How do I know if I’m acting as a useful ally?
The steps actions below represents a continuum of eight stages of response a person can take in relation to the oppression of LGBTIQ people. The actions move from being extremely homophobic or heterosexist on the left end of the continuum to extremely anti-homophobic and anti-heterosexist on the right side of the continuum.
This stage of response includes actions that directly support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) oppression. These actions include laughing at or telling jokes that put down LGBTIQ people, making fun of people who don't fit the traditional stereotypes of what is masculine or feminine, discouraging others and avoiding personal behavior that is not sex stereotyped, and engaging in verbal or physical harassment of LGBTIQ people or heterosexuals who do not conform to traditional sex role behavior. It also includes working for anti-gay legislation.
This stage of response includes inaction that supports LGBTIQ oppression coupled with an unwillingness or inability to understand the effects of homophobic and heterosexist actions. This stage is characterized by a "business as usual" attitude. Though responses in this stage are not actively and directly homophobic or heterosexist, the passive acceptance of these actions by others serves to support the system of LGBTIQ oppression.
This stage of response is characterized by a recognition of homophobic or heterosexist actions, and the harmful effects of these actions. However, this recognition does not result in action to interrupt the homophobic or heterosexist situation. Taking action is prevented by homophobia or a lack of knowledge about specific actions to take. This stage of response is accompanied by discomfort due to the lack of congruence between recognizing homophobia or heterosexism yet failing to act on this recognition. An example of this stage of response is a person hearing a friend tell a "queer joke," recognizing that it is homophobic, not laughing at the joke, but saying nothing to the friend about the joke.
This stage of response includes not only recognizing homophobic and heterosexist actions, but also taking action to stop them. Though the response goes no further than stopping the action, this stage is often an important transition from passively accepting homophobic or heterosexist actions to actively choosing anti-homophobic and anti-heterosexist actions. In this stage a person hearing a "queer joke" would not laugh and would tell the joke teller that jokes that put down lesbians and gays are not funny. Another example would be a person who realized that she/he is avoiding an activity because others might think she/he is LGBTIQ if she/he participates in it, and then decided to participate.
This stage of response includes taking action to learn more about LGBTIQ people, heterosexism, and homophobia. These actions can include reading books, attending workshops, talking to others, joining organizations, listening to LGBTIQ music, or any other actions that can increase awareness and knowledge. This stage is also a prerequisite for the last three stages. All three involve interacting with others about homophobia and heterosexism. In order to do this confidently and comfortably, people need first to learn more.
This stage of response is an attempt to begin educating others about homophobia and heterosexism. This stage goes beyond interrupting homophobic and heterosexist interactions to engaging people in dialogue about these issues. Through the use of questions and dialogue, this response attempts to help others increase their awareness of and knowledge about homophobia and heterosexism.
This stage of response includes actions that support and encourage the anti-homophobic and anti-heterosexist actions of others. Overcoming the homophobia that keeps people from interrupting this form of oppression even when they are offended by it is difficult. Supporting and encouraging others who are able to take this risk is an important part of reinforcing anti-homophobic and anti-heterosexist behavior.
This stage of response includes actions that actively anticipate and identify homophobic institutional practices or individual actions and work to change them. Examples include teachers changing a "Family Life" curriculum that is homophobic or heterosexist, or counselors inviting a speaker to come and discuss how homophobia can affect counselor-client interactions.