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In the LGBTQIA+ Community, The A is Not for Ally

The progress pride flag has a yellow triangle with a purple circle in it, white, light pink, light blue, brown, and black chevron stripes, and red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple horizontal stripes. I have added the text "Allies Use This Flag".
This image is of the intersex inclusive progress pride flag. I have added the words "Allies Use This Flag" to note the preference by the community for allies to use the same flag as us rather than their own flag.

The job of allies is to listen to those in the community they are allied to. Sometime in the 2000s a straight ally pride flag came out giving heterosexual, cisgender people their own banner to fly overhead at Pride events. Giving them a way to virtue signal their allyship without ever having to ask LGBTQIA+ communities what allyship means to us. This flag, made up of black and white stripes with an upside down V (a stylized “A”) in the middle, became a prominent symbol and added to the confusion about what the “A” in LGBTQIA+ stands for. Contrary to popular belief, it does not stand for ally but rather asexual (ace), aromantic (aro), and agender. To erase ace, aro, and agender people for the benefit of cisgender, straight, “allies” is to value allies more than actual sexual, romantic, and gender minorities.

The so-called "straight ally" flag is made up of 3 black and 3 white stripes alternating, with a chevron pointed up that is made up of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple stripes that line up with the alternating black & white stripes. I have added the text "Don't Use This Flag" in bright pink in the middle of the flag.
Image of the so-called "straight ally" flag with added text saying "Don't Use This Flag".

The so-called “ally” flag is a red flag for me, and many in the LGBTQIA+ community. It draws a clear distinction: “I support you/them, but I am definitely not one of you/them.” As though to say, being LGBTQIA+ is a community to be distanced from. As though the “allies” to our community want to be clear they should not be targeted as queer, they just support queer rights. To make things more complicated, allies rocking this flag have no requirements for who gets to claim allyship by purchasing this flag. Similar to the safety pin movement of 2016, the ally flag says you are a safe individual but not what you will do to keep the LGBTQIA+ community safe. Like with the safety pin campaign, that leaves LGBTQIA+ questioning: will you step in when harm is being done to me? To my people? What does the ally flag mean you will do and why do you need to draw the distinction between you as a “straight/cisgender ally” and me as a person in the community you are allied to?

There are often debates around what being an ally means, or perhaps more what a person behaving as an ally does. Allies shouldn’t call attention to what they are doing to be allies. They should not claim “ally” as an identity but partake in actions of allyship at every opportunity. Allies should know how far they are willing to go to protect those they are allied to; and, if they aren’t being hit by the same stones being thrown at us, then they likely are not close enough to the danger to be called an ally to begin with. Allyship is putting yourself between the marginalized and the marginalizers. It is doing the work to educate oneself without putting undue burden on those who are oppressed to begin with. It is not asking for emotional labor from the marginalized but existing in a way that might lead to emotional labor because we see you in our fight for equity and inclusion, and investing our time and energy into helping you be our ally is worth the spoons it takes to share our struggles with you.

One of the strongest straight/cisgender allies I have had, just existed, with me, alongside my closet door, until I could figure out how to open it and walk out with my head held high–or at least not sunk below my shoulders, where I had been taught by some that it belonged. This woman was gentle in her allyship to me; she did not impose her need for education on me. She just let me exist as myself when I didn’t have anywhere else to be me. As part of her allyship to me, in the mid-2010s, she did a lot of her own research as to what being nonbinary and genderqueer meant. And even though I had come out as a lesbian previously, she understood that understanding yourself takes time, and looks different across different identities, even for someone who has come out about being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community before.

More recently, it was this woman who helped me articulate my position about the “ally” flag. She had wanted to wear the flag because she felt she needed to shout her allyship from the rooftops, “You are safe with me!” without appropriating gay culture–because yes, LGBTQIA+ communities (yes, plural) have cultures. Yet, she was also showing a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag to show support for the Ukrainians facing violence and oppression from during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian crisis.

This was the analogy I needed to articulate why allies should wear the progress pride flag with the LGBTQIA+ community, rather than claim their own flag to virtue signal with a so-called “ally” flag. Thousands of people purchased blue and yellow ribbons, flags, shirts, stickers, car decals, and more to show support for the Ukrainians in their struggle for autonomy with Russia. None of them were suddenly Ukrainian. Rather, they wanted to say “I support this community, so I will use their flag to show that support.” There was no new flag to be had, so why is showing allyship to the LGBTQIA+ community any different?

While there are many possible answers to this question, unlike being LGBTQIA+, being Ukrainian is not seen as a sin by misguided religious zealots, and it is not punishable by death in 11 countries, nor is it illegal in more than seventy. People in the United States, and in many other countries, could risk being mistaken as Ukrainian because the risk of being such is low; but being mistaken as LGBTQIA+ could mean facing threats and actions of harassment, social ostracization, physical violence, and even death. Being mistaken as being LGBTQIA+ is not something someone chooses, but we are often punished socially and institutionally for being who we are.

So, if you’re still reading this, and you want to be an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community consider the following:

  • Allyship is consistently choosing actions of allyship as requested by the LGBTQIA+ community.

  • Allyship means standing with us, even if you’re mistaken as one of us, because being LGBTQIA+ is not a bad thing, because contrary to “don’t say gay” bills and bans on drag performances, “gay” “queer” “lesbian” etc are not bad words, or bad identities.

  • Allyship means being vocal for LGBTQIA+ rights whether or not LGBTQIA+ people are in the room watching your actions.

  • Allyship is listening to the community/ies you are trying to be an ally to.

  • Throw away the “ally” flag and rock the rainbow (preferably the progress pride flag pictured above), with those of us who are LGBTQIA+ and whose livelihoods, mental wellness, and lives, are endangered by hate and bigotry everyday.

I have been told that asking people not to use the “ally” flag is being too picky about who I choose as my allies, but the distinction the “ally” flag represents, that you “support” us but definitely are not one of us, is not the making of an ally to me. If you’re a straight and/or cisgender person arguing for the “ally” flag, consider what you are signaling when you wear, use, or fly it. Consider that the “ally” flag is saying that being LGBTQIA+ is a bad thing, and you definitely don’t want to be mistaken as one of us. Consider why you don’t want to be mistaken as one of us, and consider what you are doing to make being a part of the LGTBQIA+ community a safer identity to hold.

Like any social issue, different people within LGBTQIA+ communities may feel differently about this than I do, but if you’re reading this as an ally, consider the reality that my life and livelihood are regularly endangered by being queer in a heterosexual and cisgender dominant world. Consider what being an ally or accomplice looks like to you and your community, then ask yourself if that is what you are being to the various LGBTQIA+ communities you claim to be allies to.

Note from the Author:

Image of Casey Anne Brimmer, a fat, white person with dark blonde hair in an undercut with rainbow glasses and a grey cowl necked sweater in front of foliage.
Image of Casey Anne Brimmer.

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