A note from the editor:
This article was published about a week ago elsewhere. It was pulled down because comments were made that it was "divisive." But, I will not be silenced - there should be nothing divisive about asking for respect for myself and my community. This message needs to exist in the world.
I had initially written about this subject for the Confetti Project’s Pride series, which you can see here.
I wanted to quickly address a few of the things that this article brought up for people:
1. No, I am not saying we don’t need allies. I am saying we need better allies.
2. No one who is not LGBTQ+ is an expert on being LGBTQ+. Maybe you’re a wedding planner (who identifies as straight) and you plan a ton of LGBTQ+ weddings. Awesome. That does not make you an expert on LGBTQ+ issues. That makes you an expert at being a straight ally who plans lots of great events for LGBTQ+ folx. There is a difference between those two things and THAT is what I am addressing here. No matter how well-read I am on racial issues, I could never be an expert on the black experience because I am not black. It’s simple and it’s not offensive.
3. Someone posted this the other day on Instagram and it resonated with me: Privilege is not an insult.
I hope this article resonates with you or opens your eyes or gives you some ideas on how to be a better ally.
Do you remember when you were in school and you got assigned a group project? If you are anything like me (a total control freak), you took it upon yourself to do most of the work so that you got a good grade on it. But after all of the hours you spent researching and writing, you mostly felt taken advantage of because the 3 other people in your group benefited from all the hard work you put in, all while they put their feet up and listened to their discman (or something else very early 2000s). That’s how queer folks feel today when cishets (cisgender, heterosexual people) claim to be “experts” or “pros” on the topics of diversity and inclusion. And, just like my 10th-grade self, I am fucking infuriated by it.
I started H&H Weddings in 2012 when same-sex marriage wasn’t even legal. At the time, I wasn’t a super vocal advocate for queer rights, but I saw H&H Weddings as a meaningful way to serve my community. In those days, I really felt like cishets were aware of the fact that they didn’t know what they didn’t know. But then same-sex marriage became legal and it’s almost like all those cishets felt that because they had voted for Obama, they had put in the work to make it happen.
Working in the wedding industry, things are heteronormative and exceedingly white - it is my least favorite thing about the industry. But what I found was that, all of a sudden, cishet white women were going on and on about “inclusion” and “diversity” and labeling themselves “pros” and "industry leaders.” I was livid. If you are an ally, your job in supporting the community is to use your privilege to amplify queer and trans voices, specifically those of black and brown folx. Also, pay these people! Hire them to be the experts on their own lived experiences rather than seeing things through your own lens. But that was not happening. Instead, these “pros” were profiting off of experiences that they only knew peripherally.
Ultimately, I felt tokenized, even by people I had considered friends.
Cishets, you are good at a lot of things (like procreation!), but you are not good at knowing an experience you have not lived. There are a slew of privileges that you benefit from on a day-to-day basis that you don’t even think about. And just like the nuanced privilege of cishets, there are nuances to queer life that you have absolutely no way of knowing. I don’t care if your cousin or sister or best friend is gay.
So, how can you be an ally without taking advantage of or tokenizing LGBTQ+ folks?
I am so glad you asked. The best way to be an ally is with money. Capitalism is a bitch. This means...
- before you use #loveislove on Instagram, you donate money to an organization that supports LGBTQ+ rights (again, especially black and brown folx).
- if you are planning a styled shoot and want to use a queer couple to appeal to potential LGBTQ+ clients, pay those models for their time (with real money, not exposure).
- if you run a blog or website and you want to talk about anything related to the LGBTQ+ community, pay an LGBTQ+ person to write about their experiences.
- if you run a business and you see a queer-owned business doing the same thing as you, but catering to the LGBTQ+ community, let them have that. Resist the urge to view them as your competitor. Instead, support them and collaborate with them, talk about them on your platform as a way to promote their business, and be willing to refer clients to them, especially LGBTQ+ clients who may be more comfortable working with LGBTQ+ vendors
- Last but not least, community is crucial: not every space is for every person. Being surrounded by people who share your experience is more meaningful than a cishet white lady feigning “inclusion” for marketing and SEO purposes.
As simple as this seems, there are A LOT of people who get it wrong. And most importantly, when in doubt, ask us! We are experts on our own lived experiences and we are typically thrilled when people recognize the value in what we have to say.
Here are some great places to put your money where your mouth is (as a business and as a human being):
Ericka Hart: website | IG
The Audre Lorde Project: website | IG
Project Q: website | IG