8 ways to help preserve the mental health of your LGBTQ+ friends and family – using the letters of the full acronym
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I wanted to work on some targeted advice as I’m going to be celebrating pride in London this weekend. I was thinking about how awesome it is to be accepted into this celebration that isn’t really for me, and what I might be able to offer back. Hopefully, I can provide some salient advice, but please do not be afraid to pull me up on any poor advice I might give! So here are some bits of advice for aspiring allies, using the letters of the full LGBTTQQIAP acronym.
L – Learn about LGBTQ+ history/culture
One of the most important things you can do to actively be an ally to a community is to educate yourself. You may have friends in the community who are willing to answer your questions and teach you things. If that's the case you should observe some Quiet Listening, which we'll talk about later in this list, and learn all that they have to share. However, not having a person to teach you is no excuse if you want to call yourself an ally. Google is free, if you’re reading this post you have access to it. If you’re looking for books, I picked these books randomly off the shelf from my local library:
Any one of these might close a gap in your knowledge, an there are so many more. Documentaries, Podcasts, films and television shows all about people in the community, their history, their struggles, and their needs are all readily available. I know that as a black woman I avoid a lot of conversations with people because there are things I’m tired of explaining. To have friends around me that already or to meet new people that already get it takes a weight off my shoulders that I don’t want to have to carry all the time. If I can do the same for my LGBTQ+ friends, I’m doing something positive.
G – Grow from critique
If an LGBTQ+ person flags up something you say as phobic or ignorant in some way, stop yourself if your first thought is to defend yourself in spite of that person’s feelings. Ask if you don’t understand, ask further if you still don’t understand, do some reading if you need further clarification, and grow from that critique. This does not mean you have to agree. If you understand what this person is saying but it’s something you cannot reconcile, that is for you to deal with and not something for you to put on the other person. Move on with the knowledge that your actions can be perceived a certain way and have the maturity to accept that. If it turns out that you do agree your comment was ignorant, use this moment to assess your other thoughts and feelings. Either way, you should approach critique maturely and without lashing out.
B – Believe LGBTQ+ people
Believe them when they tell you bi erasure exists, believe them when they tell you about their experiences, believe them when they tell you they are hurting, believe them when they tell you why they are hurting. Nothing is more fucking infuriating than a person with totally different experiences from you telling you that your experiences aren’t fucking real or are foolish. Especially if they are someone that claims to be your ally. You’re allowed to be logical and sceptical, but you should also listen to the people you care about and trust that they experience the world in a completely different way to you and go through some really ugly experiences. You don’t even need to do anything about it at that moment, just hear it.
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T & T- Talk and Teach
You might roll your eyes and prepare to be preached to as I bring up the term “privilege”, but as straight people we are afforded certain privileges that we can use to take some of the pressure off our peers in the community. Challenge your ignorant friends and family, actively support the community in the presence of other straight people, don’t wait for a non-straight person to be there so you can preen for their approval. If you have people around you with questions, don’t be afraid to do some teaching and pass on some of the knowledge you have gained. This doesn’t mean speaking for all LGBTQ+ people, asserting your opinions as that of the community as a whole and claiming to know what everyone wants. If one single LGBTQ+ person can’t speak to the feelings of the entire community, one straight ally sure as hell can’t. It’s just about passing on what you’ve learned.
Q & Q– Quality Time & Quiet Listening
Jonathan Van Ness made a recent episode of his podcast Getting Curious with CEO of the Trevor Project (a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organisation for LGBTQ youth) Amit Paley about how to cut suicide rates among LGBTQ Youth. It’s a fantastic episode that I highly recommend, but a lot of what was discussed in terms of how to treat friends with mental health problems, suicidal ideations, or people going through difficulties emotionally were the following:
· Don’t ignore someone
· Don’t minimize what they are going through
· Don’t attempt to solve their problems unless they ask for your help.
So when I say quality time, what I mean is you should spend time listening to and caring about what your loved one is going through without trying to just make those feelings go away somehow. When someone you love is hurting you become anxious for them to feel happy again and want to scramble for a quick fix. Instead, let them take their journey of healing and offer your assistance if needed, but don’t insert yourself where you aren’t yet needed. Give them the space to be heard.
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I - Introspect
Take some personal time to reflect on the ways you are, or aren’t, being the ally that you would want to be. Be proud of yourself for accomplishing something, or look at what steps you can take towards achieving your goal. How’s your personal mental health doing? Always remember to take care of yourself, because you need to have the physical and emotional capacity to help others in order to do so effectively. A good ally is one that takes care of and loves themselves with the same passion they care for and love others.
A - Accept
Talking about Amit Paley’s episode of getting curious again, something he said really struck me in how poignant it was:
‘When you can have a conversation and say to a young person “there may be some people that don’t accept you being gay or lesbian or bi or trans or queer” or however they define themselves. “But I want you to know, there are many many people who will not only recognise you, but will celebrate you for being who you are, and I am one of those people, and I am proud of you.” I mean, sometimes you say that, and they just start crying. It’s so powerful for them…I mean, what do people want in life? They want to be seen and they want to be loved and they want to be celebrated.”
There can be something so powerful about taking a moment to vocalise your acceptance of an LGBTQ+ friend or family member if they are in a dark or vulnerable place emotionally. The knowledge that you are there, you acknowledge their pain, and love them regardless could be life-saving.
A – Advocate
We should be equally as vocal with our advocacy as we are with our acceptance of our LGBTQ+ peers. Practice what you preach and make sure your words aren’t hollow. If you’re living in a country that’s working to diminish the rights of LGBTQ+ people, sign petitions and write to your local government officials. Make it known that you are a voice aligned with the community. It’s affirming for those around you to know you’ve got their back in a real, powerful way.
P – Provide resources
There will be instances where your friend or family member needs help that you cannot provide. Maybe they need to speak to a professional, maybe they just need to speak to another person in the community. Help them find what it is they need and provide them with options. In the US there is the Trevor Project, in the UK we have the Switchboard and certain parts of the UK have access to IAPT. There are also charitable organisations like Stonewall that can provide advice. Do some research and have an informal, zero pressure chat with this person and guide them towards the help they might need.
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