31 January 2017

Check your privilege. Then use it.

Last week I had the privilege of speaking with a friend of mine about politics for her podcast on SpareMin.* Before our talk, Abi told me she didn't really have an agenda for the conversation. She was really leaving it open to anything having to do with politics or my post-election life.

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That's a really broad topic.

As the conversation progressed, we talked about how to make a difference from where you are and what it means to be an ally. And that's what I want to address here today.

There are people I know who claim to be allies in this fight. They share memes on Facebook and make rainbow profile pictures and talk about how they're advocates for LGBTQ rights and want to fight for people like me, for families like mine.

But so much of the time, these people are allies because they want people to see them being allies. They want people to know they're allies. It becomes much less about advocacy and ally-ship, and much more about the appearance of advocacy and ally-ship.

There are people who come from a place of privilege (white cishet folks, for example) who are protesting and talking about protests the way tourists talk about cities. They want others to see them as allies and they want the experience of being known as allies.

That's not what people need.

As a lesbian, I am a minority, and under the Trump administration, my rights are under threat. My safety is under threat. While I once walked down the street with my wife and children worried that I might get side eye, now I fear that someone will physically put their hands on my wife or on me. Or even worse, on the kids. There have been moments since the election that I literally fear for my long-term safety in this country. Because the election of Donald Trump normalized and legitimized hatred and bigotry in this country.

And there are people I know who claim that they understand that fear when they don't. There are people I know who say they know how I feel. That they have experienced the same kind of hatred I have experienced. That they are in fear, as well.

But they aren't.

How can they be?

The vast majority of cishet folks have no idea what it's like to be hated because of who they are and who they love. They have no idea what it's like to be questioned when they say they are attracted to someone. To be asked, "Are you sure?" or "How do you know?" or to be told that your soul will burn for all of eternity because of your genetics. By people who are supposed to love you.

But everything happening in this country lately is changing people, and making them think that because they disagree with this or that policy, they're the same as the people whose lives are in danger because of those policies.

They're tourists. Not allies.

Here's the thing. Unless you actually experience the issue addressed, you can't claim to know what it's like.

You may have similar (but different) experiences. For example, I have experienced hatred because I am gay. This is similar (but very different) from the experiences of people of color who experience hatred because of their ethnicities or skin colors. But because I am white, I cannot know what it means to be a person of color in this country and in this social climate. I can empathize. I can be angry and react. But I can't know.

That's why it is so important for allies to understand how to be allies.

As a white woman, the most important thing I can do to be an ally for others is to share their stories. I have privilege as a white woman that others do not have. And instead of trying to stand on my sexuality as a way to say "I know how you feel," it's so much more important for me to use my privilege to extend their voices. To give them a voice where they do not have one. To share their stories so they are heard.

So often, when I want to be an ally on Facebook or Twitter, the best and most important thing I can do is share articles and tweets and status updates from people who are actually experiencing the issue.

If I want to bring attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, how can I possible speak about race in this country with any kind of credibility or authority? But what I can do is to amplify the voices of people who do have authority and credibility. I can use my privilege as a white woman to give voice to women, men, and children who are overlooked and ignored.

People listen to me because I'm white. So why wouldn't I use that privilege for good?

The same is true for people who want to be LGBTQ allies.

It's not about rainbows on Facebook or sharing memes or going to parades and throwing glitter. Because all that is show. It doesn't change anything in this country, and it doesn't mean you understand what it means to be gay in today's society.

You can't pretend you don't have privilege. So don't. Instead, use it for good. Lift up the voices of others with your volume. Amplify their voices so theirs stories can be heard.

Use the power you are granted because of who you are to share what others need to get the rights they deserve.

Check your privilege.

Then use it.

*For more important conversations on SpareMin, check out Abi's profile.

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