Supporting Your LGBTQ Friends
Welcome to June! After the long, dreary winter (and the nearly non-existent spring!) I wasn't sure we were ever going to make it to summer! Among many other terrific things going on this month, June is also LGBTQ Pride Month! So let me first address the elephant in the room, because you know you're going to hear it from some clown somewhere. "Why don't we get a 'straight pride month'?" Ugh.
The answer is quite simple; because EVERY month is "straight pride month"! Being straight is the default. Whenever someone shares with me that they are gay, I'm always surprised. Not surprised like horrified; just a general "Oh, that never even occurred to me!" surprised. I'm straight, and everywhere I look - books, movies, TV, advertisements - everyone I see is straight like me. It's the "norm"; it's the default position in society. And I am genuinely, truly embarrassed to admit that it's my default too. I have so many friends who fall everywhere on the spectrum of sexual identity and gender identity; I love them and support them fully. But even though I see them and know them and hang out with them, I still default back into assuming everyone is just like me until they tell me otherwise. And THAT is just one of the many reasons we need Pride Month!
Did you know that transgender and gender non-conforming people face some of the most alarming rates of sexual violence across the United States? The "2015 U.S. Transgender Survey" found that a full 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetimes. And, as if that isn't bad enough, that number increases to between 53% and 65% for transgender and gender non-conforming people of color. Bisexual women experience rates of sexual violence at approximately 60%, and bisexual men experience rates of sexual violence at approximately 40%. In general, LGBTQ people are more likely to be the target of hate crimes than any other minority group. You can click HERE for more specific statistics.
How can you support your LGBTQ friends who are survivors of violence? For the most part, just like you would support anyone else! Listen to them when they talk about their experiences; give them your full, undivided attention. Express concern with simple statements such as "I'm here for you", "I care about you", and "I believe you". Assault survivors often fear that they will not be believed, and it takes a lot of courage for them to come forward with their story.
We know that survivors of violence are never at fault for being assaulted, but it's also very common for survivors to blame themselves. Make sure they know they did nothing to deserve this. No one deserves to be abused. Violence is always a choice, and the perpetrator made the conscious choice to harm someone. "It's not your fault" is an incredibly important statement.
"I'm so sorry that this happened to you" and "I want to help you in any way I can" are important statements as well. While you can't fix the situation for them, knowing that you believe them and that you care about them makes a big difference to survivors. They know there aren't any magic words you can say that will make everything "better", but the fact that you are there for them, offering love and support, can be enormously comforting.
Be cognizant about using inclusive language that affirms the survivor's sexual orientation and gender identity. Use neutral words such as "partner" or "date" in lieu of "boyfriend/girlfriend". Don't assume a person's gender identify or what their preferred pronouns are. It's okay to ask what their preference is, or use "they" instead of "he/she" if you're not sure.
You can do your part to minimize violence against the LGBTQ society by being an ally every day. How? Be vocal about your support when you're among straight people. For LGBTQ people, confronting a homophobic or transphobic person can be incredibly intimidating, if not downright dangerous. As straight allies, we are in the position to address these issues with fewer negative consequences. Don't tolerate hate speech, or harmful "jokes". When you see discrimination, call it out. You may not change that person's mind, but you just may be providing real comfort to someone in the room who isn't out yet.
Amplify their voices. Share articles, tweets, and posts by LGBTQ folks. Realistically speaking, we as straight allies probably have more friends on social media that need to be educated than many who are in the LGBTQ community do. You likely can't change hardcore bigots, but you may be giving some real food for thought to people that just never considered the issue before. And, again, it reiterates to the LGBTQ people in your life that you are listening to them, and that you care about what they have to say.
Be present for them physically. We've addressed the fact that LGBTQ individuals face higher levels of violence in general. This has been even further exacerbated by the so-called "bathroom laws". Offer to accompany your LGBTQ friends to the bathroom, walk with them outside, sit next to them on the bus. Be there for them.
Become an activist! Pay attention to what your legislators are doing, and don't be shy in contacting them. Call them out when they are supporting discriminatory policies. And thank them when they are supporting inclusiveness! Donate time, money, or both to the cause. Write letters to the editor. Attend Pride events. Ask your LGBTQ friends what you can do to be helpful.
I would love to have you visit my friends at Transcend North Iowa! They are doing fantastic work to help and support the LGBTQ community here in rural Iowa. Please check out their website, and give them a like on social media.
Get out there and treat people the way you'd like to be treated! Happy Pride Month! And, as always, please feel free to share your thoughts and comments.