Ally (noun) to side with or support.
One of the things I admire most about individuals with autism is their profound sense of right and wrong. It’s common for neurodivergent individuals to stand up for what’s right and defend it passionately. This is what makes them such amazing allies and social justice advocates.
Furthermore, individuals with autism understand what it’s like to be seen as different. So they can identify with the struggles and pain felt by many LGBTQ folx. This makes them less critical and biased towards others. They are less likely to discriminate against others because they can relate to how it feels. Plus, they are less aware of and bound by social norms, so tend to be more accepting of people who do not conform to rigid social conventions.
If you’re an LGBTQ ally on the autism spectrum it’s important to think about how to channel your passion for showing your support into social change. Because it’s Pride Month, I wanted to take a moment and share with you some ways you can be an amazing ally to members of the LGBTQ community.
Individuals with autism can be great allies, here’s how:
Learn more about the LGBTQ rights movement and allyship:
As an ally, it’s important that you learn about the LGBTQIA+ movement in the United States. This community has faced intense discrimination. So, it’s critical that we learn about and study history so we don’t face the same mistakes. It also helps you honor those who fought before us. The history of this movement displays the courage of these individuals in creating powerful social change.
Here is an interesting article that offers a timeline of the LGBTQIA movement in the United States.
Follow other allies
Following the platforms of other LGBTQ allies is a great way to educate yourself on LGBTQ allyship. When you follow them, you will likely be exposed to the organizations they support and respect.
Learn pronouns and terminology
Learning more about LGBTQIA+ terminology and pronouns is very important. But, please remember that identity can be fluid and folx can absolutely change how they identify over time. Furthermore, there are so many different ways to identify. This list doesn’t cover them all. So, when you’re not sure, ask or do the research.
The Trevor Projects Glossary offers definitions of common terms used in the LGBTQIA+ community.
One of the first ways you can learn more about being an ally and making positive change is to uncover your own implicit biases. An implicit bias is an unconscious attitude or stereotype that may inform your thoughts and behavior.
To see where your implicit biases lie: take this Quiz.
Be a good listener
One of the most fundamental jobs of an ally is to LISTEN. Even if you think you know all there is to know about being an ally, you still need to listen. I bet you’ll find out that there are things you don’t know. It’s normal to slide into a place of complacency when you’ve been a long-term ally. But, times change and allyship is ever-evolving. There’s always more to learn and conversations to be had. Make time to listen to members of the community and keep educating yourself, this will help you be a great ally.
Offer yourself as a safe space for LGBTQ folx to express themselves. I know this type of social interaction may feel uncomfortable. But, I imagine that after listening to them you may find yourself relating with and empathizing with their pain. Remember, you don’t have to go through the exact same experiences to empathize with someone.
It’s important that you remember, if someone shares their personal story about being LGBTQ, you maintain their trust by not sharing their story with others. It’s simply not your place to share this personal information.
Speak up when you become aware of discrimination or prejudice
This one may seem obvious, but it’s harder and more nuanced than you may think, especially in situations where hostility is present. But as an individual on the autism spectrum, I’m sure you can identify with feeling marginalized and have likely experienced bullying and other microaggressions in your life. So I’m sure you can relate to the struggles of the LGBTQ community.
One of the most important things you can do as an ally is to speak up when you see or hear anything discrimantory. If you hear someone say something prejudicious, first stop and take a deep breath. Then, say something and let them know that you don’t appreciate it. Simply saying something like, “excuse me, I am an ally and I don’t appreciate the comment you just made” shows your support for the LGBTQ community.
Additionally, hearing or witnessing discrimination towards the LGBTQ community or an individual who identifies as LGBTQ may make you irate or extremely sad. Perhaps, this makes you shut down or become hostile and aggressive. If you can relate, it’s important to reframe your passion for social justice into something constructive. This is what yields change. Here is a way you can show support as an ally and speak up in a positive way (Adapted from PFLAG)
- Breathe: slow down and center yourself
- Don’t make assumptions (even if they seem obvious): Allow the aggressor room to explain themselves.
- Address the behavior you witnessed and explain how that made you feel: “What you said about ___ was unfair/prejudiced and it made me really angry.”
- Tell them why you’re calling them out: “I am an ally and I support the LGBTQ community. This means I will speak up when I hear things like this.”
- Listen and offer support (when possible) or walk away: If they’re open to talking about what happened, let them and let them know that you’re happy to be a resource in their journey towards understanding prejudice and LGBTQ allyship. However, if they become more hostile or argumentative, it may be best to simply walk away. Don’t fuel the fire. You did your part, and now it is their choice to open their mind or not to further discussion.
Allow LGBTQ folx room to tell their story and advocate
While it’s very important to speak up when you hear something wrong, it’s also very important that you don’t speak over LGBTQ folx. Do not speak for them or as if you share their struggles. This keeps their message from being heard. Instead, use your voice, and quite frankly your privilege, to magnify LGBTQ voices.
Know how to Handle Missteps
At times you’ll feel uncomfortable and you’ll make mistakes. That is understandable. What’s important is knowing how to navigate these blunders in a way that respects the trauma and feelings of individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+. For example, you may make an assumption or misgender someone. If they correct you it’s important not to get overly defensive or apologetic. That makes the mistake all about you and your embarrassment. It’s not their job to make you feel better. Instead, apologize, thank the individual for correcting you, and then commit to doing better. Furthermore, try to make your apology short and private. Drawing attention to the mistake may only make matters worse and more uncomfortable for the individual you’re apologizing to.
Ask questions, but be okay with whatever response you’re given
As someone who wants to better understand others, this one is hard for me. I love learning more and naturally have a lot of questions. But, I have had to learn that the response may not give me the answers I was looking for.
It is important to remember that while it’s okay to ask an LGBTQ individual or group some questions, you have to be okay with whatever answer you’re given. Sometimes, asking a member of the community questions may make them feel uncomfortable or bothered. So they may not want to respond or may respond by telling you that your question makes them upset.
Even though you may have the best of intentions, LGBTQ individuals are not obligated to teach you about being a member of the community or tell you that you’re being a good ally. Showing them respect, even if they don’t want to answer you is so important.
Final Thoughts on Autism and LGBTQ Allyship
Remember, being an ally comes in lots of different forms. It’s not easy, but it is so rewarding. I encourage you to think about some ways you can use your neurodivergent superpowers to be an amazing ally in your community.
If you’re looking for resources as an autistic or neurodivergent individual who also identifies as LGBTQ, check out this blog about the importance of finding an LGBTQ autism community.
Furthermore, I invite you to check out my Neurodiversity School e-Course specifically tailored to help you navigate common issues you may have when you’re LGBTQ and autistic.
Begin Online Autism Therapy in California or Sign Up to Learn More about Neurodiversity School:
- Contact us for a free phone consult.
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- Sign up for our newsletter.
If you do not live in California but are looking for support and a community of neurodiverse peers who also identify as LGBTQ, check out our sister website Neurodiversity School. To get started, follow these steps:
- Sign up for our newsletter
- Check your inbox for more information
- When the website launches, take the quiz and find out what course is right for you or your loved one!
Other Autism Therapy Services offered at Open Doors Therapy:
Our California autism therapy clinic serves teens and adults on the autism spectrum. We provide counseling who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed ASD traits, and their families.
Currently, we offer all our autism therapy services online. Our clinicians provide a variety of counseling services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, and group therapy. Also, we run several different social skills groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, neurodiverse adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training program for youth transitioning to college, teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. Reach out to our autism therapy office for more information on our services or to schedule a consultation.
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. She is also is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private practice specializing in autism therapy services in the South Bay Area, near San Francisco, CA. Dr. Oswald specializes in helping neurodiverse teens and adults and facilitating social skills groups.