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How to Be a Better Ally and Tips to Start Right Now

Being an ally and learning how to support those in need can be one of the most important things you can do. Many marginalized people say it can literally save their lives to feel seen and valued. Allyship is about using your privilege and power to stand in solidarity with marginalized groups and challenge the systemic barriers they face.

For high school student Kay, who identifies as queer, those moments of feeling understood by others meant everything to him.

“When someone uses he/him pronouns for me it’s like a surprising little jolt of like support and understanding that not a lot of people give me,” he said.

Kay – High School Student

Put simply, being an ally means using your privilege and power in solidarity with marginalized groups to challenge and change the systemic barriers that impede their rights and opportunities.

16-year-old Rena found an ally in her teacher who allowed black students to come up with a lesson plan to educate their peers, including topics like cultural appropriation.

“I just thought that was really cool and impactful because that really takes the whole meaning on the student becoming the teacher,” the high school student from Seattle said. “Though my teacher may not have realized it, she gave a whole bunch of students a voice that may not have had that voice had she not done that.”

What Are Allies and How Can They Help

Okay, so now you know a little bit of the huge impact you can have as an ally. But you may be wondering where or how to get started. We’ve got you covered.

Let’s start with the basics: Being an ally means stepping up to ensure everyone is treated with respect and dignity, no matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation.

For teens and their parents, this is about more than just being fair—it’s about actively participating in making a difference. It involves listening well, communicating openly, and taking meaningful actions.

Shalini Kasida, Chair of the Board at Doc Wayne Youth Services, Inc., and a Consultant for the Champions Network®, emphasized that being an ally means more than just voicing or feeling support.

“It’s about listening, learning, and taking meaningful action,” Kasida says. “True allyship involves acknowledgment and understanding of diverse experiences.”

For young people, this might mean speaking up when you see injustice or learning more about cultures different from your own. For parents, educators, and coaches it’s about guiding these efforts and helping unlearn biases that we all might carry.

18-year-old McKenzie says it was the acknowledgment from a white teacher that gave her a glimpse of what that looks like. McKenzie, a high school student from Ohio, said she had found it frustrating how limiting conversations on the black experience were in her school – as if all black people felt the same way.

But her teacher showed this, by admitting that as a white woman, she could not be as knowledgeable about how life has been for black people throughout history because she had not experienced it herself.

“It’s so important as Black women that we continue to take the time to celebrate ourselves. To be able to share our stories and inspire the next generation – that’s what it’s all about. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to know your a part of something and where your family comes from.”

“She understood that she wouldn’t understand racism and discrimination like some of her students would,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie – High School Student from Ohio

That’s a common theme around allyship – the willingness to admit what you don’t know and to seek ways to educate yourself, including bringing more perspectives to the table.

In fact, many teens don’t expect you to have the answers right now – but have shared they see an ally as someone who stands by you no matter what your identity is and supports you even if they don’t understand it from the beginning. 

It’s about how you show up for someone in their life, and how they show up for you.

It’s also about looking at yourself.

Sam Zurn, Director of Learning at Doc Wayne, one of our Head In The Game Expert Partners, elaborates on his journey as a White ally to Black communities, focusing on self-awareness and continuous education.

“When I think about allyship to Black communities, one thing that comes to mind is the importance of doing my own work around Whiteness,” he says. “How has my Whiteness interacted with my other identities to shape the way I move about Boston, New England, or the United States more broadly? How am I unlearning harmful biases and/or behaviors that I’ve been socialized in so that I can show up for Black people without causing further racial harm?”

Sam Zurn – Director of Learning at Doc Wayne

Zurn says his allyship includes reading books that explore race, racism, and anti-racism, as well as their interactions with other identities, like gender. (https://www.headinthegame.us/sams-story-allyship-to-black-communities)

For high school student Peregrine, it’s all about being genuine.

“I think an ally is someone who takes action, not just someone who wears the t-shirt and goes to Pride and eats the amazing food. There’s a lot of stuff that you can do but the important part is that it’s not performative and that you take action.”

Peregrine – High School Student

So what might that look like for you?

Being there as an ally for someone in a difficult moment can be such an important way for someone else to be seen, but also helped during some of their difficult times. Jay, a communication professional, who lives with his husband in Washington, it came in the form of a message from a friend after writing a post about how bigotry and hatred were weighing heavily on him. – . https://spectrummagazine.org/views/5-practical-ways-be-powerful-lgbtq-ally/

The note said in part:

“Good morning, my dear friend… I just wanted you to know that I’m especially carrying you in my heart after reading your post yesterday. Without attempting to appropriate your experience or perspectives, I want to reaffirm that there are so SO many who hear, understand, and align, who care and love.”

Ally of Jay

That support deepened Jay’s connection with his friend and gave him support during a real moment of struggle and sorrow. This is why allyship is so important, as he explains. It’s a reminder that a simple message at the right time can be a lifeline for someone in a time of need. And something you can start doing right now.

“Some of my most vivid and meaningful memories in my personal journey are those moments where allies showed up for me.”

“Being an ally is an ongoing process. There will be times when you make mistakes. But the important thing is to learn from your mistakes and to keep trying your best.”

“I’m reminded of the saying attributed to Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

Tips to Practice Being a Better Ally Right Now

Being an ally involves respectful and considerate interactions. We dove into many resources from top organizations to understand the biggest ways allies can help. Here are some important tips to consider.

Understand Pronoun Usage: If you’re unsure about someone’s pronouns, listen to how they refer to themselves, introduce yourself with your pronouns, and ask theirs in return. If you make a mistake, apologize and move on without overemphasizing the error.

If you’re unsure where you start, watch this short film below about the importance of pronouns.

Support Throughout the Year: While it’s valuable to participate in and support cultural and awareness months like Black History Month or Pride, true allyship requires consistent engagement and support throughout the year. Don’t limit your advocacy or learning to specific times; make it a part of your everyday life.

Challenge Stereotypes: Speak out against stereotypes in daily interactions, media consumption, and discussions, regardless of the group they concern.

Educate Yourself Properly: Organizations like PFLAG and The Trevor Project offer resources about being a transgender ally, providing deeper insights into various issues. Apply similar dedication to learning about racial, disability, and economic injustices.

Respect Someone’s Privacy: Avoid making assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other personal detail without consent. Respect personal narratives and histories. In discussion with transgender individuals, remember It’s inappropriate to ask invasive questions about a person’s body, medical history, or life prior to transition.

Promote Diversity: Find ways to speak up in your community or school to make sure relevant voices and perspective are included in discussions.

Be Aware of Microaggressions: Comments that seem harmless or complimentary can often be hurtful. Be mindful of remarks related to anyone’s identity, including race, gender, and sexual orientation, and learn from feedback.

Comments like “You don’t look trans!” may seem complimentary but can be hurtful. They imply that being transgender is undesirable. Asking someone “Where are you really from?” can make them feel like they’re seen as a foreigner in their own country, while saying “You speak English so well” suggests it’s surprising for someone of their race to be fluent, both of which are hurtful assumptions.

Advocate for Accessible Environments: Push for improvements in physical and digital spaces to make them accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities.

Respect is Fundamental: You don’t need to fully understand someone’s identity to respect it. This fundamental principle applies to interactions across all aspects of diversity.

Pay Attention to Your Language: Be mindful of gendered and potentially exclusive language in everyday conversation. Terms like “ladies and gentlemen” or “guys” can inadvertently exclude or misgender people. Adopt more inclusive language and encourage others to do the same.

Support Businesses Owned by Underrepresented Groups: Make a conscious effort to purchase from businesses owned by women, minorities, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and disabled persons.

Volunteer: Engage directly by volunteering with organizations that focus on various causes, including civil rights, refugee support, and gender equality.

Remember, Being an Ally is About Continuous Learning and Respect: Support individuals in their unique experiences and journeys across all identities by committing to ongoing personal growth and understanding.

We’ve curated some additional resources from the Human Rights Campaign and The Trevor Project to help you on your journey of becoming an ally or deepening your understanding.

How To Be An Ally When Someone Comes Out To You

Additional Ways To Show Your Support

Showing Support For Different Identities

A Glossary of Important Terms to Educate Yourself

A Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Young People

Disclaimer: This website offers general information and is not a substitute for professional advice. We are not clinicians or trained professionals; this information should not replace seeking help from a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare provider for personalized guidance.