5 Ways to Be An Ally to the Queer Youth in Your Life
I didn’t really come out to my parents. Around my high school graduation, I got sloppy when it came to keeping the secret, and just sort of let my parents find out that my best friend of three years was actually my girlfriend. My Mom had a lot of questions. My Dad had a lot of silence. And neither of them were all that equipped to support that part of my life, so we didn’t really talk about it. My Mom was willing to let this “phase” ride out, and my Dad didn’t want “that” in his house. I’ll spare you the more gruesome family trauma here, because that was over a decade ago. The LGBTQIA2 orientations (which I will refer to as queer from here on out) are more normalized now than they were then, but we still have work to do.
In University, I often found myself the advocate for the queer perspective. After I’d make an argument that was based in my own experience, students would come up to me later with congratulations and statements of “oh, you are so brave.” It frustrated me to no end, because I’m not brave; I’m normal. I’m not a cliché, a fetish, a novelty, or a story; I’m normal. And this, to me, is the issue: not enough allies normalizing the LGBTQIA2 experience, especially normalizing the experience of youth.
There are a ton of parents out there who are unwilling to be supportive allies of their queer kids, but they generally aren’t the sort of people who reach out for coaching. In my line of work, most parents have this deep desire to contribute to the normalization of the queer experience. I meet two types of parents of queer kids: ones who are patiently and confidently waiting for their kids to come out, and ones who are fraught with anxiety about how to be a supportive ally once their kids do come out. As a teacher and a coach to queer youth, and as a queer woman myself, I've put together a list of five powerful ways to be an ally to the queer youth in your life:
1. Normalize their experience.
It is so easy to slip into the heteronormative trap: the one where the fairy tales, TV shows, movies, and stories that they are exposed to normalize heterosexual couplings more than any other type. Start being an ally early: seek out picture books that normalize relationships of all sorts. Find literature and media that highlights queer characters not just because they are queer, but because they are powerful and interesting people who happen to be queer. Tell stories about your queer friends just as often as you tell stories about your straight friends. Honour pronouns or identities that your children and their friends prefer. If any of this makes you uncomfortable, talk about it with your friends… not with those youth.
2. Admit when part of their experience is foreign to you.
Please please be straight (hah!) with the youth in your life and admit when you’re out of touch when it comes to acronyms, pronouns, feelings, norms, and experiences. Ask them for information, for resources, and for their perspective… and listen to it. Most of them will know more about this world than you do. Honour that, and allow them to teach you. Continue to ask if you’re up to date. Ask them to check your privilege for you. If you’re able to admit what you don’t know, you’re more likely to be a resource for them: someone non-threatening who is willing to learn with them, that they can keep coming back to with more information.
3. Teach them to advocate for themselves.
Not just in the context of being queer, but in the context of life. The queer youth in your life will need the strength and strategies to advocate for themselves, to handle prejudice and conflict, and to be powerful while under the biased gaze of another. Teach them to be confident in themselves, to resolve conflict with resilience and compassion, and to honour their own voice.
4. Cover the bases that they can’t.
Sexual education for queer youth is significantly lacking. Help these children stay safe by covering some of the bases they can’t. Educate yourself about anatomy, physiology, STIs, protection, contraception. Dive in and learn everything so that you can normalize their bodies, normalize sexual enjoyment (for the love of pizza, please normalize women’s sexual pleasure!), normalize health, and normalize self-advocacy. Youth are unlikely to find credible sources for the questions that they have. Be a solid, reliable, consistent, and non-judgemental source so that they don’t have to resort to friends or the internet to answer their questions!
5. Treat them like a normal kid
Because they are!
I know I've missed a lot of points, here. Comment below with more ways to be a great ally!