In the wake of the Orlando shooting, many Americans and people around the world are shocked, saddened, and left feeling powerless against hatred, violence, and bigotry. People from all countries have come together, sang their prayers, and offered messages of comfort and condolences to those affected by this tragedy.
The truth is, we have all been affected by this tragedy.
On the brighter side, this attack has brought awareness in our nation to the homophobia and bigotry that continues to exist in our country. Many people feel touched by this attack and wish they could do something to help. You can help.
Become an Ally.
I hate to burst your bubble, but having a “gay best friend” doesn’t make you an ally. In fact, you might be adding to the problem of stereotyping and generalizing that has already impacted the LGBT+ community and the public’s view of those individuals. Gay is not a character trait. Gay is not an adjective. Gay is not a choice. Gay is a sexual orientation (not a preference, which indicates a choice). Gay is not an umbrella term and it does not cover all people that identify as LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Asexual, Agender, Panromantic and more).
If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
It’s not enough these days to simply NOT be a homophobe; being an ally means living an anti-homophobic life. It’s really not that hard.
From one ally to another, here are five ways you can start living an anti-homophobic life and start making a difference in our world to fight bigotry and hatred:
1- Take the word “gay” out of your vocabulary unless you are directly referring to a person (typically a man) who is attracted to the same sex. Too many times, even those who claim to be “for the gays” continue to use this word to mean stupid, dorky, or wimpy. This perpetuates homophobia - even if no gay person hears you say it. Not only are you saying something homophobic, you are sending the message to others that it’s okay to say hateful things, “it’s cool, it’s alright”, when really, it isn’t.
2- Avoid asking questions that are too personal or invasive upon meeting a person who is LGBT+. Easy solution: if you wouldn’t normally be asking a straight person this question, then you probably shouldn’t be asking an LGBT+ individual either. Such questions might include sexual information, questions about body parts, invasive questioning about relationship status, ideas about marriage or having children, etc. It is human to feel curious about an individual whose life may be very different from yours due to their orientation or gender identity, but it is not your right as a straight person to have access to all of this information. If you want to learn about a person, become their friend like you would any other person.
3- Be sure to refer to people as they wish to be referred. This can prove tricky sometimes as it isn’t always obvious. If you don’t know the answer, simply ask. A person would much rather you ask them how they would like to be called rather than you deciding that for them. An LGBT+ member understands that this can be challenging for straight people and many are happy to assist as you work towards becoming a more accepting and open person. Answers might include pronouns that might not seem obvious including, his, her, they, it, us, she, he, or them, gay, trans girl, trans boy, andro, asexual, agender, and others. If you forget this and you make a mistake, simply apologize and try to do better next time. The important part is that you are trying.
4- Keep your religious beliefs to yourself. If you saw one of your friends disrespecting their parents, would you tell them that they are going against the bible and they might be going to hell (even if said in a loving way)? Chances are, if you practice a religion that means something to you, it likely is not accepting of LGBT+ people. If you are trying to live an anti-homophobic life and aim to spread love, kindness, and acceptance to the world, use your religious values to lift people up, not shoot them down. LGBT+ people know that many religions are not accepting of who they are and they do not need a reminder from anyone who thinks they are trying to save them. It’s best to pray for them on your own (if you still feel that you need to). You are free to love any religion you want and they are free to love any person they want. You are both free - let’s keep it that way!
5- Use relationship language that is orientation-neutral and suitable for anyone regardless of the gender, orientation, or identity. Heterosexism is real, people. Heterosexism is defined as “discrimination or prejudice against homosexuals on the assumption that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation,” (Google.com search ‘Heterosexism’). This is most commonly noticed upon first meeting a person and assuming that they are straight. It often occurs when asking a man if they have a girlfriend or a wife or asking a woman if they have a husband or a boyfriend. Aside from being invasive, you are also being heterosexist. Using words like spouse or partner instead of boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife is a way of being neutral and promoting an anti-heterosexist world. Also, please don’t assume that one partner in an LGBT+ relationship is the “husband” or the “wife” or the “man of the relationship” or the “girly one.” These are all examples of gender and orientation stereotyping that many people find offensive.
This is just a start on how you can live an anti-homophobic life. There are many other things you can do to spread love and acceptance of LGBT+ community: attend LGBT+ and Pride events, vote against anti-LGBT+ legislation, and most importantly, stop homophobia in its tracks! If you hear someone making a homophobic or bigoted remark, remind them that it is offensive to everyone! The only way to fight hate is with love is love is love.
If you would like more information on living an anti-homophobic life or want to continue this conversation, please visit my website www.alysoncohentherapy.com .