Let’s be Allies- A New Illumination For Society

Many of us have or will suffer some form of oppression in our lives; through the simple nature of being women in a patriarchal society we have endured a history of oppression. We here at Lipstick and Politics attempt to illuminate various issues that demonstrate that equality between men and women is still an uphill climb for us today. However I feel that in North America, through the struggles and achievements of our predecessors, women have earned a place of privilege in some respects as compared to other minority groups. I strongly advocate that with the privileges that we do have comes a responsibility to alleviate the injustice done to other women and also other minority groups.

In my current clinical setting I work as a Public Health nurse in Okotoks, Alberta. We recently had a seminar on how to make our teen and youth sexual health clinic a more open environment, specifically for the LGBTQIA community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/two-spirited, queer, intersex, and allies). This community has been a focal point of many political debates and social inquiry in recent years. Clearly, there is a great discrepancy between the current rights and respects given this population and what they are fighting for. The LGBTQIA community is considered an at risk group within the medical community because they suffer from barriers within society and barriers to accessing the appropriate health care. They are individuals with the same health needs as others in our country, yet they do not have the same access to that health care that we have and this is due to an understated bias in our healthcare system and healthcare professionals which is shared by much of society. We have a system which adequately recognizes only male or female patients; and the language and questions we ask almost always hold an underlying assumption that the patient is straight. During the seminar to public health nurses, one nurse described her friend expressing how every time she visited a doctors’ office it felt like she was coming out all over again. And apart from the medical system, the political and social landscape is much more openly hostile against this community. Though advocates do exist, those who are openly or more subtly anti-gay outnumber them.

Any individual taking a citizenship test for Canadian citizenship has to learn the responsibilities and rights of being a Canadian- one of which is the explicit responsibility to eliminate discrimination and injustice. Do our laws in Canada truly reflect this responsibility? And what can we do? During the seminar I attended a great deal of emphasis was placed on allies. In my research on allies, I found a great site that described allies as being more than just advocates for the LGBTQI population: “Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end homosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on. Part of becoming an ally is also recognizing one’s own experience of oppression. For example, a white woman can learn from her experience of sexism and apply it in becoming an ally to people of colour, or a person who grew up in poverty can learn from that experience how to respect others’ feelings of helplessness because of a disability.” — Anne Bishop, from the site: Becoming an Ally (URL: http://www.becominganally.ca/) As women we can learn from our experience of being oppressed or undermined by society. Thus we can help all minority groups and especially the LGBTQIA group to fight against the contradictions apparent between the laws and treatment of these individuals and the basic human rights and freedoms apparently afforded all citizens. We can speak up against anti-gay humour, actions, and legislations. We can question and be more conscious of our own language and assumptions, which are more often than not invaded by discrimination that just gets accepted as part of the norm.

When minorities band together to fight against injustice and inequality, they have the power to become a majority and effect change. Straight allies are often times the most powerful and effective advocates in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender movement. Gender equality isn’t just about women fighting for equal rights alongside men- it’s about the societal acceptance and equivocal treatment of all genders and relationships between them.