Being a Straight Ally: How to be an allied parent at your child’s school

Ally: An individual who is supportive of the LGBTQ community. They believe in the dignity and respect of all people, and are willing to stand up in that role.

-from Vancouver District School Board’s Policy ACB

“No one in my family is LGBTQ, how can I help?”

One of the most important roles in the creation of safe and more inclusive schools is that of the “straight”-identified ally. Allied parents of non-LGBTQ children may not be subject to the same damaging stereotypes often imposed on LGBTQ-identified parents, or the parents of LGBTQ children (e.g. myths of recruitment, pedophilia, the “gay agenda”, etc.). While we at don’t promote these stereotypes, it’s important to make the most of the incredible opportunity allies have to advance safe and more inclusive schools. Here are some tips to help non-LGBTQ folks make a difference.

1) Talk with your child about LGBTQ inclusion

By far the greatest impact you will have on your child’s school is through your child and their beliefs, actions and words, much of which are learned from you. With this in mind, consider the way in which LGBTQ themes are brought up in your household. Do you ever discuss LGBTQ people? Do you have LGBTQ family members? Are they playing a full part in the life of your family? Have you talked about the use of homophobic language common in schoolyard conversation (e.g. “That’s so gay”, “faggot”, “dyke”,etc.)? Make an effort to include diverse and positive portrayals of LGBTQ individuals in your own home (see the Role models section). Being an ally starts at home.

2) Make your home a safe space

It can’t be said enough; being an ally starts at home. Consider establishing boundaries in your house so that everyone in the family knows that homophobia, transphobia and biphobia are not acceptable in your home. These rules can apply to everyone; guests and friends should politely be made aware whenever they misstep (we all do!). Safe spaces require maintenance, and so these topics can come up over and over again, challenging your family to address the many varied aspects of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia. At the end of the day it’s about being supportive and ready to address the needs of everyone in the house.

3) Support inclusion at school

Check out the School Climate Questions to get a sense of how inclusive your school is regarding LGBTQ topics. Ask yourself questions like “if I or my child were LGBTQ, would this make us feel included?” For instance, does your school allow for same-sex parents to register as “parents,” or must there be one “mother” and one “father” on forms? Does the school have gender-neutral washroom facilities available? Are there resources available for transgender youth? Are there LGBTQ-themed books in the library? Are notable LGBTQ figures included in course material? Are LGBTQ identities acknowledged in health class course material? Is there a gay-straight alliance (GSA) or other student-led safe space group at the school?

4) Keep it up

Being an ally isn’t always a clear-cut job. Sometimes it involves significant energy and dedication (like when supporting your child to set up a student-led group like a GSA or safe space group, or pushing for inclusive policy) but it also includes the equally important small stuff, like daily words of support for LGBTQ families and other allies. One of the most common arguments against LGBTQ inclusion is that “there aren’t any LGBTQ folks at our school.” This assumes that LGBTQ folks are always out, and obviously so, which isn’t always the case. It’s always possible that LGBTQ folks make use of the facilities, teach at, or attend the school, but simply don’t feel comfortable publically acknowledging their identity. With this in mind, don’t be disheartened if you, a non-LGBTQ parent of non-LGBTQ children, are the only one doing this work. No matter who you are, the work of an ally needs to be done!

5) Seek out a support network

Before actively taking on the role of an ally, consider establishing some kind of support network. Perhaps there are other allied or LGBTQ families at your school who are interested in helping to make your school safe and more inclusive. It’s important to find support because sometimes being a vocal ally will rub other community members the wrong way. Consider speaking with supportive friends, or parents and/or GSA advisors from other school communities.  Check out the document on Tips for Connecting with Local Queer Families.