Those of us who are not part of the LGBTQIA+ community may wonder how we can be better allies. I reached out to LGBTQIA+ ministers and congregants in various Unity churches, as well as some friends, artists, and activists outside of Unity, to ask them, “How can I better support the community?”
As you might expect, their responses varied, but I heard some recurring themes. Here are four things I learned about how to offer support to the LGBTQIA+ community.
1. Everyone Needs Support in Different Ways
There are certain qualities the LGBTQIA+ community has in common, but we should always remember they are not a monolith. A community is made of individuals with their own unique beliefs, ideas, and needs. Don’t assume you automatically know how someone thinks just because they are part of the LGBTQIA+ community (or any community for that matter—the Black community, the disabled community, and so on).
Language, for instance, is very important to many in the community. Rev. Jacquie Fernández, senior minister of Unity Church of Overland Park in Kansas, says that when she is getting to know a new person, she greatly appreciates “when they introduce themselves with their pronouns” and also when they “use open language when getting to know me.” She gives an example of new acquaintances asking about her “partner” instead of her “husband.”
Every individual needs different types of support based on the circumstances of their lives. Everyone needs to be shown love and acceptance, but teenagers may be in a more fragile place. They especially need to know they have worth and value as they come of age.
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community who live in a country where it is illegal to be a homosexual also need support in a different way. To help the global LBGTQIA+ community, consider supporting organizations like the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA).
“A good ally to me is open to listening to our concerns and then takes action,” said Laura Carl, the lead designer for Unity World Headquarters. “Sometimes it’s dangerous for us to be as out and proud as we would like.”
This is good to keep in mind when trying to support anyone. Listen to their experiences and concerns. Try to put yourself in their shoes so you can be empathetic. How can you do this specifically with individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community? Read books from LGBTQIA+ authors about their experiences, like the award-winning Still on Fire: Field Notes from a Queer Mystic; find LGBTQIA+ bloggers, podcasters, and influencers online and read or listen to their perspectives, or join LGBTQIA+ groups open to allies at your church or in your local community.
3. It’s Important to Speak Up
If we come across instances of harassment and discrimination, how many of us are brave enough to call this out when we see or hear it? Tempe Redhawk, a singer/songwriter from Marietta, Georgia, says, “It is important to speak up for us when you are living your daily life. When you’re in the checkout line or with your friends or family and you hear someone saying unkind or hurtful things about us, simply be brave. With kindness and gentleness, let them know that you support us. Sometimes the most important time to be our ally is when we are nowhere around.”
4. Offer Love and Acceptance
The best way to support the LGBTQIA+ community is to offer love and acceptance. Strive to see the inherent value and worth in every individual and learn to appreciate their unique journeys. Rev. Juan del Hierro, senior minister of Unity on the Bay in Miami, Florida, offered several suggestions when I asked him how to be a good ally, including those mentioned—providing compassionate and empathetic listening and speaking up when anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments are expressed. “All of this really boils down to simply being an expression of loving-kindness to LGBTQIA+ people,” he said.
This is especially critical for members of the LGBTQIA+ community who may experience suicidal thoughts or other mental health issues. Nearly half of all LGBTQIA+ youth have considered suicide.
There are resources available to help:
- The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQIA+ youth, including a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also has trained counselors available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
- In addition, the It Gets Better Project offers resources and support for LGBTQIA+ youth, including a list of mental health resources.
It is important to take action to support the community in ways that are specific to their needs, whether that is through language, supporting global organizations, or being brave in everyday situations. Ultimately, being an ally to a member of any community means striving to see their perspectives, seeing their value and worth, and being an expression of loving-kindness.