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What does it mean to be an LGBTQ ally? An ally might be a friend who is supportive and accepting of an LGBTQ person. An ally could be someone who personally advocates for equality rights and fair treatment. Regardless, allies are an important component in creating a culture of respect for LGBTQ people. As the debate continues over the proposed law school at Trinity Western University in BC, a presentation at a recent CBA Alberta Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity section meeting seems particularly well timed. The topic was “How to be an Ally of the LGBTQ and Gay-Straight Alliances in Calgary”. Becky Van Tassel, BSW RSW, from the Calgary Sexual Health Centre discussed initiatives underway in Calgary schools to inform students’ perspectives and attitudes.
These initiatives are a far cry from the sex-ed classes typical of public schools in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. New comprehensive sex education programs focus on defining the terminology relating to sex, sexual expression, gender identity and the biology associated with these concepts. They also seek to provide resources and to connect students, teachers, administrators and other concerned allies by forming the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Network.
For those educated under the old regime, it may be necessary to re-examine existing practices to understand their impact on the LGBTQ community. Lawyers, law firms, and law societies seeking to create a culture of inclusion and to support LGBTQ colleagues, staff, or clients, may find the following tips* helpful:
- Assess your own values and beliefs regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. Taking stock will help you address internal biases, recognize personal limits, identify areas for personal growth.
- Use inclusive language – discuss “partners” instead of always assuming a person’s prospective date or sexual partner is of the opposite gender.
- Make it clear that homophobic and transphobic sentiments and actions are not OK.
- Proactively address stereotypes and misperceptions.
- Hire sexual and gender variant people.
- Consider converting washrooms to be gender-neutral or at least designate a washroom to be gender-neutral.
- Learn about gender-neutral pronouns and how to use them.
- Review and rewrite program policies and procedures to be inclusive of LGBTQ identities and people.
- Include a sexual orientation and gender identity inclusivity policy
- Make it standard practice to ask people what pronouns they prefer and use them
- Ensure that all staff receive training regarding sexual and gender variance and are understanding and supportive of the inclusion and respect of gender variant people
- Include sexual orientation and gender identity in employment equity standards
- Review and rewrite intake forms and other documentation to be inclusive of LGBTQ identities and people.
- Allow participants to self-identify by using an open-ended questions
- You can ask what gender-marker appears on the birth certificate, then ask if that person feels that gender marker is in line with the way they feel about their gender identity. If the person says no, then ask how they would like to be identified (male, female, gender-neutral, transgender…)
- Do not conflate sex and gender – if biological sex is important, have separate questions/fields for each category
- If it is necessary to record legal names, allow for people to also record preferred names and remember to check and refer to them as this name.
*adapted from the handout provided by the Calgary Sexual Health Centre
Being an ally doesn’t mean that you have to know all the answers, or even understand all the associated terminology. It is OK to ask questions. The important message is to understand how your own actions and attitudes can impact those around you and to seek to promote an inclusive environment where all people feel safe and valued.
Written by: Jocelyn Frazer, Equity Ombudsperson