When talking to an old friend, brought up was the topic of ally-ship versus co-conspirator-ship within the LGBTQIA+ community. It got me thinking about the differences precisely and after fleshing out the distinctions with this friend, I also sought another person’s thoughts on the topic: Dr. Melanie Wilson, the Director of the Women’s and Diversity Center.
In an interview with Dr. Wilson, we discussed this topic and ended up on almost everything else that is related to being an ally or being a co-conspirator. Narrowing in, however, this piece will be about the similarities, distinctions, and how to improve on either title.
Starting with a similarity, advocacy is where I would say both titles begin. This is because, as Wilson states, “We have not had a great push from students in the past to self-advocate and be a presence on campus.” It is here where a person with either title would step in to assist. On the bright side, however, Wilson does point out that the self-advocacy is increasing with time, which then begs the question: what else do allies, or co-conspirators, do and how are they distinct?
Transitioning to the distinctions between the two titles, I would say they depend on the advocacy, history, and support of that person. Certain acts of advocacy require greater risk than others, resulting in a separation of identities between the nomenclature. I say risk because in this case identifying on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum is still dangerous in some parts of the country and the world. As for history and support, those two facets simply take time, thus adding to the difference in meaning of the two titles. In short, someone is an ally when they start out and becomes a co-conspirator through time and action, so to speak.
As for what these people do, they take initiative. This can be through Safe Zones, as mentioned to be available on our campus by Wilson, or by educating all persons on what the LGBTQIA+ community really is and who they are. This also means educating oneself and others on the related causes, for example, the concept of pronouns and why it’s important to use the proper ones (required, not preferred). Sometimes, these titles are self-chosen and other times they’re bestowed, but regardless of how they’re obtained, they come with a significant responsibility of being present for that marginalized group.
All it really takes for improvement is “baby steps,” as Wilson puts it. Start with Safe Zones, education, attending meetings, and asking questions. Don’t assume and don’t leave people out of conversations. Avoid adopting a “savior” mentality and listen to the community that is being advocated for. I would stress, as does Wilson, doing self-education because it doesn’t impact the community member emotionally, mentally, or otherwise.
At the end of the day, this advice goes for any advocate of any marginalized group – racially, ethnically, gendered, religious, etc. It is also important to stress that allies and co-conspirators are needed, no matter how small the action because the work of standing up for each other isn’t over yet.