Skip to content
ICE Community blog

How to be an ally: hint, you may already be one!

24 February 2022

Julian Phatarfod from Arup helps us understand what being an ally means and shares four steps you can take to become a more effective one inside and outside your organisation.

How to be an ally: hint, you may already be one!
"Having someone to talk to can make a world of difference when you’re in the minority." Image credit: Eren L/Pexels

We are all different and therefore, each one of us carries a unique set of lived experience.

Some of these experiences may have been more fortunate compared to others, while some are less so. Some of these are based on luck, and some are based on systemic barriers that may be present by design, or have been established by societies over time.

However, while recognising that everyone is unique, we can group some of these lived experiences together into selected communities of people who have similar individual needs and experiences. One such group is the LGBTQ+ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer/Questioning + any other orientation or gender identity).

The LGBTQ+ community in the UK

In the UK, February is LGBTQ+ History Month, the annual celebration of LGBTQ+ identities, experiences and role models throughout history.

The month coincides with coincides with the abolition of so-called ‘Section 28’ in 2003, a policy that prohibited the “promotion” of homosexuality in the UK.

The effect was particularly devastating for education as it meant that LGBTQ+ identities and relationships could not be taught in the school curriculum, and young people could not learn about healthy LGBTQ+ relationships nor find role models.

We’ve made significant progress since then and there is now much more visibility and inclusion of LGBTQ+ identities, but there is still a long way to go, with increasing media reports of discrimination prevalent throughout the UK, particularly towards our trans and non-binary communities.

So, how can you help? Be an ally.

What does it mean to be an ally?

Being an ally means you are conscious of someone else’s individual lived experiences and can amend behaviours or attitudes to make sure everyone feels included. You have likely done this before and therefore are already on your way to becoming an effective ally.

Allies accept, listen and learn all year-round. Allies recognise they don’t know everything but are open and eager to understand more. To understand this better, picture the word ALLY as an acronym:

  • Accepting ally
  • Listening ally
  • Learning ally
  • Year-round ally

4 steps that will help you become an effective ally

You have a crucial role in enabling LGBTQ+ inclusion every day. LIVE being an ally with these four steps:

  1. Listen

    Listen, watch, and listen again. This includes asking how someone is doing and really listening, noticing when someone is uncomfortable, being aware of our facial expressions and reactions, and giving people time and space.

    Having someone to talk to can make a world of difference when you’re in the minority and you should be proud of the fact that someone sees you as their trusted ally.

  2. Influence

    This involves being a role model, starting honest conversations, taking action to support internal and external campaigns, initiative and charities, and of course liking, sharing, retweeting and commenting on posts and articles.

  3. Be visible

    This is about getting involved in the LGBTQ+ community such as by attending and/or organising events like Pride, uplifting the most marginalised voices within the community, offering pronouns as part of email signatures or meeting introductions and not being a bystander to discrimination by recognising, addressing and speaking out against LGBTQ-phobia.

  4. Educate and empower

    This involves researching and understanding LGBTQ+ history, including former and current challenges and barriers, exploring past and present LGBTQ+ language, and keeping up to date with LGBTQ+ books, films and social media.

    An ally knows that LGBTQ+ people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, just like everyone else, and there are ways to reinforce that truth every day.

Understanding intersectionality

At the start of this blog, I mentioned grouping of communities based on different characteristics, many of which are protected under the Equality Act (2010).

At Arup and in our cross-industry LGBTQ+ alliance Building Equality, we have been focusing on intersectionality: by raising the visibility that at any given time, people may be experiencing barriers, micro-agressions or discrimination based on any number of these characteristics.

As a gay man from a mixed-ethnicity background, I benefit from allies that are conscious of the homophobia or racism that I may have experienced and which I carry with me.

However, as a cisgender male I am also an ally to cisgender women, our trans and our non-binary communities, and am conscious of their respective lived experiences that have not been a barrier for me.

We all are allies and we all need allies, in differing ways and in differing amounts. If everyone can frame their day-to-day attitudes and behaviours along these lines, I am confident we automatically move closer to a society where everyone feels more included.

To find out more about being an effective ally, please email Building Equality as we run toolbox talks which expand on many of the themes above across the year that are open and free for everybody to attend.

And remember, we are all allies.

  • Julian Phatarfod, senior transportation planner at Arup