What It Means To Be An Ally
Thursday June 20, 2019
You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. We’ve all heard it. “Be an ally”, “We are all allies”; the word “ally” tends to get thrown around a lot. I heard it often during my 5-year Bachelor’s degree at the University of Calgary (U of C) in Women and Gender Studies. Unfortunately, in this day and age, it is used without the proper education of what it is, what it looks like, and how we action it. Pride Month is currently celebrated each year in the month of June and we tend to see corporations show their support for the LGBTQ+ community but not everyone truly understands what it means to be an ally or how to be one. The tech industry specifically can feel polarizing for marginalized groups so it’s important to take a step back and really evaluate how individuals or companies are showing allyship.
While I learned a lot through deliberate trial and error, one of the most important conversations I found myself included in came unexpectedly. Allyship is such an obtusely defined part of new-wave feminism, a lot of folks try to put a pretty bow on the perfect definition of what being an ally is. Through my experience, I found that a single, pretty, compact definition doesn’t exist––and that’s ok.
I remember beginning the Fall semester of my 4th year at the U of C. My upper-level courses were starting and I was feeling really strong in my knowledge and in my field. I was the VP of an intersectional feminist group on campus and we were preparing to hold a rally against oppression that was being directed towards a marginalized group in our community. As a person of power––not just in my privilege, but in my standing with the organization––I threw myself in the front line. I wanted to be seen, heard, and taken seriously because the cause we were fighting for was very close to my heart. I asked the head of this movement what she needed from me as it was her own experience that made her want to fight for it. She told me it would just be nice to have people standing next to her while she shared her experience. As our rally started and went on, I found myself at the mic, pleading passionately for this cause and its proposed solution to be taken seriously. By the end of the rally, everyone seemed to be happy with how it went and how we got our message across. I thought I had done a good job until I spoke with the head of the movement. When asked for a recap, she very kindly looked at me and said, “I appreciate your willingness to fight with us. But I said I needed people standing beside me, not in front of me”. My heart jumped into my throat and I burst into tears. How could I have let myself do this? After a sincere apology, I took some time to reflect during my next set of lectures. What was I doing to educate myself on being an effective ally? Was I keeping myself up-to-date on material related to this subject or was I relying on other people to bring this education to me instead? While I wish the answers to these questions were, “Yes, you’re doing all the work you can” and “No, you’re self-educating”, they were not. I was not doing my part to be a good ally; I wasn’t doing what was needed, but rather, I was doing what I thought was needed.
This proved to be a pivotal experience in my journey to becoming an effective ally. I thought I was being an ally by using my voice to spread a message that we were all fighting for. Maybe in a different scenario, this would have been needed; however, I didn’t take the time to actively listen which is a must if one is to be a good ally. I had been so used to being loud and in the front, I honestly didn’t know how to fight from the sidelines. I never took the time to educate myself on that kind of allyship, which I am happy to say I have since done.
To me, being in allyship is to be in an ever-changing, continually evolving state of learning and unlearning and evaluating and re-evaluating by a person of privilege who is seeking to act in harmony with a marginalized group. Being an ally is fundamentally built on trust, self-education, and genuine intention by privileged folks. Being an ally is not an identity––it is a process. We cannot “be” allies, we must “become” allies. Allies don’t always have to be in the forefront; they can be all the way up in the nosebleeds or they can be a front row VIP.
At Connected, we embody the values of being smart, reliable, kind, teachers and learners. To be a good ally, we must be smart. We must be able to action the needs of the people around us in a quick and efficient manner. We must be reliable. We must be available for those that need us; in any way, shape or form. But, most importantly, we must be kind. We must exude love, compassion, and remember to listen with intent. We strive to learn and are willing to teach those that want to learn. We are committed to becoming better allies every day, not just with each other, but with our communities.
Make sure to register for our upcoming meetup on Thursday, June 27 in collaboration with VentureOut for Pride Month! We have a great lineup of speakers from the tech community that you don’t want to miss!