Pushing Boundaries: Creating Queer Allies and Safe Zones

As a student activist and queer-identified individual, people oftentimes ask me about the extensive LGBT acronym that only seems to get longer each time it’s mentioned. I laugh,   remembering all the letters chucked in there like alphabet soup.

The shorthand LGBT acronym covers those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and, for the most part, recognizes the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity in the simplest, most effective form.

Over time, however, the growing LGBT movement has led people to add a ‘Q’ to the acronym to represent queer individuals. The word queer has been reclaimed by LGBT activists to be an inclusive, all-encompassing term for gender and sexual minority people.

While the depth is great, much confusion has arisen from the constant changes to the acronym. People have begun to interpret the letters to have different meanings than initially intended by queer folk.  

A now common objection that queer-identified individuals express toward the LGBTQ acronym is the interpretation of the recent, more extensive acronym: LGBTQIA. The ‘I’ represents intersexed individuals, while the ‘A’ represents asexual individuals.

Many will argue that the ‘A’ should represent LGBT allies, but that idea does not sit well with the queer community.
To be clear, LGBT allies are heterosexual individuals that are supportive and sensitive to the needs and concerns of queer people, as well as challenge heterosexist comments, assumptions and prejudices.

But instead of getting angry at the idea of allies as the ‘A’  in LGBTQIA because it undermines the life experiences of queer folk and the daily persecution they face, let’s acknowledge ally support.

All students deserve to learn in an environment that’s supportive and friendly, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
To better explain the idea of LGBTQ allyship, let’s introduce the 2013 Queer History Month keynote speaker Sam Killermann. Sam is a straight social justice advocate, writer and performer, who uses his experiences with metrosexuality to support equality for the queer community.

Sam opened the presentation of his one-man comedy show “It’s Pronounced Metrosexual” with an anecdote. He described his past experiences with identity, and went on to explain concepts of oppression faced by metrosexuals who are perceived as being gay.

While he has not had to deal with the inner turmoil of being gay in a heterosexist society, Sam has experienced the social backlash for how he portrays his gender expression.

While he recognizes his white male privilege in society, Sam loses some of his social status by his affiliation with the queer community; this, however, does not stop him from being an ally. He sets an invaluable example for straight-identified students at Ramapo to follow.

Killermann is certain that ‘A’ should not represent allies in the LGBTQIA acronym, but is unwavering in his pursuit to create more allies for the queer community.  In fact, his presence at Ramapo College has started a campus discussion on allyship just in time for Ally Week, which runs from Oct. 21-25.

The Women’s Center will begin its annual Safe Zone training next week, giving students, faculty and staff the tools to become LGBT allies.  Safe Zone is a campus-wide program committed to making Ramapo College a safer, more welcoming and inclusive environment for members of the LGBTQ community.

No, the ‘A’ cannot mean ally, but yes, the queer community needs allies – so let’s help create them.