Straight ally

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Flag design for straight allies
Straight ally flag[1]

An ally, straight ally, or heterosexual ally is a heterosexual and cisgender person who supports and/or accepts equal civil rights, gender equality, and LGBT social movements, challenging what they perceive as homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.[2][3][4] Not everyone who meets this definition identifies as an "ally", however.

LGBT ally organizations[edit]

Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays march at an Australian Pride parade in 2011.

Most LGBT organizations have straight or cisgender members involved; others actively encourage straight and cisgender participation. A gay–straight alliance (also known as a gender-sexuality alliance) is a student-run club that brings together LGBT and straight students to create a platform for activism to fight homophobia and transphobia.[5] There are also some groups that unite the LGBT community to work together with allies. Founded in 1973, PFLAG is the original ally organization, started by Jeanne Manford, mother of the Ally movement. Based in the United States, PFLAG unites LGBT people with parents, families, and allies to gain full civil and legal equality for LGBT people. In 2007, the organization launched a new project, Straight for Equality[6] to help more allies become engaged in the LGBT movement in the workplace, healthcare, and now in faith communities.

Historical background[edit]

The Stonewall Riots of 1969 (in New York City) are known to be the starting point of the Gay Liberation Front. Protests, advocacy organizations, HIV/AIDS relief groups, etc., collectively have characterized the movement from the start. In the 1970s, a divide emerged within the community over opposing beliefs on what liberation truly meant: the 'liberationists' and the 'homophiles'.[7] Liberationists presented themselves as being considerably radical; their intent lay in going beyond acceptance and transforming traditional constructs of society (homophobia, sexism, militarism, etc.). In contrast, homophiles aimed only for what was deemed realistic; instead of dismantling an oppressive system, they simply asked for tolerance.[7] Their group maintained an apologist standpoint, where their end goal was living in peaceful coexistence with the oppressor.[7] This assimilationist perspective held particular appeal with members of the community who were able to "blend in" with heterosexual society. Unsurprisingly, the existence of such a group left room for a movement that was more sensitive to the struggles, needs and ultimate goals of more marginalised subcultures. The liberationists, who seemed to be drawing in members of such groups, filled this need. The emergence of the Liberationists allowed for a wider spectrum of sexual-social behaviour & identity to be represented without compromise, and with less risk of infighting. Members of the latter group would not feel forced to conform to the more socially conservatives mores of the Former group, whilst they were able to separate themselves from elements of the gay subculture that they found crass, excessive, decadent or extreme. Despite the evident differences, both groups share similar aims, and would be unlikely to ever see one another as anything but allies.[citation needed][tone]

Stages of allyship[edit]

Sociologist Keith Edwards identifies three stages to the process of becoming an ally in a social movement.[8]

The first stage of allyship is rooted in self-interest. These allies goals focus entirely on those they love. When taking action as an ally, their impact is individualistic – they perceive the issues of their loved one to have stemmed from the influence of a certain group of people rather than believing the issues to be symptomatic of a greater, oppressive system. This exhibition of early allyship is not necessarily harmful, but since it does not address the larger problem its effectiveness is limited. Self-interested behavior is most often associated with parents supporting their children, and although these parents are key supporters in the community, what is not always clear is whether their help would extend beyond their own family and friends.[8]

The second stage in Edward's model is that of the ally aspiring for altruism. This is a more developed stage than the former because the ally's motivations are directed towards combating the oppression of an entire group instead of just one individual. They are also more established in the sense that allies at this level begin to show awareness of their societal privilege, yet they have a tendency to assume a savior role toward those they aim to help.[8]

The third stage of allyship is the ally who fights for social justice. The main driver of this stage above all else is respect for those who are oppressed.[8] In contrast to the prior two approaches, allies in the third stage are aware that the group they support is fully capable of advocating for themselves. [8]

Challenges raised[edit]

Partnership with straight allies has raised challenges as well as benefits for the LGBTQ+ community: there is a perception that such allies evince different levels of 'respect' for the community on whose behalf they advocate, sometimes being patronizing, unaware of their own privilege and power, and crowding out the members.[8] Given that distinguishing the line between speaking on behalf of a group and speaking for a group is not simple, much of the time that line is crossed without even noticing. This grey area can be referred to as 'positive respect'; a sort of force found in an ally's motives that inhibits the 'servile' (as a result of their internalized oppression) group's freedom to act.[8]

Another challenge is that straight allies can be easily discouraged, in the face of close scrutiny of their motives and approaches. Newer straight allies can become overwhelmed by the complication of their position in the movement.  Since newer allies derive their identity from their personal relations with queer-identifying people, this limits their allyship.[9] Allies tend to respond very defensively to criticism from members of the queer community about their understanding of queer issues, which in turn feeds a concern that they are motivated by the praise they anticipate as their moral reward. Additionally there is a coming out process for being a straight ally that is not explicitly present in other social movements (concerns about being seen as LGBT); this can hinder the level of advocacy an ally does.[9] In other words, allyship requires a support that is accompanied with a distinct protocol many find challenging to achieve.[citation needed]

Straight allies at protest march
Straight allies protesting at Seattle March for Marriage Equality

Allies may receive criticism for a variety of reasons. For example, some believe that allies are unable to step outside their own heteronormative world to advocate.[10] Allies are also criticized for using LGBT advocacy as a means to gain popularity and status.[11]

Role in policy change[edit]

Studies show that elite allies have a positive effect on the policy goals of a social movement, whatever those goals may be.[12] While allies' main role is to provide wider support for the goals of a social movement, their secondary role of influencing policy is also valuable.[12] The allies' role is to inform policy makers of the struggles endured by a community. Allyship of this kind is often effective, though self-interested; for example, high-ranking, conservative government officials Barry Goldwater and William Weld (former Republican governor of Massachusetts), were motivated by their relations with queer family and friends to provide uncharacteristic support for pro-gay policies.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pride Flags". The Gender & Sexuality Resource Center. Retrieved 2021-06-30.
  2. ^ Eichler, Matthew A. (2010-04-01). "Joining the Family: Experiences of Being and Becoming Ally Activists of LGBTQ People". Journal of Transformative Education. 8 (2): 89–102. doi:10.1177/1541344611406904. ISSN 1541-3446. S2CID 146923216.
  3. ^ Fingerhut, Adam W. (2011). "Straight Allies: What Predicts Heterosexuals' Alliance With the LGBT Community?1". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 41 (9): 2230–2248. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00807.x. ISSN 1559-1816.
  4. ^ Levesque, Amie (2019-06-01). ""I've Always Wanted a Gay Family Member!": Straight Ally Girls and Gender Inequality in a High School Gay-Straight Alliance". Qualitative Sociology. 42 (2): 205–225. doi:10.1007/s11133-019-9411-9. ISSN 1573-7837. S2CID 149798419.
  5. ^ "What We Do: Gay-Straight Alliance". Retrieved 2011-07-21.
  6. ^ "Straight for Equality website". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  7. ^ a b c Shepard, Benjamin H. (2001-05-01). "Monthly Review | The Queer/Gay Assimilationist Split". Monthly Review. Retrieved 2020-05-12.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Towards a Moral Conception of Allyship".
  9. ^ a b Grzanka, P. R., Adler, J., & Blazer, J. (2015). Making up allies: The identity choreography of straight LGBT activism. Sexuality Research & Social Policy, 12(3), 165-181. doi:
  10. ^ DeTurk, Sara (2011). "Allies in Action: The Communicative Experiences of People Who Challenge Social Injustice on Behalf of Others". Communication Quarterly. 59 (5): 569–590. doi:10.1080/01463373.2011.614209.
  11. ^ Becker, Ron (2006). "Gay-Themed Television and the Slumpy Class: The Affordable, Multicultural Politics of the Gay Nineties". Television & New Media. 7: 184–215. doi:10.1177/1527476403255830. S2CID 145717408.
  12. ^ a b "Friends or foes? How social movement allies affect the passage of legislation in the US Congress" (PDF).
  13. ^ Reger, Jo, Daniel J. Myers, and Rachel L. Einwohner, eds. Identity work in social movements. Vol. 30. U of Minnesota Press, 2008.

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