Within the LGBTQIA+ community an Ally, also referred to as a Straight Ally, is a heterosexual and/or “cisgender” person who is concerned and compassionate to the plight of LGBTQIA+ individuals. Allies in all areas of society are individuals who are willing to fight for the equal rights and fair treatment of marginalized populations.
Cisgender is a term that has been around for the past three decades but has gained more visibility in recent years as an increasing number of articles, TV shows and films have featured a wider range of genders and sexualities.
A “cis” person’s gender corresponds with the sex they are assigned at birth. For example, someone who is assigned female at birth due to her anatomy and whose gender is female is a cisfemale. Here we are talking about biological sex and gender being two separate aspects of the human self. Biology is the anatomy of the body, gender is developed in the mind between the ages of 3-5 years old. While this is new territory for many, the people who have been living outside of gender binaries have existed throughout history.
Today, we are witnessing the immense desire individuals have to live their lives authentically as their true gender, regardless of their sex assigned at birth. While this may be difficult to understand at first, there are many resources and training available to help family, friends, and clinicians to understand and embrace gender identity.
Individuals who are cisgender refers to those who are heterosexual, as well as people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer – anyone whose sex and gender are congruent. Cisgender is the opposite of transgender. However, those who are gender fluid, genderqueer, non-binary and/or gender non-conforming may also identify as transgender. Any and all terms within the LGBTQIA+ umbrella are personally ascribed.
These are not terms for us to label individuals or make assumptions about them. If someone self-identifies with any of the sexual orientation and/or gender identity terms, then those are the correct terms to refer to them as. To reiterate, the terms cisgender and transgender are not synonymous, someone who is cisgender is not necessarily heterosexual. If you would like to learn more about the terminology and identities of the LGBQIA+ community, please contact us to learn more about our LGBTQIA+ 101 series.
What’s also important to know is that allies are needed within the LGBTQIA+ community. Just because someone is gay does not mean that they understand or accept transgender individuals – and so on, and so forth. Many transgender, gender non-conforming, bisexual, asexual and intersex people have felt discriminated against or bullied by people within the LGBTQIA+ community. Progress is always an important point of focus within the community as well as from the outside community. The LGBTQIA+ youth, community centers, and advocacy groups today are doing amazing work to unify the LGBTQIA+ community and help individuals build resiliency to the inequality faced our society as a whole.
In LGBTQIA+ social movements, allies recognize and challenge the discrimination, prejudice and economic disadvantages that are a reality in our society—which predominantly considers heterosexuality and cisgender identity to be the standard or “normal.” This generalized societal standard is known as “heteronormativity.”
Defining and favoring specific lifestyles as normal, acceptable and “more traditional” creates an environment that breeds homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. LGBTQIA+ is an all-encompassing term that includes but is not limited to the representation of: transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, intersex, queer and questioning individuals.
Someone who is not willing to speak up when they hear or see oppressive behavior can absolutely be someone who is accepting of LGBTQIA+ persons, however, the term ally can only be defined as somebody who actively supports the equality of all persons and challenges discrimination and bigotry.
Someone who is an ally is often a family member or a close friend who has witnessed the injustice of discrimination first-hand.
Being exposed to injustice can inspire those who consider themselves allies to take action and raise their voices to be heard. Allies are important to the LGBTQ community as an example that solidarity, love, friendship and respect can and does reach across all walks of life.
We are living in turbulent times. For example, LGBTQIA+ individuals do not have equal rights in the United States.
Florida is one of 31 states that does not include the LGBTQIA+ community in anti-discrimination laws. Thankfully, Palm Beach County, Broward County and Miami-Dade County are among 16 counties in total that do include the LGBTQIA+ community in the anti-discrimination laws.
When basic human rights are not federally protected, individuals can be more easily subjected to harassment in the workplace. The reality is that all of these experiences are some of the root causes of addiction within the LGBTQIA+ population.
If we continue to generally focus on the differences that divide us—rather than the similarities that unite us—we will only stir more conflict. By embracing each person without questioning gender or sexual orientation, race or religion, abilities, disabilities or economic status, we will be a part of making our society a more safe and friendly place for all people to cohabitate.
Fortunately, tolerance and acceptance are concepts that are now being embraced early on in life. Organizations like the Gay-Straight Alliance, which are student-run clubs in middle schools and high schools, gather young people in a safe space where gender identity and sexual orientation can be openly discussed and supported with issues spawned from homophobia and transphobia is readily available.
Recent victories for LGBTQ+ rights, as well as heart-wrenching tragedies, have placed LGBTQIA+ concerns in the forefront of our social consciousness. Fair treatment, equality and respect seem to be focus topics of the relevant conversations. This is one of the civil rights movements of this generation. History will remember the struggles and breakthroughs of these years. There are vast opportunities for the LGBTQIA+ population and their Straight Allies to do what is right. Every voice is essential in the groundwork necessary for laying a foundation for better conditions and a brighter future for the generations to come.