3 Tips for Being an Authentic Ally During LGBTQIA+ Pride Month

Updated pride flag

This year we have a lot to celebrate during LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Intersex, Asexual) Pride Month; in addition to the receding pandemic and the re-opening of LGBTQIA+ spaces shuttered in its wake, we celebrate the progress America has made since the first Gay Pride marchers took to the streets of New York to protest discrimination 51 years ago. Thanks to the tireless work of LGBTQIA+ activists and allies, homosexuality is no longer classified as a mental illness, sodomy laws were ruled unconstitutional, homosexuals can serve openly in the military, same sex couples can be legally married, and just last year the US Supreme Court ruled that federal law protects LGBTQIA+ workers from employment discrimination. We’ve also made huge strides in representation in media, business, and government, but it’s important to remember that the benefits of social progress haven’t accrued equally for everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community, and that the struggle for equality is ongoing. Pride isn’t just a celebration of LGBTQIA+ culture, it’s also a protest against anti-LGBTQIA+ discrimination and a call to action. 

Every June pride flags and public declarations of love for the LGBTQIA+ community sprout like rainbow wildflowers from corporate pride floats and City Halls across America. Sadly, much of that support is hollow, performative and not backed up by policy and action that seeks to eliminate homophobia and transphobia. While performative allyship may seem harmless it hurts the LGTBTQIA+ community, disguising pervasive anti-LGBTQIA discrimination, especially against trangender, non-binary and BIPOC members of our community. To make your library’s Pride Month celebration less performative and more substantive I’ve put together a few tips.

#1 – Make sure your library is a safe space for LGBTQIA+ people. This seems obvious, and yet… Do you have policies against bullying, harassment and hate speech? Is your staff equipped to meet the needs of LGBTQIA+ youth and their families? Are they trained to welcome people of all genders? Do visitors have access to a bathroom that aligns with their gender identity? Don’t forget that your colleagues are community too; is your library a safe workplace for LGBTQIA+ employees? Do you have out LGBTQIA+ coworkers? If not, ask yourself why that might be. To learn more about making your library a safe space please check out the CALL Academy modules on Welcoming Libraries & Trans Communities, Serving LGBTQIA+ Youth, and How to Create a Trans-Inclusive Workplace.

#2 – Your collections should reflect the rich diversity of lived experiences in the LGBTQIA+ Community. Make sure you have material representing all the letters in LGBTQIA+, not just the L, G and B. It’s also crucial to remember that the LGBTQIA+ community is inherently intersectional; it brings together people of every ethnic group, nationality, skin color, physical ability, religion, and gender expression on the planet. Your collections should show that. You should also have LGBTQIA+ materials available in a variety of formats, languages, and reading levels. Be conscious of where these materials are placed and potential boundaries to access. Closeted LGBTQIA+ patrons may be too frightened to ask for help finding these materials. To learn more about making your collections LGBTQIA+ inclusive see CALL Academy modules on Conducting a Diversity Audit, and #OWN Voices For ALL Readers.

#3 – Show your support for the LGBTQIA+ community with displays, programs, and outreach, not just during Pride month, but year round. Programming and displays should be reflective of a broad array of LGBTQIA+ experiences. Drag Queen Storytime is fabulous, and I love the joy they bring to our libraries, but please don’t let this be your only LGBTQIA+ program. Community outreach is also a great way to show your support. Contact local LGBTQIA+ organizations and make connections. They may be able to offer your patrons expertise and services your staff can’t. You may be able to reciprocate by providing meeting space, publicity, or access to municipal resources. To learn more about Drag Queen Storytime see our module Drag Me to Story Hour. If you’d like ideas for non-Drag Queen Storytime programming or have questions about serving the LGBTQIA+ community feel free to email me at jkaplan@cla-net.org