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OPINION: Pride Started as a Riot – Why Being an Ally Matters

Written by Ryan Sweeney

Image by Queer People of Colour

Being an ally to Black Lives Matter

Your voice matters. Being an ally matters. Here’s how you can help.

It’s no secret right now that with worldwide protests and civil unrest, people feel compelled to use their voices to demand change. But I’ve also seen a lot of people (especially those like myself with lower melanin levels) unsure of what their role is in this movement.

People are saying things like ‘I believe in their cause, but it’s not my fight’ or ‘I agree with you, but I don’t want to look like I’m virtue signalling’. And I get it, I agree with you. It makes me uncomfortable to place myself in someone else’s fight. Will posting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on my social media actually make a difference, or just make me look like a poser trying to cash-in on the popular sentiment of the moment?

But all of this happening at the same time as Pride month reminds me just how vital allies are to these kinds of fights.

Black Lives Matter Is My Fight Too

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Black Lives Matter is my fight too. It was a Black Trans woman who threw the first brick at the Stonewall riots. June of 1969 was a time where there were laws that said ‘Everyone must wear at least 3 pieces of clothing that match their gender at all times’. It was a time where cops performed regular raids on gay bars; beating, stealing, and arresting people whose crime was being in public with like-minded friends. A time where gays and lesbians would be assaulted in the streets and police would refuse to show up. A time where we were looked at as criminals, degenerates, and sub-humans. And just like those marching in the streets today, it was a time where an oppressed minority of the population stood up and said ‘no more’. 

“It doesn’t matter how loud a single voice is. In a democracy, the minority has always depended on the majority to enact change.”

The LGBTQ+ community makes up around 1% of the population. People of colour make up around 12% of the population. At the end of the day, democracy is about the power of the majority. And 12% of the population demanding that they are seen as equals does not guarantee policy change in a democracy.

The gay rights movement would never have gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for parents of queer children. If it wasn’t for straight members of the community to stand with their fellow human beings, change would never have come. The same thing is true with the Black community. 12% of the population would never have been able to organize some of the world’s largest marches and protests. 12% of the population would never have been able to enact real policy at international levels making humans equal under the law. It doesn’t matter how loud a single voice is. In a democracy, the minority has always depended on the majority to enact change.

Why being an ally matters

What Does Being an Ally Look Like in Today’s Climate?

Before going further, I want to make it clear that the point of this article is not to shame people for not being involved. You don’t have to be on the frontlines with a picket sign to be an ally. But being an ally does involve moments of discomfort. It requires the courage to recognize your privilege, and use that to change opinions.

One of the most powerful moments of every Pride is the parents of gay children marching. It’s members of the religious community showing up to apologize for the actions of their community and show that they believe in love too. It’s the bikers in full leather showing up to funerals of the gay community to stand guard against hateful protesters. Being an ally is one of the most important roles in movements like this. And it means saying the obvious out loud. Not for your benefit, but for the benefit of those you interact with who don’t share your beliefs. 

Those church members who showed up to Pride are seen when they go back to regular services. Those bikers are known around their community for not standing for hate. Those parents of gay children are saying to their co-workers, their neighbours, their book club members, that if you continue to see these people as less-than, that they will speak up. And that’s how real change happens. That’s how the 1% or the 12% convince the majority to enact real policy change. 

“So if you think that being White means you don’t have a voice in this fight, I’m telling you, your voice matters.”

Being an ally is uncomfortable. But the oppression of a group of people who aren’t asking for revenge or repentance, simply for equality, is even more uncomfortable. No one is treated equally until everyone is treated equally.

So if you think that being White means you don’t have a voice in this fight, I’m telling you, your voice matters. I’m telling you that your voice probably makes a bigger difference than mine. If you believe that skin colour, or sexual orientation, or gender, or economic disparities do not determine whether someone deserves due process and the right to happiness, then say it.

Good allyship isn’t speaking for others, but listening to and amplifying Black voices.

Even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it’s not your fight, even if you think it will make you look like you’re just jumping on a bandwagon. As a member of a minority who wouldn’t have equal rights today if it weren’t for allies, I’m telling you, your voice makes a difference. 

#BlackLivesMatter
#BlackTransLivesMatter

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.