How to be a Good Ally to Queer Families

I started this post awhile back, after writing Lesbian Parenting 101. After starting it, I did the #1 thing a Good Ally should never do: I got overwhelmed. I combed my mind for every Good Thing a Good Ally should do, and very shortly convinced myself that I was leaving something monumental out that would result in poor outcomes for a queer family somewhere out there. Ok, obviously that’s silly. The point is that queer families need you; we don’t need you to be perfect.

And what follows is a very imperfect list of pointers, but just a few things to think about for birth support providers. I would love to hear from other providers and/or queer parents on this – please do leave more tips in the comments! Let’s keep this a living post that evolves and serves as a resource for others.

1. The classic advice on how to be a good ally applies here: don’t expect the queer folks you’re working with to educate you on queer 101. Read queer blogs, google things you aren’t sure about, or talk to your queer friends with whom you can converse more openly.

2. Provide sliding scale services to queer families if you can, and look for ways to make your services more accessible. If you read my post about lesbian parenting, you’ll see that making a baby is darned expensive for queer folks. This is especially true for women, women of color, and gender nonconforming or trans people. As we all know, white women earn 77 cents to the dollar, African-American women earn 61 cents, and Latinas earn 52 cents for every dollar a white non-Hispanic man earns. And trans folks face high unemployment and low wages due to discrimination — a study in the San Francisco Bay Area conducted in 2006 showed a 35% unemployment rate, with 59% earning less than $15,300 annually. Queer families need your flexibility in order to access your services.

4. Question your own assumptions about queer people, gender, and race. I recently read Peggy Vincent’s memoir, Baby Catcher, and I think it provides a teachable moment on this topic. While I loved reading the birth stories which were so loving, I bristled at Vincent’s portrayal of her patients who were of color, queer, or who were gender nonconforming. These parts relied on hackneyed, offensive stereotypes of folks that were such a huge turn off, and I found it tough to continue reading. But it’s not insignificant that Vincent so obviously cared about her patients, and I actually do believe that she would have wanted to describe them in a more respectful light had she taken the time to question her own assumptions and been more aware of how to deal with their differences. Bloody Show does a fabulous reading that is here.

5. Speak up to your birth activist and birth professional friends about queer issues. Did some heinous thing happen to a queer in the news? Bring it up. Is someone talking about gay marriage? Say something affirmative. These conversations need not be formal or awkward, and you don’t have to be any expert. Birth spaces are so by default hetero-oriented, and it really does help to bring any small awareness to your birth communities. Your hetero colleagues and friends will know where you stand and hopefully respect you more for it. Your queer friends and queer folks who hear you saying these things will feel safe around you.

6. Respect gender identity — ask about pronouns if you’re not sure. If insurance info, etc says one name and your patient asks you to call another, use the name they prefer and don’t make a big deal of it.

7. Be aware of alternative sexualities. Don’t judge, regardless of the kink or sexuality that comes up. If a client asks you a question about ‘is such-and-such safe while I’m pregnant,’ or ‘how soon after giving birth can I do so-and-so,’ or ‘we’re poly, can we bring our other lovers to the birth’ – don’t make stuff up based on heterosexual experience and knowledge of sexuality – just do some research and find some honest, straightforward, nonjudgmental answers to the best of your ability.

8. Don’t make your time with queer families about you and your quest to be a Good Ally. Not that you would.

9. Don’t give up! We need you, and making good faith efforts towards being a good ally will go a long way. Don’t be embarrassed if you make mistakes; just apologize, learn from your mistake, and move on.

More resources on being a good ally:

The Angry Black Woman/ The Do’s and Don’ts of Being a Good Ally

UC-Davis/ Trans Ally Tips

PFLAG/ 10 Things to do as an Ally

What else?! Please add your tips in the comments!


5 responses to “How to be a Good Ally to Queer Families

  1. This is a great list! Thanks for putting this together. I think the other important thing for allies is to keep asking questions when they don’t know things and be open to continuing to learn. I always get myself in trouble as an ally when I figure I know a good deal and can stop asking so many questions. That’s always when I find out I have so much more to learn than I ever thought I did.

  2. Thanks for stopping by! And yes, the advice you provide is very wise – both for those who are experienced with working with queer families or not. Amazing how infinite difference is, right?

  3. Pingback: Mombian » Blog Archive » Blogging for LGBT Families Day 2010: Contributed Posts

  4. Great post! I think a lot of this applies to allies in general. Thanks for putting this together.

  5. Pingback: Can we just strike the ‘T’ from the ‘LGB’ and be done with? « Chartreuse Flamethrower

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