We often talk about stigma in terms of the effect that it has on people seeking treatment for their mental health. Stigma also surrounds and affects the LGBTQ+ community. Combine the stigma with fearing discrimination and/or rejection; being subject to harassment, bullying, and violence; and the resulting anxieties surrounding coming out, individuals who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community are almost three times more likely to experience a mental health condition as those who identify as straight and/or cisgender.
We can all help lessen stigma and support the LGBTQ+ community by consistently showing up and becoming allies. But remember – ally is a verb, not a noun. Effective ally-ship is about showing up, consistently and effectively. Here are some ways that you can do that:
- Have questions? Want to learn more? Take some time to educate yourself. It’s important to first to reflect upon and confront your own prejudices, assumptions, and biases related to members of the LBGTQ+ community. Then, start learning. Luckily, there are a lot of online resources now. A few places to start are www.sheppardpratt.org/lgbtq/, GLAAD, GLSEN, and The Trevor Project. Want to have a more in-depth conversation? Ask a friend or loved one questions about their experiences and thoughts if they’re comfortable sharing, and listen supportively. That brings us to tip #2:
- Be a supportive listener. Let your friend or loved one know you are there for them if they want to talk, and just listen to them without judgment. Most people just want to know that they have a safe person to come to when they need them.
- When it comes to pronouns, ask, don’t assume. Remember, you don't know someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity unless they tell you. Asking about pronouns might be new for you, but it’s a simple way to show your support. Something as simple as what pronoun you use when you refer to someone can have a big impact on a person’s identity, their self-image, and their life. It is OK to ask someone what their gender pronoun is if you are unsure. You can also start to normalize the use of identifying gender pronouns by identifying your gender pronoun when you introduce yourself. “Hi, my name is Alex, and I use he, him.” This way, it can start to become the standard for everyone and not just those who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. When in doubt, use the person’s name instead of their pronoun every time you reference them.
- Made a mistake? Apologize and move forward. Everyone will mess up from time to time. Don’t dwell on it; just focus on using the right pronoun and/or right phrasing next time.
- Get involved. A great way to stand up for any community is to stand up for the rights of that group against any type of discrimination, stigma, or bullying. There are so many ways to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights; here are some suggestions:
- Go with your friends and family to LGBTQ+ events to show support.
- Write to a senator or congressman in support of equal rights.
- Support a cause monetarily.
- Share posts on social media.
- Find ways to foster inclusivity in your workplace and at friend and family gatherings.
- You can even join a friend at a doctor’s appointment where they may feel anxious.
- Avoid anti-LGBTQ+ language or language rooted in anti-LGBTQ+ bias. Another way to be a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community is to watch your own language and stand up against others who use offensive or off-color language. Thoughtless jokes and comments can be hurtful and can further contribute to discrimination, stigma, and bullying. Watch what you say and how you say it. If you hear others say harmful jokes or comments, let them know they are inappropriate. You can help fuel this culture shift!
- Be respectful. This is easy. Just treat all people the same, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation, at the same time being mindful of the vast, diverse experiences within the community. This can take some effort and education on your part, and again, that is OK. Be kind to yourself as well. You, too, deserve respect and love.
- Respect confidentiality. Know that some people have different levels of comfort with disclosing parts of their identity.
- Put your money where your mouth is. When possible, patronize businesses that are LGBTQ+ supportive or LGBTQ+ owned and operated.
Everyone needs supporters in their lives. We hope you use the tips in this article to learn how to be the best LGBTQ+ community supporter and ally you can be in this ever-evolving world.
Here at Sheppard Pratt Health System, we are committed to fostering an inclusive, welcoming, and friendly environment for everyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
That’s why we maintain a library of resources that are especially helpful for those who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.