Allies, Families, & Partners Toolkit
Being a Trans* Ally
Action Tips for Allies
Ally: Anyone who does not identify as a member of a particular marginalized group but educates themselves about and advocates for equality, integration, and understanding of that group is an ally. In this case, cisgender people can be allies to the trans community or individuals within the trans community, in working to reduce transphobia and genderism.
There are a variety of ways to demonstrate allyship towards folks in the transgender community, both as individuals and within our roles as educators and student affairs professionals. It is important to recognize that while this list is a great place to start, and a good way to reflect on our actions and language, what one trans individual wishes to see from allies might not be what another needs or even wants.
Here are some basics:
- Use the name and pronoun that a person asks you to. If unsure of what someone’s preferred pronoun and name are, ask. Never use “it” to refer to someone, as that is deeply hurtful and insulting. Some people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
- Use non-gender specific language. Ask “Are you seeing someone?” or “Are you in a committed relationship?,” instead of “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” or “Are you married?” Use the word “partner” or “significant other” instead of “boyfriend/girlfriend” or “husband/wife”.
- Don’t make assumptions about a trans person’s sexual orientation. Trans people’s sexual orientations are as diverse and varied as cisgender people’s.
- Trust that someone’s decision to present or identify themselves differently than what others might expect is not made lightly or without due consideration.
- Respect one’s confidentiality and decisions about who one tells about one’s own gender. “Outing” someone could place them in harm’s way, exposing them to potential discrimination, ostracizing or violence.
- Recognize the inherent worth of all trans and gender variant people.
- Avoid asking questions about hormones and surgery. These are personal and inappropriate questions, and are akin to asking someone to describe what their genitals look like. Every person’s path is different, and hormones and surgery do not determine a person’s trans/gender variant status.
Going beyond the basics:
- Learn more about trans and gender variant people, by seeking out their stories and experiences as told through their voices. Attend trainings, conferences and events that speak to trans and gender variant perspectives.
- Challenge your understanding of gender roles and behaviors, and dismantle expectations for people to conform to societal interpretations of what it means to be a ‘woman’ or a ‘man’.
- When you hear others use transphobic language, take the opportunity to challenge and educate. Letting others know that you find anti-transgender statements and jokes offensive and unacceptable can go a long way toward reducing gender prejudice.
- Work to create greater access in your community, classroom, workplace, residence hall, student organization, and place of worship.
- Volunteer for or help out a trans rights organization or community group. Write letters or talk to political representatives asking them to support trans-inclusive legislation.
- Integrate discussions of genderism into conversations of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, etc.
- Recruit gender variant and trans people to leadership positions within your organizations and departments.
- Work to change campus policies in areas such as housing, records and forms, facilities, employment and human resources, health care, discrimination and harassment.
Organizations, Departments and Campuses
- College and University Policies (including non-discrimination policies, housing policies, campus records and medical coverage)
- Also includes a handy Checklist as a good resource to self-evaluate how trans-inclusive campus spaces are and how they can be improved upon.
- Includes regularly updated research that looks at current gender-neutral policies, and some sample policy proposals.
- Toilet Training- Documentary and resource addressing discrimination, harassment and violence in gender segregated bathrooms.
- “Opening the Door to the Inclusion of Transgender People” - Report from the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce on he Nine Keys to Making LGBT Organizations Fully Transgender-Inclusive
Want to educate others on easy ways to be an ally to trans people? Click here to download and print off a poster with some easy do’s and don’t’s from The Gender Book. Display it prominently to signal a welcoming space.
Adapted from various sources including Brett-Genny Janiczek Beemyn (University of Massachussets-Amherst), thegenderbook.com, Eli Clare, Samuel Lurie.
Resources for Families of Trans* folks
The trans@VU Families page provides resources and information for family members of transgender and gender variant folks. Families often need to navigate their own process as their loved ones invite them into this aspect of their lives, including connecting with other families, and accessing books/resources specifically geared towards them.
These resources are not exhaustive, but a great starting point for folks, as well as a place to come back to for easy reference.
General Web Resources
- TransYouth Family Allies – A wealth of resources for parents and youth, including a discussion group for parents, and educational programs among other things. Incluye recursos en espanol.
- PFLAG TNET– While PFLAG provides support, education, and advocacy for the whole LGBT community, PFLAG’s Transgender Network specifically focuses on support for transgender people and their parents, families and friends.
- Family Acceptance Project- The Family Acceptance Project™ is the only community research, intervention, education and policy initiative that works to decrease major health and related risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth, such as suicide, substance abuse, HIV and homelessness – in the context of their families. Incluye recursos en espanol.
- “Always My Child: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Your Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered or Questioning Son or Daughter” by Kevin Jennings and Pat Shapiro
- “The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals” by Stephanie A. Brill and Rachel Pepper
- “Transgender Explained For Those Who Are Not” by Joanne Herman