So, I’ve been thinking about LGBT allies a lot recently. It started when I was hosting the British LGBT awards a couple of weeks back. The allies’ awards went to Lorraine Kelly and Daniel Radcliffe for their unswerving support for the LGBT community and their vocal commitment to LGBT rights and, as these things are prone to doing, it got me thinking about my own life and my own allies along the way.
My first ally was my sister. As I stuttered my awkward coming out speech, terrified that it was going to change the relationship that I held most dear, she laughed and told me that she’d known I was gay since I was three years old and she was just happy I was finally ready to accept it for myself. It was her unwavering support and acceptance that I drew strength from in those early days, and her that I turned to with my fears that my sexuality would prevent me from finding real love or having a family.
For lots of us, our coming out was made easier because of the love and support of a straight friend or relative. Someone who showed us that we were still the same person, regardless of our sexuality, and that they would be there for us whatever happened. And, for all the jokes that we make about ‘fag hags’, the truth is that there have always been straight women who befriended, supported and fought for their gay friends. Women who didn’t just ‘tolerate’ or ‘accept’ gays and their culture, but who positively celebrated it, cheering from the sidelines.
As society (at least in the UK) becomes more tolerant and coming out, thankfully, becomes less traumatic for many lesbian, gay and bisexual kids, the need for allies may seem less vital. After all, British kids are now growing up in a world where they can see gay entertainers, politicians and, finally, even sportsmen at the top of their game, living open and successful lives. And yet, even now, that first confession to a friend, with its inherent fear of rejection, is a big deal. My niece is now 17. She was just 13 the first time a friend came out to her, and since then there have been numerous others. Perhaps it is the fact that she has a gay uncle and a gay brother that seems to have already made her a magnet for the LGBT teens in her circle, perhaps it’s just her sunny disposition but, whatever it is, I am proud to see her blossoming into a proper LGBT ally.
Civil rights movements have always needed allies. Those who have no voice have sometimes needed others to speak for them until they can find their own. Just as the suffragettes needed male supporters in parliament to push through legislation allowing women to vote, and it was white men who voted to overturn the racist Jim Crow laws. And while lesbians and gays have largely been quite good at organising and campaigning for our own rights, without the support of some very vocal straight advocates and lawmakers, how much longer would it have taken for us to achieve the level of equality we enjoy today?
The lesbian and gay communities have had powerful support and friendship over the years. From Elizabeth Taylor’s campaigning for AIDS patients, to Brad and Angelina delaying their wedding until gays and lesbians won the right to marry, allies play a huge role in changing attitudes.
Perhaps the best way to honour the support we’ve had is to pass it on. Right now, the trans community is fighting for rights and acceptance, much as the gay community was 30 years ago. They are still subjected to the kind of prejudice that is, thankfully, increasingly rare for bisexuals, lesbians and gay men. So let’s step up. Let’s celebrate allies not just by handing out awards, but by becoming allies ourselves.
WORDS BY CHARLIE CONDOU