sovaldi serif;”>Helen Lawless looks at what it really means to be an ally
buy serif;”>Most of us consider ourselves in favour of increased rights and decreased discrimination towards the LGBT community. It is one of the few issues that does not just seem to be separated by an ideological dimension but also by a generational one, with young adults overall seeming to be in favour of standing by their friends as they campaign for equal respect as persons and equal legislative rights. As such, it is unsurprising that USI’s recent LGBT Ally campaign was generally greeted with warmth and enthusiasm, but it raises a slightly ambiguous question: what constitutes an ally?
The generally accepted definition seems to be a person who supports, respects and accepts members of the LGBT community without necessarily identifying as a member of that community themselves. The term was coined by American high schools in an attempt to combat the horrific phenomenon of homophobic and transphobic bullying, and has since been adopted into common use by LGBT movements internationally. It is in this very specific origin that we can identify the power and the significance of what it means to call one’s self an ally: the kid who witnessed such bullying and later criticised it, that kid is not an ally, however the kid who stepped up beside the victim of bullying, called his terroriser out or at the very least comforted the victim in the aftermath, they are an ally.
The USI Ally campaign, although well-meaning, seemed to lack this key educational focus; defining the term it was espousing. Ally is a catch word, a hash tag, one of those things bandied about by so many, referring to some vague idea of being pro-LGBT equality. Although raising awareness and drawing attention to the area of LGBT rights in general is never a bad thing, the campaigns with the greatest levels of success are usually those with concrete aims and that demand something definite of those they are addressing. If people are willing to listen, then it is crucial something is said to that audience that goes beyond cheerleading. A wrist band is not enough to change the lot our friends face.
We know this supportive base exists: UCD’s own LGBT society tried harder than ever before to extend membership to straight students, in particular during this year’s fresher’s week, with record-breaking success -namely becoming the largest LGBT student society in the country. Deliberate efforts were made to re-brand the society towards being more inclusive, to operate as any other society does, welcoming anyone interested in with open arms and trying to enhance their student experience. Most societies have something in particular they are trying to promote, whether that’s a sport, art or political agenda, but for the most part they try and serve as a social circle for people to feel at home in. Each society has its own hurdles and misconceptions to overcome, but generally they succeed at bringing in all kinds of individuals from across campus by simply offering a more fun and involved time here at UCD.
LGBT Soc has it harder than most. This is because there is an underlying awareness of the assumptions that may be made about you if you are seen as standing up on certain issues, or if you are close with this group in particular. Lady Justice however is meant to be blind, and as such, blatant injustice is something we can all identify when we see it, even if we do not feel the harms directly. To assume people who are involved with LGBT campaigns are LGBT is the same reasoning that implies whites can’t see the ills of racism or that men can’t be feminists, and it is a logic that is fundamentally flawed. When I asked this year’s LGBT Soc auditor David Healy what message he most hoped to impart with his fresh new take on the society I think his answer says it all: “You don’t have to be LGBT to fight for LGBT rights”.
Note the term ally does not mean “I sympathise with you”, nor does it mean “I pity you”; it means “I will stand by you as you fight”. It cannot be denied that our friends all face a monumental battle. They are this generation’s suffragettes, as they campaign to be treated with exactly the same rights as people who happen to be attracted to the opposite gender. Currently, society deems their relationships less valid, less committed, less meaningful -not worthy of the title of marriage, for instance. They are excluded and stigmatised in many environments, and patently stereotyped at every turn. They are defined solely and utterly by who they want to have relationships with, as though their feelings of love and devotion are somehow alien to a straight person’s. In short, they are being done a wrong which is ill-fitting to modern society and human compassion in general.
Perhaps there is an onus on the young people of UCD who call themselves “allies” to put their money where their mouth is, to risk a few jokes at their expense in order to stand up for what they know to be right, but more importantly, to stand by their friends who, simply put, cannot do this alone.