“Ally” cannot be a label that someone stamps onto you–or, god forbid, that you stamp on to yourself—so you can then go around claiming it as some kind of identity. It’s not an identity. It’s a practice. It’s an active thing that must be done over and over again, in the largest and smallest ways, every day.

—Mia McKenzie[1][2]

Spectrum of ally behaviour in an ideal movement.[3]

Ally is an umbrella term used by some to refer to people who (claim to) support oppressed and marginalised groups.



Much like a student in a formal setting, an ally is expected to be respectful, listen, and learn.

A good ally will behave in much the same way one behaves in a lecture or class. Activists who know more due to their inherent experience, e.g., oppression, are able to teach allies who are not oppressed, or not as oppressed, in that specific axis. For allies to help others, they must first learn what the lived experience is of oppressed people, how they interact with the world and how society at all levels treats them.

Appropriation of the "A"

Example of an ally erasing asexuality from the LGBTA acronym.[4]

Allies have been known to hijack the "A" in LGBTQA for themselves, taking it away from aromantic and asexual communities.[5][4] Different LGBTA groups often have varying opinions on the place of allies within their communities and the meaning(s) of "A" within their acronyms:

One side of the acronym discussion feels allies shouldn’t be included just because they support the community. Supporting the community doesn’t mean they are a part of that lifestyle.

For example, just because a person can support African American rights and issues, does not make that person a part of the African American community, Guenther said.

Guenther said the other side of the argument says allies should be considered part of the community because they, too, have faced stigma and oppression even though the stigma appears to be declining in the U.S.[6]


"Speak up but not over!" — 5 Tips For Being An Ally, by Chescaleigh[7]

The principal reason activists and generally oppressed people think allies are problematic is because of their behaviour. This behaviour seems to be directly correlated with the adoption of the label "ally" to describe oneself:

Allyship is not supposed to look like this, folks. It’s not supposed to be about you. It’s not supposed to be about your feelings. It’s not supposed to be a way of glorifying yourself at the expense of the folks you claim to be an ally to. It’s not supposed to be a performance. It’s supposed to be a way of living your life that doesn’t reinforce the same oppressive behaviors you’re claiming to be against. It’s supposed to be about you doing the following things:
  1. shutting up and listening
  2. educating yourself (you could start with the thousands of books and websites that already exist and are chock full of damn near everything anyone needs to know about most systems and practices of oppression)
  3. when it’s time to talk, not talking over the people you claim to be in solidarity with
  4. accepting feedback/criticism about how your “allyship” is causing more harm than good without whitesplaining/mansplaining/whateversplaining
  5. shutting up and listening some more
  6. supporting groups, projects, orgs, etc. run by and for marginalized people so our voices get to be the loudest on the issues that effect us
  7. not expecting marginalized people to provide emotional labor for you

This is by no means a comprehensive list. But most “allies” aren’t even getting these things right.

So, henceforth, I will no longer use the term “ally” to describe anyone. Instead, I’ll use the phrase “currently operating in solidarity with.”[1]


Another representation of the ally social barometer, from page 54 of In the Tiger's Mouth: An Empowerment Guide for Social Action, by Katrina Shields[8]

Many people start off being active or passive allies and then discover they are themselves oppressed along various axes. This is a common story within many genderqueer and non-binary communities: their members start off as allies of the LGBTQ+ community and eventually realise their own gender is not cis. This is in and of itself a product of cisnormative culture, which disallowed them from experiencing the diversity of trans and non-binary concepts, role models, and identities.

On the other hand, allies, especially role model allies, sometimes apologise after they have been told what they have done wrong. These allies must never be held to a lower standard than oppressed activists. If you are an ally yourself, you may need to work on burning your (ally) idols, especially when they end up being immune to all kinds of criticism. While correctly phrased and learned-from apologies are excellent as part of ally activism, promoting oppressed activists is more pertinent to a horizontal, pluralistic, and socially just movement.

See also

External links