Ally Is An Aspiration and an Earned Honor Not a Self Proclamation

Ally Is An Aspiration and an Earned Honor Not a Self Proclamation November 3, 2019

Queen knighting a subject
“The Accolade” by Edmund Leighton (1901)

The term ally is growing in popularity. It is often associated with those who support LGBTQ+ people and issues. It is also associated with other groups. There are many who claim to be allies that those who they say they support don’t feel they are allies. Who gets to decide who is an ally and who is not?

In October, CNN anchor Chis Cuomo self proclaimed himself an ally in the midst of an apology to the transgender community. Cuomo was a host/moderator for CNN’s Equality Town Hall. Democratic Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris introduced herself with she/her/hers pronouns. Before the town hall continued, Cuomo said, “She, her, and hers? Mine too.”

In the wake of his comments at an LGBTQ+ event, there was a public outcry over what GLAAD called disappointing and felt he mocked Harris. Cuomo issued an apology via Twitter that read as follows:

“When Sen. Harris said her pronouns were she her and her’s, I said mine too. I should not have. I apologize. I am an ally of the LGBTQ community, and I am sorry because I am committed to helping us achieve equality. Thank you for watching our townhall.”

Ally. This word is used in apologies from other celebrities celebrities when they say something that is hurtful to the LGBTQ+ community.

In articles where I challenge accepting and affirming groups to do better, often a leader of that group will come to the comments section and state that they are an ally. Sometimes they go on to say we should be grateful to them for what they do without commenting on the areas of improvement I wrote about.

This “be grateful for us” push back has come from members of the UCC, United Methodist Clergy and the secular Clergy Project. During Pride Month you see some allies post more memes about how they risk friendships being an ally than they do information about how to help LGTBQ+ people and groups succeed in their important missions for equality and civil rights.

Donald Trump not only claimed to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ population, it was even part of his campaign to become President of the United States of America. Based on that alone, it seems to be rather easy to self proclaim yourself an ally. It is also easy to use that title to deflect criticism and add it in as a part of your apology to expedite forgiveness.

Being a Knight is Bestowed and not Self Declared

In movies, television shows, novels, renaissance fairs and in art we see the tradition of accolade. This is the name of the knighting ceremony. We often see a king or a queen holding a sword as their subject kneels before them and receive knighthood.

I like this analogy. This puts the power in the community to decide who is an ally and who is not. It serves those of us who are cisgender heterosexuals a reminder that we are invited in their world to stand with them, not to lead the march. If you are a self professed ally, you can believe they are lucky to have you. If the title is bestowed upon you by the community, you know the truth. It is you are lucky to be welcomed into their world.

We have to stand with them in marches, rallies and the voting booth. Sometimes, like any knight, we are sent into battle in spaces that are too dangerous for them to walk into. Even in those cases, where we are representing them, we are their ambassador and not royalty. We can deliver their message and support it to the death, but it would be arrogant for us to craft the message. It would be hubris to say they are lucky to have us if we refuse to listen.

Aspire to be an Ally

Should you decide to aspire to be an ally, tell people that you support LGBTQ+ equality. While telling people that, do the hard work. Educate yourself. Volunteer and/or donate to one of the causes on the front lines of the battle for equality. Do not tolerate anti LGBTQ+ speech in your presence even if it is uncomfortable. And when you do these things and support these things, spend more time pointing your cell phone at the people who matter when taking a picture than you do taking selfies.

When you earn the title, know that it is a precious gift and the work has just begun. And use it judiciously.

Follow The Knights That Set Good Examples

Sir Patrick Stewart has been a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, victims of domestic violence, and other groups at risk. He also has a lovely and rich friendship with a gay knight many of us know as Sir Ian McKellan. Dame Judy Dench has been in marches and protests with the LGBTQ community as a humble supporter. Should these people ever misstep, I believe they would simply apologize sincerely and not rely on their titles.

As a supporter or an ally you will make mistakes. For us, we can move in and out of the spaces of danger. The people we claim to support and be in allyship for live in this danger and this fight daily. They do not get to not be LGBTQ+ and take a break. This is their life every day. If we are to be in service to them, we need to remember that when we go home from a protest. We live in a world where we can walk hand in hand in a park with our partner. We do not have to fight for the right to keep our job due to our orientation to those of the opposite sex. No one wants to hurt me because I am cisgender. There are people who want to hurt my child.

Be humble. Know your place. Respect that when we are supporters and allies, we are guests and support staff, not the leaders.

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