On Being an Ally

An adaptation  from “Transitioning Transgendered People In the Workplace” at the National Multicultural Institute, Washington D.C., June 1999.

by Lenore Balliro and Deborah Schwartz

An ally is someone who:

  • Addresses issue, not just incident;
  • Mobilizes and organizes to respond to issue without prompting from target group member;
  • Is willing to take risks that may affect one’s place, position/and authority within their dominant group;
  • Is visible, active, vigilant, and public (even when the target person is not in the room);
  • Is willing to recognize the inherent privilege and power of being a member of the dominant group;
  • Views membership in the dominant group as an opportunity to bring about change;
  • Is proactive more often than reactive. Is always intentional, overt, vocal, consistent, and public about being an ally; there is no such thing as a passive/silent ally;

Note: Being an ally is not without risks; allies might be tuned out, ridiculed, labeled as biased, isolated. They may burn out, they may not see the result of their efforts.


What members of targeted groups should be able to expect from allies:

Respect, support, recognition;

That they use their power to promote social justice;

That they will “do their own work” (reflect on personal prejudices, learn more about issues of target group, for example);

That they will make mistakes and learn from them;

That they will believe what people of targeted groups are saying about their experiences without searching for “perfectly logical explanations” and signs of “oversensitivity” on our part;

That they will allow the focus of the discussion to remain on the issue at hand without looking for ways to connect it/ compare it/ contrast it to other forms of oppression (event when connections may exist);

That they resist the temptation to “rank oppressions” and do not allow others (including target group members) to do so.


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