home Commentary, GLBTQI, North America, Politics 12 ways to support LGBQT family and friends in a Trump era

12 ways to support LGBQT family and friends in a Trump era

Dark days are ahead for members of minority groups in the US and across the world. President-elect Trump and his team have demonstrated views and actions that are racist, misogynist, disablist, homophobic and transphobic and he now holds the most powerful governmental position in the world. For the next four years, nobody knows quite what is going to happen because the man is so inconsistent and unpredictable, but we do know that a liberal, egalitarian utopia is a long, long way away.

For LGBT+ Americans in particular, it is a frightening time. The Republican party has vowed to oppose same-sex adoption and parenting, and promoted ‘religious freedom’ as a legal get-out clause against charges of homophobia. Vice President-Elect Mike Pence has supported electro-shock conversion therapy for gay people, opposed equal rights, including equal marriage rights, and rejected Obama’s ruling that transgender kids should be allowed to use the toilets that accord with their gender identity. He has also argued that homosexuality is a ‘pathological condition’ and urged employers to not hire LGB employees. One of Trump’s prospective Supreme Court nominees – William H Pryor Jr – believes gay people should be convicted and jailed for having sex in their own homes.

And, with legal threats such as these ahead, LGBTQ people are also already being targeted by bigots in their homes and their cars, on a very personal level.

As individual people feel empowered by the offensive rhetoric coming from the corridors of power, there is a risk that these attacks will only be amplified.

So, if you have LGBT friends, family or colleagues, what can you do to support them?

1. Leave the safety pin at home

Following the Brexit vote in June in the UK, somebody well-meaning decided to promote the idea that people could wear a safety pin to indicate to others that they were a supportive presence in a bigoted world. The concept was innocuous enough; that people of colour, disabled people, LGBT people and more could feel safe on public transport or in public if they saw a fellow passenger was wearing a safety pin. However, the reality was a bit different. Privileged people were donning safety pins and then failing to observe any of the actions that would actually make them a positive influence in the world, and it quickly became a mark of slacktivism rather than of a supportive presence.

Since the idea was resurrected following the Trump election, it has already been tastelessly commercialised and monetised. In addition, some white nationalist groups have adopted the idea, whether to subvert the original support plan or create a form of self-identification of their own.

In short, rather than wearing a safety pin and leaving people guessing whether or not you are supportive, demonstrate your support as overtly as you are able to.

2. Get support from other allies

Don’t expect your LGBT+ friends to support you in your role as ally. If you need emotional or practical support – and you might well do – get this from other allies who are seeking a supportive or helpful role. Your LGBT+ friends are already maxed out.

3. Familiarise yourself with LGBT issues

Nobody expects you to know everything, but if you know what the most commonly used acronyms mean and understand the basics of various laws and rulings, LGBTQ people will feel more able to talk to you about the issues they are facing. If you don’t make an effort to do this, we can tell when you don’t know what we mean, and we may take it as a lack of caring as much as a lack of understanding.

4. Understand intersectionality

Many people do not belong to only one marginalised group. If somebody is black and gay, or disabled and trans, the oppression they face is larger and stronger than if they were only one of those things.

Take this into account when talking to friends or family about their fears. Don’t make them choose which identity makes them feel the most threatened or under attack.

5. Be visible and vocal with your support

Don’t support your LGBTQ friends in private and stay away from their issues when they come up in public. If somebody is expressing homophobic, biphobic, lesbophobic or transphobic views in your earshot, challenge them. If an LGBTQ friend feels threatened, stay with them until they are in a safe place or at their destination. Share pro-LGBT views on social media and don’t be afraid to challenge misinformation or assumptions.

6. Do the boring stuff

If LGBT+ people in your area are planning a demonstration, be the person who sends out emails and updates Facebook Event pages. If LGBT+ contacts run a charity, be the person who answers the phone or asks for donations. If someone needs to ask businesses for support, be the person who collates the information they need. At meetings, be the person who puts the kettle on.

Allyship isn’t glamorous. It’s about doing what needs to be done.

7. Listen to what is needed

Ask your LGBTQ friends and family members what they need from a supporter, and do that. Don’t do what you imagine people want, or what you hope they want. Ask, and respond in kind.

8. Offer resources

Pull together a list of local and national helplines and resource centres and have it printed off, ready to offer to anybody who may need a friendly ear on a lonely or difficult night.

9. Donate if you can

If you have some spare cash (and a lot of people don’t, which is nothing to be ashamed of), you might want to look up QUILTBAG organisations that need financial support. This could be a tiny local helpline or a massive national or international organisation: ask your friends what they support, and go with whatever makes the most sense to you.

10. Be explicit

Many LGBT people have been so abused and exploited that we need support to be laid out clearly. Explain exactly what you are doing and speak your love and support out loud. If you will fight, say you are going to fight.

11. Share good news stories as well as the horror

We’ve all read a lot of horror over the last week and a half and that isn’t going to stop any time soon. When you also share tales of somebody being supportive or a group taking positive action, this can top up much-depleted levels of energy and hope.

12. Ask yourself the right questions

Are you doing this to make yourself feel better? Or are you doing this to make the world a safer and more respectful place?

Photo: Tim Evanson/Creative Commons


Philippa Willitts

Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer who specialises in writing about disability, women's issues, social media and tech. She also enjoys covering politics and LGBT-related topics. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, Access Magazine, xoJane and many more publications. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.