Allyship is more than an annual performance

As we come toward the end of another Pride month, Trinity College SU president-elect Jenny Maguire and musician Colm Conlan weigh in on the problems with performative allyship, and what steps we can take to ensure we’re showing up for LGBTQI+ people and marginalised communities all year round.

Better Connections

We live in interesting times. To speak broadly, people feel more comfortable coming out now than ever. In the US, statistics highlight that more Gen Z adults are publicly identifying as LGBTQI+ than in any generation before.

Within the first two decades of this century, queerness made its way to the mainstream across much of the world, both socially and legislatively. This has had a clear impact on younger generations, who face fewer of the challenges or even basic acceptance that their elders dealt with. Experimentation is largely socially acceptable and more and more lines are blurred when it comes to gender expression. You don’t have to look too far into Gen Z’s fashion trends to see how this is reflected. In much of the world, coming out as queer isn’t necessarily as big a deal as it might have been in the early 2000s – keeping in mind that homosexuality was only decriminalised in Ireland in 1993.

But while there is more acceptance and validation of LGBTQI+ identities than we’ve seen in previous generations, there are still many people who don’t feel comfortable, included, safe or accepted in their day-to-day lives.

This is largely a result of who has been centred in our ‘big’ conversations about LGBTQI+ rights over the last decade or so, which often focus on the topic of marriage and assimilation. Same-sex marriage has been something that society (and capitalism more generally) has been able to get behind, and this has been one of the reasons why we see a stronger corporate presence at Pride events each year. But for marginalised communities and those who don’t strive to fit into the heteronormative traditions that keep capitalism ticking over (marriage, monogamy, the nuclear family), Pride month has become a time of further exclusion and alienation.

Empty gestures

Jenny Maguire, activist and president-elect of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union, spoke to dara & co about the concept of the ‘ideal queer’ and how applying Western society’s existing standards and capitalistic hierarchies to the LGBTQI+ community has negatively shaped conversations about allyship. Jenny firmly believes this is one of the reasons why we see meaningless gestures made by big corporate players every year when Pride rolls around – only for these companies to disregard their queer employees the rest of the year round.

Every year, we see the world’s biggest companies participating in Pride celebrations around the globe, which Jenny feels “actively harms our struggle towards liberation”. She told dara & co: “Our queer bodies being only valued once they may produce profit for straight people is not liberation and I do not see it as something to celebrate. Inherently, it abandons working-class queer people and holds up an ‘ideal queer’, not for a queer audience, but for a straight one. One that values integration over liberation.”

Queer Irish musician and farmer Colm Conlon (often referred to as CMAT’s right-hand man, and known for his solo act Púca), is equally jaded by the corporate presence at Pride. “I don’t wish to sound too reductive, as I think there is some benefit to every display of allyship, whether somewhat facetious or well-intentioned,” he said. “[But] I find the clearest example of performative allyship to be from corporations and law enforcement. Corporations slapping a rainbow flag on their branding should be acknowledging and supporting their LGBTQI+ employees and associates year-round, and not cashing in on some good PR. When it comes to law enforcement, a rainbow Garda car does not make me feel any safer as a queer person.”

Pride for profit

Jenny expanded on the role of private corporations in conversations on LGBTQI+ rights: “We’re only kidding ourselves by devoting our time to giant corporations that destroy our planet and exploit the global south, as they will abandon us (as they have started to) the moment it could affect their profits.”

The workplace is not the only realm in which we’re seeing Pride treated as a profit-generation exercise. Large-scale Pride events happen in cities all over the world, often sponsored by companies with dubious morals that have a direct, negative impact on the lives of LGBTQI+ people and other marginalised communities (think alcohol brands, with which LGBTQI+ people are up to three times more likely to experience substance abuse issues). Even as sponsorship budgets grow significantly through increased corporate participation, we’re witnessing that ticket prices for admission to Pride events are increasingly exclusionary (sometimes ranging from €45 to €90 in Ireland).

The first step in allyship should be removing financial barriers to participation from any event or resource aimed at the community, because this immediately excludes the people who need the sense of belonging the most. This doesn’t just apply to parties and events, but also when it comes to essential resources and supports that LGBTQI+ people rely on.

The limits of corporate DEI

Considering theses resources, the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives that have become commonplace in workplaces often have significant gaps in the curriculum – particularly where they matter most. Often, these seminars and workshops are given in workplaces that don’t have appropriate accessibility measures in place for people with disabilities, lack policies to protect employees who come out as trans or nonbinary, take a blasé approach when it comes to discriminatory watercooler chats about marginalised groups, or even have dress codes that punish any transgression of the gender binary.

It furthers the idea that queer people are only welcome in the corporate world only as long as they happen to look like the straight, cisgender people around them while they’re turning a profit. Those who don’t achieve this – often because they don’t fit into the ‘ideal’ of the white able-bodied cisgender LGBTQI+ person (who is most likely to succeed in the corporate environment) – face undue suffering.

Ultimately, it is rarely in any profit-driven company’s interests to highlight the real issues associated with inclusion and allyship, because these issues are often entirely at odds with what drives productivity and makes money.

“Queerness to me is raunchy, gross and about community. No Canva presentation in an office on the Grand Canal conveys that,” said Jenny.

Making it meaningful

With all of that in mind, we should look beyond companies and consider what we can do as individuals to offer true allyship and a sense of community to the LGBTQI+ people in our lives. Colm believes the most meaningful gestures come from our actions as individuals and as a community. “Even the most basic displays of allyship or solidarity can make a difference, for those who need support and safety – including your pronouns in your email signature, educating yourself from the lived experiences of queer people, or engaging with and supporting LGBTQI+ art.”

Jenny adds: “Allyship, as is often said, is an act rather than an identity. It is something you must always do and be checking yourself with. The term centres your relationship to those around you, which is good.”

Those actions often involve putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation in order to make life a little bit easier for someone else. This can be a simple act of standing up for somebody by correcting someone on their use of words. “There is, unfortunately, a certain degree of inconvenience involved in standing up for the rights of others,” says Colm. “It makes people uncomfortable to be corrected on antiquated or contemptuous behaviours or ways of thinking.”

Putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation doesn’t just mean arguing with your family at the dinner table to correct their language. It can be using your platform to elevate a marginalised voice, or even just advocating for groups that rarely get a platform to stand up for themselves. We’ve seen many Irish musicians do this, particularly in response to recent global conflicts, but also consistently throughout the years when it comes to the Government’s treatment of refugees, LGBTQI+ people, the working class, and people of colour.

It’s not always nice to sacrifice your own peace and comfort to lend your voice to someone who needs it, whether it’s in the workplace, on social media or in your day-to-day life, but these are the gestures that matter at the end of the day. And these are the things that we can do all year round to ensure that allyship is not just an opportunity for the Big Tech and finance sectors to pat themselves on the back for giving rainbow lanyards to their exhausted employees.

dara & co’s free masterclass on coming out includes advice on how to be a good ally to someone on exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity and our host Sam Stewart dispelled some LGBTQIA+ myths on our podcast. Find some more of our resources for the LGBTQIA+ community here.

Kelly Earley
Kelly is a Dublin-based writer who believes that online dating has gotten a bit too similar to the Stanford Prison Experiment. She ardently campaigns against straight men on dating apps whose first suggestion for a date location in Dublin is P Mac’s.


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