How to be a good ally during Pride, and anytime
'It's all about asking questions and making sure people feel comfortable and safe'
The P.E.I. Pride Festival kicked off this week and with rainbow flags and other paraphernalia everywhere, some people may wonder the best and most respectful ways to support the LGBTQ community if they're not part of that group.
Daniel Boudreau is now the head of Pflag on P.E.I. (formerly Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a group that provides support to parents, friends and others with someone in their lives who identifies as LGBTQ.
He says when he graduated from Holland College 10 years ago, there wasn't much support for the LGBTQ community on P.E.I.
"I was like OK, this is P.E.I. — I don't know if I can be who I am here and feel safe and welcome," Boudreau said. He moved to Toronto, returning in a few years.
Those wanting to be an ally to the LGBTQ community should know about the history of Pride, Boudreau said. Boudreau said allies should know that the first Pride march was a protest and how the Stonewall riots in New York set off the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
Know some Pride history
Some allies may be members of the LGBTQ community who are not yet out — Boudreau said he started his advocacy for LGBTQ rights as an ally before he came out as gay publicly.
"I didn't want to put myself out there to be made fun of or anything like that," he said.
Boudreau said it is important for allies to stand with and show up for members of the LGBTQ community in vulnerable times, since there is strength in numbers.
"It's much easier to work together and say 'This is wrong, we're not going to take this, we're going to stand together and fight.'"
Be wary of commercialization
Boudreau said he tends to be wary of big corporations claiming to be allies. When Pride month rolls around, he notes his Twitter timeline becomes "awashed with rainbows."
The commercialization of the movement is something people should actively question, he said.
"Do these huge international corporations actually do anything for the queer community on a day-to-day basis or is it something they are just doing for Pride month to get business?" Boudreau asked.
He said he has witnessed corporations jump on the bandwagon in many cities and as an openly gay man it has made him feel used.
Boudreau said he now asks companies directly if they are donating to Pride efforts.
"I feel that if we are going to be continually talking about something like this we need to see actions instead of just talk," Boudreau said.
There are allies online
Another place Boudreau has found allies is online, noting there are YouTube personalities dedicated to supporting the LGBTQ community.
"The queer youth who may be on the verge of suicide that are at home and may not have supportive parents, may not have supportive allies and friends at school — these are saviours, they really are."
Listen, don't judge
Rebekah Condon also moved away from P.E.I. after graduating from Holland College's youth worker program in the mid-90s. She worked in Toronto with at-risk youth and said she saw firsthand some of the struggles of young LGBTQ people.
"I would like to say I have always been an ally, I think understanding what the word ally means is something I've come into," Condon said.
Condon said she saw marginalized and addicted youth on the street, "many of whom were queer and some of whom were trans and some of whom were discovering firsthand they were HIV-positive."
Condon is now the executive director of PEERS Alliance, previously AIDS P.E.I., which supports those living with, and at risk for, HIV and all sexually-transmitted infections by offering programs and services.
Condon said she learned more from those young people in Toronto than she taught them, and it was through that work she discovered what it means to be an ally.
"It was about letting them be themselves in a safe space, it was about just listening. It was about not judging."
Ask about pronouns
Condon said being an ally is just about letting people in the LGBTQ community "be." She said she doesn't know everything about the LGBTQ community even though she works for an organization advocating on its behalf.
"I think safety and listening and asking questions are kind of the biggest parts of it. We don't know what we don't know, and it is okay to ask and not know," Condon said.
If you're confused with things such as gender pronouns — if people would prefer to be called he or she — she advises you should just ask.
"I ask, and that is how we learn."
Sometimes people get very fixated on gender, Condon said.
"It's all about asking questions and making sure people feel comfortable and safe. That's, again, as an ally what we need to get better at."
Safety is key
Making members of the LGBTQ community feel safe is important, Condon said — especially in the communities they live in.
Boudreau said the recent decision by Alberton council to not raise the flag in the community because a few people might be upset "really missed the mark."
"Putting a Pride flag up in a community is giving that OK to the queer community that this is a safe space, this is a welcoming community for me to stay here."
Without seeing that representation and visibility, the people in the queer community do not feel welcome and want to leave, Boudreau said.
It emotes the same unwelcome feelings he had when he moved to Toronto.