I identify as a gay Chicana, and finding allies who are allies to my entire identity can be difficult. Seeing as most people think of the LGBTQ community as primarily white gay male couples, even just the thought of being a person of color is erased from what it means to be LGBTQ.
One time, when I talked to a fellow student, who identified as white and outside the gender binary, about my experience as an LGBTQ person of color, they responded, “I’m white and upper class, but I’ve never been racist.” But the truth is, at the least, we’ve all made assumptions about people based on racial stereotypes many times in our lives. It's a fact! The thing is, we just have to acknowledge it, educate ourselves, and fight against it.
It’s frustrating that even members of the LGBTQ community don't stand as allies to one another. LGBTQ people of color like me endure hate and oppression from our own community. It is painful and heart-aching to be with members of our community fighting for acceptance from people outside the community, while we still don't have acceptance from people within in.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are so many ways that people, both inside and outside the LGBTQ community, can be allies to LGBTQ students of color. Especially as we finish up Ally Week, a student-powered program where LGBTQ students and educators lead the conversation on what they need from their allies, here are a few of these ways.
Speak up when you hear LGBTQ stereotypes, slurs, and jokes, understanding that just as those are wrong, so are racial stereotypes, slurs, or jokes. When you hear them, do not react on a physical impulse. When people say ignorant things to get others fired up, they’re just looking for a reaction. Instead, calmly call them out on their action.
I’ve already heard multiple times in my life the question: “You’re not so and so. Why does it even matter if I use this stereotype/make this joke?” It matters because it’s not right. No matter whether we’re related by blood, we should come together as a family that will stand with one another until the day we are seen as equal, and after that? We will continue to be family, side by side.
Allow LGBTQ people of color to speak on their identities openly without interruption. It's great to support and want to share how you feel, but allow people who actually hold those identities to speak about them first and most.
Imagine: It’s the winter months, and I have a blanket that keeps me warm before someone takes it from me by force. Cold, I find a group huddled together without blankets keeping warm by body heat. A storm brews, and the group is forced to take shelter in a small shed. After the storm is over, we find another group without blankets, and we stick together, supporting one another.
Later, we hold a local meeting for all so that we may express our need for warmth. As I explain that there are many reasons why we do not have blankets and the hardships of the group, one man interrupts and talks about how he feels awful about so many of us not having blankets, and that he feels very privileged to have a warm home with a surplus of blankets. He wishes us luck on our journey.
You see, I was expressing why we do not have any blankets and struggle to stay warm, but I’m interrupted by someone who has not experienced our struggle firsthand offering sympathy and realizing his privilege. Did he offer help to donate his many blankets? No, he only spoke of his personal insight. Did he recognize privilege? Yes, but when you recognize privilege yet do not act on it, you are not an ally, but a bystander.
Do not stand for cultural appropriation. Instead, actually celebrate others’ cultures.
For example, on Cinco de Mayo, many white people celebrate by wearing fake mustaches, sombreros, and ponchos, all while drinking. Seeing this and being told it's out of “appreciation” of where I come from as a Chicana is difficult. This is using my culture for pleasure and profit while not identifying as Chicana, which is cultural appropriation. Yes, all of that exists in Mexico, but there's so much more to us, too! I love my culture and the beauty of so many things in Mexico. The hardworking people, the smell of fresh dough in the morning for pan, the art covering the streets, the music of everything around, the loud speakers used to wake everyone up in the morning in the neighborhoods, the many statues of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dia de los Muertos. I miss it, very much.
My culture is not to be used for profit, period.
Instead, you should educate yourself on my history, traditions, and more! To be an ally means to effectively educate yourself on other cultures while recognizing your own privilege. So study up, have a conversation, hold lessons in school, find resources, like GLSEN's educator guide on working with students of color, and stay supportive of students with multiple marginalized identities.
And one personal note to my fellow LGBTQ students of color:
You are valid. You are thought of. You are accepted by us. You are our family, I am with you. Con mucho amor.
Mari Contreras is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.