I’ll be straight up: Being a queer Latinx person is stressful. The amount of hostility in the media and the hateful rhetoric that has been directed toward brown people by public figures, one even running for the president of the United States, and their followers is unsettling. The recent tragedy at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and discriminatory policies and lawsuits targeting the LGBTQIA+ community are also heartbreaking. All of which make my existence, as both bisexual and Latinx, exhausting, especially as a teen in Texas.
In these times, allies, those of a dominant group who support causes by and for people without their privileges – in this case straight and/or white folks – can be particularly helpful. But here’s the thing: There are so many people who claim to be allies but don’t quite know how to be there for us. Here, just a few things allies can do to support queer Latinxs like me.
1. Educate yourself on our culture and identities: You can’t be my ally if you don’t know the difference between Latino, indigenous or Chicano. Got that nailed down? How about the distinctions between bisexual, pansexual, polysexual and demisexual? Your knowledge on what makes us, well, US is important. Ask us questions, but don’t expect us to give you lessons on everything, especially if we’re not friends and you want me to do this work for you. There are many resources available online to read and learn from. It’s up to you to inform yourself on our history, culture, subcultures and sexualities.
2. Understand the term “understanding:” If you are not a queer Latinx, then you do not know the various struggles faced by queer Latinxs. We all go through different hardships. Certain aspects within our cultures or identities may be extremely similar to yours, but it’s hurtful, and dismissive, when you claim to understand 100 percent of what I’m going through, when you can’t. I am a genderfluid and bisexual Chicana. If you are cisgender, heterosexual and white, then your goal should be to act in allyship with me. It should be to gain awareness and to accept that you’re never going to really know what it’s like to inhabit my intersecting identity. Even straight Latinx folks need to recognize that my experience is hella different and that I can’t just be grouped into heteronormative Latinx spaces. As such, do not speak on our behalf.
3. On that, do not speak over us: You may think you know everything after reading that article or scrolling through that one person’s twitter thread, but I’m telling you right now: you don’t. I have been in situations where a person, who didn’t share my identities, interrupted me in the name of allyship. It’s frustrating and outrageous to have a white “ally” tell a person of color what their feelings about racial oppression, as a Mexican teenager in the U.S., should be. Your input isn’t always necessary. Let us talk. Let us express ourselves. Stay silent and be attentive when we are verbal about the things that we feel and experience.
4. Do not get defensive if the conversation gets uncomfortable: Our struggles are real, and it can be uneasy to digest when realizing you benefit from the system that hurts us. That makes sense, but do not be combative. Approach the conversation with an open mind and a will to learn. There is nothing I appreciate more than having our allies stand back and listen to what we have to say.
5. Speak up, even when we’re not there: You are not an ally to any member of the LGBTQIA+ community or Latinxs if you do not correct someone in our absence if they are being discriminatory. Regardless of who it is – a friend, relative coworker, etc. – call it out. Even if you feel that they “didn’t mean it in that way,” say something. You have the privilege of being listened to as a rational person, rather than stereotyped as a fiery Latina, and can potentially spark change. They may not agree with you, they may even dismiss your comment completely, but your speaking up shows effort. It illustrates legit allyship.
6. Do not reduce my identity to a plain human: Saying that you do not see my race, my ethnicity, my sexual orientation or my genderfluidity, just my humanity, isn’t applaud-worthy; it’s insulting. If you’re going to be an ally, you have to notice the things that separate us from one another, the aspects that make us individuals, and realize that it is okay. If you have privilege, accept it and use it for the better. The “one race, the human race” mindset is ridiculous considering the state of our society. In a perfect world, that would be a lovely phrase, but until we get to the day where people are not discriminated against, targeted, harassed and even murdered for their race, gender, religion, immigration status and sexual orientation, that mindset has to go.
7. Support us in real life: There is real strength in numbers. When I attended my first protest for undocumented Latinx rights, I was astonished by the amount of non-Latinx people in attendance. They did not try to speak over us. They did not try to make it about them. They held up their signs, and let us talk. They chanted when we chanted. They stood in silence and solidarity when we shared our experiences and feelings. They listened. We need more people who can do the same. If you have the ability to go out and protest with us or attend any event that benefits our communities, then go! Unity is key. If you are in school, join your Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) or help start one. If you can vote, endorse representatives who are allies to our communities. Not sure how to help, search for organizations run by marginalized groups and put your money, if possible, and support behind them. GLSEN, for example, is an organization that fights to make schools safer for LGBTQIA+ students. Support is essential
LGBTQIA+ Latinxs are real, valid people who need you to be here for us in every way that you can be. Ask yourself: Can we count on you?
Ellie Peña is a 17-year-old Latinx from Texas, and a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council. This collaboration between Latina and GLSEN is dedicated to uplifting the voices of LGBTQ-youth and offering access to national platforms. We move in solidarity with each other to honor Latinx Heritage Month and Bisexual Awareness Week.