Unpacking the nuances of allyship and how it exists within the LGBTQ+ community.
Be a good ally.
It’s a simple sentence—a mantra we hear often in reference to the LGBTQ+ community. It’s easy to label yourself an ally if you have positive or neutral feelings towards this minority group. My brother is gay—my sister is trans—my aunts are lesbians—I’m an ally.
Acceptance is a great first step, but allyship is different. Allyship involves being active—it’s a verb. It means calling out your friends if they “pretend to be gay” because they think it’s funny. It’s not supporting artists and celebrities who are hateful towards the LGBTQ+ community. It’s speaking out against discriminatory policies, and voting for people who advocate for change, equality, and equity.
These are important aspects of allyship. However, there are many nuances within this, and this knowledge is a way to bring your allyship to the next level. In fact, understanding the complexities of an often over-simplified community is something that is important for everyone to do—even members of the LGBTQ+ community. Let’s break it down.
Each identity under the LGBTQ+ umbrella has its own specific struggles, so being an ally to each inherently has different responsibilities. For example, biphobia is one of the more common ways this intricacy rears its head.
The Human Rights Campaign defines biphobia as “prejudice, fear, or hatred directed towards bisexual people.” Often, biphobia manifests in the form of harmful stereotypes. This could look like pressure to “pick a side,” or comments such as “bisexual people are greedy” or “being bi is a phase.” These comments and stereotypes “undermine the legitimacy of bisexual identity,” as the HRC says. Over-sexualization and violence towards this community are more severe acts of biphobia.
A common first thought is that only straight people are biphobic. While this is more common, even members LGBTQ+ community can be biphobic. According to an article published by Them and written by Cornell University graduate Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, there are instances where the lesbian community rejects bisexual women and labels them a threat. This treatment contributes to the negative well-being and discrimination against bisexual individuals. Of course, while the lesbian community is used as an example, Dr. Vrangalova’s notes that similar negative treatment of the bisexual community comes from gay men as well.
Ultimately, it is critical for everyone who does not identify as bisexual—straight or not—to actively fight against these harmful stereotypes and acts of violence to be the best and most active allies possible.
But it doesn’t stop here.
Gay men are another subset of the LGBTQ+ community that face struggles based on their unique identity. Much of this stems from the AIDs (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) epidemic. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, AIDs is a condition that can develop if HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is left untreated.
The AIDs epidemic began in 1981. Then, the public thought AIDs just impacted gay men and often came from using drugs. In late 1983, WHO held a conference and determined that HIV was the cause of AIDs and could be transferred through blood transfusion. WHO also found that HIV could also spread to heterosexual people.
However, WHO reports the disease continued to spread largely within the gay community, and since the 1980s, over 40 million people have died from AIDs despite an uproar of advocacy for medical resources. This is a large reason why the middle-aged gay community is so small. It isn’t that being gay is new—it’s that they just didn’t survive.
This stigmatism around AIDs and the blame placed on the gay community has resulted in heavy legal discrimination. According to HIV.gov, only about 16.7% of gay men now have HIV or AIDs, and AIDs and HIV cases impact heterosexuals, too. However, only gay men have had strict legal limitations based on sexuality when it comes to giving blood.
According to a timeline by NBC News, gay men were banned from giving blood in 1985. It wasn’t until 2015 that the ban was updated, then stating gay men could only give blood if they refrained from sexual encounters with other men in the past year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this window was shortened to three months. However, it was only in August of 2023 that this ban was lifted, finally allowing gay men to donate blood, just like other Americans.
Research by Boston University shows many viewed AIDs as a punishment sent to gay men from God. Others believed it was caused by a “moral failing” of the individual. These harmful and false accusations result in further social discrimination and danger.
The AIDs crisis disproportionally impacted gay men and, in many ways, still does. Identifying these intricacies specific to the gay community is crucial to being an ally to this community, and doing so allows space for other members of the LGBTQ+ community to be allies, too.
There is another group that stands out as well—the transgender community. Largely, the letters in LGBTQ+ refer to different sexualities. Sexuality is defined through attraction, and while many will simplify this to physical attraction, it also includes emotional, social, and psychological attraction.
Gender, on the other hand, describes a personal trait and doesn’t involve relationships. Gender is a social construct separate from one’s biological sex. Gender can mean identifying as a man, woman, or non-binary individual, though there are many others, too.
The Human Rights Campaign defines the term “transgender” as “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth.” This exists separately from sexuality.
Strict laws across the country—including Indiana—are coming down hard against the transgender community. Often, this kind of discrimination is labeled as transphobia, but there is a new term that better encapsulates these actions.
Transphobia is defined as a “fear of trans people,” according to Planned Parenthood. However, speaking of discrimination like it is an anxiety-caused phobia is unfair to actual medical phobias and downplays the harm of violence against the transgender community. Instead, then, Planned Parenthood and others use the term “transmisia” to describe attitudes, beliefs, and policies that cause harm to the transgender community.
Transmisia is prevalent today. According to The Indy Star, this summer in Indiana, multiple bills passed targeting transgender individuals. Senate Bill 480 prohibits minors from receiving gender-affirming care as of July 1, 2023. Gender-affirming care is critical to a transgender individual’s mental health.
House Bill 1608 forces schools to notify parents if a student expresses that they wish to use a different name or pronoun in school, effectively outing them. This is dangerous if the child does not have a supportive home. According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, transgender adolescents are 1.84 times more likely to experience psychological abuse, 1.61 times more likely to experience physical abuse, and 2.04 times more likely to experience sexual abuse than their cisgender adolescent counterparts.
These bills are not isolated occurrences. More are being passed in Indiana and across the country. The transgender community is the most targeted group within the LGBTQ+ community. This is why it is increasingly important for every cisgender person to be an active ally in support of the transgender community.
These examples are only some of the complexities within the LGBTQ+ community. The diversity within this group makes for a plethora of struggles that are going to vary greatly based on one identity. While the entire LGBTQ+ community is always lumped together into one acronym, these identities are as unique as the different colors of the rainbow.
Each sexuality and gender has unique struggles and requires tailored resources and support. By peeling back the complex layers and revealing these differences, we can equip ourselves with the knowledge we need to truly be good allies.