#PrideMatters Minding my Ps and LGBTQs

5 July 2018

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I’m a straight, white, CIS gendered, able bodied middle class woman, and an LBGT ally.  I’m also a lawyer so I’m professionally aware of the importance of language.

I mention my list of privileges because they’re relevant to the position I have in society and therefore the power of my voice. I may not be at the top of the food chain, but I’m a far from marginalised member of society.  Nonetheless, a couple of years ago I was in a pub in central London having a drink with a friend, it was a perfectly pleasant evening, until the guy she was dating at the time turned up.  I didn’t take to him, but my mind was made up in that respect when he used the word ‘gay’ in a pejorative way.  To describe a building.  Firstly it made no sense, but more than that, it wasn’t ok and his use of the word gay to convey something negative made me feel uncomfortable.  But I stayed quiet, made my excuses and left fairly quickly afterwards.  I did not use my voice.

And then I stewed on it.  I questioned myself.  I questioned my reaction and I questioned why I felt so ashamed about my silence.  A few years later I think I’m at least part of the way towards having some answers, which sum up what I think is important about being an LGBT ally:

Firstly, language matters.  If the word ‘gay’ is used as a negative description, it makes it that bit harder for someone to use it to describe themselves. 

Secondly, language matters, and even as a straight woman I can make a difference.  I’ve learned that by describing my husband as my partner I can send a signal to others who may not feel comfortable specifying the gender of their partner.  For anyone worried about that conversation, it’s a simple message to say that it’s ok.

Thirdly, given the position my privileges afford me, I have a powerful voice, and it should be used.  It should be used to stand up for those whose voices, for whatever reason, are not heard so loudly, so clearly or given so much credence.  

Fourthly, I don’t have to have all the answers because my role is not to speak for anyone else, but I can’t rely on other people to give the answers to me; I need to make an effort and when I ask questions be prepared to listen.  I mean, actually listen so that I can usefully speak up.

And lastly, although language matters, what doesn’t matter is whether you know all the terminology and acronyms, or whether you’re an expert on all the issues.  I’m still not sure whether I should be saying LGBT, LGBT+, LGBTQ or something else entirely.  But that’s not what I see as the important thing I can do as an ally, that is to call out harmful use of language and to speak up when my voice is the most likely to be heard. 

Mary Young is a Senior Associate in our Dispute Resolution team. She is a member of the LGBT+ & Allies Network

Kingsley Napley are publishing a series of blogs to celebrate Pride and to raise awareness about the issues facing LGBT+ people in our communities. You can view our other blogs here.

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