Are you an ally or an accomplice? What’s the difference and why it’s important.


So, for the record, I’m straight. And what this typically means as an LGBTQ+ ally is that I get things wrong and I’m constantly learning about the community I fight for. It’s often a clumsy stumbling mess, but I try.

There was a time that I was afraid to speak out and fight for LGBTQ+ rights. There was a time that I defended traditional marriage. I was led to believe that maybe redefining marriage to include same-sex unions would bring the fabric of society to ruin and the world would no longer produce competent children who would grow to become well-adjusted leaders of our communities. My research and my interactions with the queer community has led me to look back on these beliefs with shame. But, I’m glad I experienced such a dramatic change in beliefs.

It was only with trusted family and friends that I first started calling myself a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights. I was afraid of what people would think. Mostly I was afraid of what it would do to my relationship with religious leaders in the church I belonged to (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka. LDS or Mormon). I was also afraid of how it would change the relationship with some family members who thought very differently.

Over time I became more open about my views. I made decisions that took my support to new levels. I attended and participated in LGBTQ+ community events, spread awareness on social media, focused my clinical work on becoming an LGBTQ+ informed therapist, and started researching LGBTQ+ mental health within conservative religious contexts. It’s an ever-evolving process, and like I said, often a clumsy stumbling mess.

I recently learned about the difference between being an Ally and an Accomplice.

Basically…

Ally: An individual who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBTQ+ social movements, and challenges homophobia and transphobia. A straight ally believes that LGBTQ+ individuals and communities face discrimination and are socially and economically disadvantaged.

Accomplice: Everything an ally is plus someone who allows their awareness and knowledge to translate into skills and action in their communities. This can be on any and all levels of engagement—interpersonal, community, national, and international.

I have recently noticed that to many burgeoning allies like myself, this distinction is not well known. I mean…I just learned about it myself. I am also concerned that we (straight people) let manageable anxieties get in the way of ally-ship transforming into becoming an accomplice. For those of you who want to take your ally-ship to the next level but need help, consider the following motivational reflections…

  • Coming out as an ally and an accomplice is typically easier than coming out as LGBTQ+.

  • Every voice matters and every little action counts.

  • Advocacy is like a snowball effect. It spreads exponentially with every single contributing member visibly displaying their views to every single person they interact with on a daily basis. THAT’S POWERFUL!

  • Think about how much safer the world would be if everyone who stood for LGBTQ+ rights could be identified just by looking at them.

Starting to move from ally to accomplice can be as simple as…

  • Placing an LGBTQ+ symbol on your backpack, laptop, water bottle, or clothing

  • Posting pro-LGBTQ+ news on social media

  • Describe yourself in social media as someone who supports LGBTQ+ rights

  • Being clear about your stance and leave no room for misinterpretation

  • Contact local LGBTQ+ resource or support centers in your community

  • Learn active listening skills

  • Reflect deeply on how you talk about relationships and gender

  • Read a book about someone who is LGBTQ+ (luckily there’s plenty to choose from)

If you are an ally and you decide that being an accomplice is too risky, then keep being the best ally you know how. There are legitimate reasons why some allies can only go so far in their advocacy.

However, if the ally/accomplice distinction is new to you, consider what is stopping you from doing more, and find ways to take your ally-ship to the next level. You got my support, and the support of thousands more who identify as LGBTQ+.

Jimmy Bridges, LMFT is a couple and family therapist, and provides therapy and coaching services related to anxiety, mood disorders, LGBTQ+ affirming services, gender issues, faith transitions, and couple’s counseling. He offers online services for teens, adults, couples and families.

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