I started college with an attitude. I was a smart one – National Honor Society in high school, and in all the “college prep” courses. I knew what I was doing. Until Dr. McDade gave me a C. It was the lowest grade I’d seen in my academic career. Who’d she think she was?!? I waited the requisite 24 hours and then when to ask her that very question.
“I’m glad you came in. You’re far too bright to write so poorly. We need to work on this.”
In bright red marks she had removed the academic privilege I had lived with most of high school.
Oh, I was smart, and in the top of my class, but I had more to learn.
Dr. McDade let me know that, and then walked with me as I grew. This is the tactic I want to take in regards to the April 6, 2015 article “8 Things I Hate about being an LGBTQ Ally.”
I was made aware of the article by some young people. They identify as UMC, and as Queer and Ally. Throughout the day, as they discussed the article over Facebook, their disappointment became very clear, and it mirrored my own: while I can see the good intent in the article, I struggle with the privilege that is evident.
Privilege is the idea that my gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or position afford me benefits that are not allowed to another group of people. Privilege is afforded when you look, act, or think like the dominant group in society. Privilege sets up an other – “We are not them.”
Privilege is often hard for people to grasp, particularly when the person is feeling the weight of actions and decisions.
A lot of us have privilege without recognizing it.
I have privilege as a cisgender woman. I have privilege because I’m white. I have privilege because I’m Christian. I have privilege because I have a post-secondary diploma. I lose privilege because I choose to live my life out loud – I admit to being Queer. I lose privilege because I’m a woman.
Allies have a lot of privilege in our culture and church – especially those who are male, heterosexual, clergy, white, college educated, and married. Privilege is not something that anyone chooses to have; society dictates who gets privilege. As Christians our call is to live so that our privilege is not hurting another person – not always an easy task.
Now, before we go much further, let me say that there is much in the article with which I agree: social media posts don’t really mean that someone has courage; there are far too many deaths in the LGBTQIA community; I wish that allies were not needed to face oppression; I agree that both Queer/Trans* folk and allies have work to do in order for justice to happen; and that sometimes jokes aren’t funny.
We agree, but just as Dr. McDade showed me, there is work to do.
While reading the article, I felt distanced from the work of inclusion in the church – as if I was not a part of it. The words and phrasing put a focus on the hardship of being an ally. In the work toward inclusion, it is needful, and necessary, to keep the focus on the people who are being excluded. Privilege makes us among the first; we are to set that aside to make others first.
As an ally for trans* and genderqueer rights and inclusion, I have to set aside my own feelings and thoughts so that the voices of my trans* and genderqueer siblings can be heard. It’s hard work, and there are times I want to be thanked or praised for what I’ve done. This thinking is for my own elevation and not for the cause of justice. If I’m feeling that I need to tell people what I’ve done, that’s my reminder that my privilege is running the show and I need to step back. It’s the same for straight allies. Congratulations will come in the way of full inclusion on our church.
The comments on the article were filled with others sharing their lives as allies and identifying with the hardship of being an ally. This isn’t a bad thing, but it certainly shifts focus. The focus becomes the allies’ work rather than the exclusion of LGBTQIA. It is also what the article was trying to point out.
Language often fails us in that we’ve not created an effective way to talk about justice work, and misunderstandings and hurt are inevitable. When we live in the privilege society affords, our individual needs and desires are what we most often communicate, even when we want to address others’ needs.
With this context, here is a list of requests for allies and those who wish to be allies:
1. Learn about and use your privilege responsibly (Lots of resources out there if you need an idea of what this means.)
2. Educate yourself on issues of gender, sexuality, and the concerns of the LGBTQIA community. Don’t expect your LGBTQIA friends to fill in the blanks for you.
3. Ask yourself what you’re willing to sacrifice for the people who are dear to you. This is about people, not ideas. Count the cost.
4. Find your holy boldness.
5. Seek out and listen to the stories of the LGBTQIA community.. And while doing that, be silent and really listen.
6. Go volunteer at a Queer/Trans* center.
7. Make a financial donation to a Queer/Trans* organization.
8. Don’t allow LGBTQIA people to be used as the punchline for any joke.
Allies are needed and wanted. Being an ally is a tough job. It is a job that comes with the potential, and inevitability, of making mistakes. Allow your mistakes to be brought to your attention, so that you can grow. It is necessary. Please continue growing so that together we may bring the Kingdom of God to earth.