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What is an Ally?

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

I am a straight white man. I have no physical or mental disabilities, and I was raised in a comfortably middle-class home. I am the "average" Canadian, despite being a statistical minority.

The institutions of this country - political, social, economic - are for the most part set up to benefit people like me. And, for the most part, this is not because of some malicious plot to deliberately disenfranchise those not like me (although a good deal of deliberate disenfranchisement has and still does occur).  

Rather, it's mostly because people like me have largely been the ones in charge of setting up our institutions, and those people rarely sought to look outside their own privilege and consider how their decisions would affect women, racial and sexual minorities, the poor, and those with disabilities.

This week is Pride Week in Halifax, and this year, like the years before and the years to come, will see members of the LGBTQ community in Halifax joined in celebration by an ever-growning number of non-LGBTQ persons who define themselves as "allies" of that community.

I proudly count myself as one of those allies, and yet I recently found myself questioning just what it means to be an ally.  Is simply not being outwardly homophobic or transphobic enough, or does the term demand more from those who apply it to themselves?

What is an ally?

I think being an ally first means acknowledging one's own privilege.  I will, in all probability, never have to directly taste the poisonous attacks of racism and sexism, even if those closest to me sometimes do.  While I might have been called a "fag" in junior high and high school a few times, I will never feel the direct impact of homophobia the way far too many people have.  Barring any accidents or illnesses, I will never have my intelligence or worth as a human being questioned because of a physical or mental disability.

An ally also does not claim to speak for the community he or she is allied with, but fights to have the community's voices heard.  Nor does an ally draw an arbitrary line between the struggles of one marginalized community and another.  You can't fight for the rights of one person while ignoring the rights and concerns of another.  The death of Raymond Taavel made us take a look at how our society deals with homophobia, but it should have also made us re-examine how we view and treat people with mental illness. 

I don't feel guilty because of my privilege, because I'm not sure that guilt would be a constructive emotion here.  

Nevertheless, this underlines just how important it is for me and people like me ("average" Canadians) to listen to those not-so-average voices and to be willing to step outside our privilege. That last part is never easy, as seeing the world though someone else's eyes is something I think humans have only a limited capacity to do, but it's something we all must be willing to at least try.

Happy Pride!


Originally posted at: http://novademocratia.blogspot.ca/2012/07/what-is-ally.html

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