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How to Be an Ally

What’s the number-one putdown at your school? Is it “fag,” “dyke,” or some other insult about a person’s sexual orientation? How many times have you heard “that’s so gay” used to describe something stupid or bad? Now think about how many times you’ve heard your teachers or fellow students speak up against people using homophobic language like that. Probably not all that often.

Homophobic name-calling hurts lesbian, gay, and bisexual (lgbt) students because it makes them feel bad about something natural that they can no more change than their blood type. Anti-gay insults are just one of the factors that can make a school unhealthy for these students. Invisibility is another. Examples of lgbt people aren’t often included in school classes or textbooks, and so lgbt students begin to believe they’re alone and that being straight is the only “right” way to be. For an lgbt student, the feeling of isolation can be pretty harsh because it seems like they’re being ignored and are the only ones who aren’t “normal.”

Beyond getting flak from their classmates, lgbt students are often shut out by the school’s administration. Administrative silence when it comes to lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues hurts all students, not just those who aren’t straight, because it sets up an environment where differences aren’t things to be celebrated but things that have to be hidden. In some schools, complaints about homophobia or heterosexism (the assumption that being straight is better than being gay) are not taken seriously, whether or not the people having problems are gay.

Many people have probably felt powerless to do something about homophobia at their school. Being an ally to lgbt students is important because they can’t always count on support from their teachers or family — and because there usually aren’t a lot of other openly gay students at school.

Here are some things everyone, gay or straight, can do to make their school a better place for students of all sexual orientations:

  • Interrupt homophobic jokes or comments. Let the person making the remark know that homophobia is not acceptable.
  • Get involved in or start your school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. “You are not alone” is an important message for isolated students to hear.
  • Identify allies: find teachers, counselors, staff, and parents who are supportive of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students and get the word out to the student body.
  • Make sure your school’s anti-discrimination policy includes sexual orientation. If your school doesn’t have an anti-discrimination policy, get them to adopt one.
  • Ask your librarian to make books that deal with issues relating to gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens available in the school library.
  • Invite speakers to your school from organizations like PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Family of Lesbians and Gays), to share their stories about the damage homophobia does and the healing that love and support bring.
  • Organize a Diversity Day or Week at your school to tackle various forms of discrimination.
  • Let people know that you, personally, support people who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Between tests, puberty, and trying to fit in, high school can be hard. Imagine going through it being tormented by people — who may not even know you — saying that you are sick, that you don’t deserve any rights, and even that you should be beaten up or killed. Sometimes just a small effort to reach out can mean a world of difference to someone who is frightened and thinks no one cares.