How do gay and transgender people know when to trust a straight person?

Good question! Although I don’t have a quick or easy answer, clearly people’s actions often speak louder than their words. Following are the qualities and actions that folks in my workshops have identified to distinguish straight people who are truly supportive.

Straight people who are supportive are open.

They exhibit personal qualities of being

  • Unconditionally accepting;
  • Open to new ideas, teachable, inquiring;
  • Caring, compassionate, empathetic;
  • Comfortable with their own sexuality and gender; and
  • Courageous, willing to confront discrimination;

Straight people who are supportive also take actions.

For example, they will

  • Ask questions and actively educate themselves;
  • Give of their time, respond to requests, and take initiative to right wrongs;
  • Intervene in unacceptable situations;
  • Advocate by speaking out for equality and against discrimination and bias;
  • Are outspoken about God’s love for all, including gay and transgender people;
  • Go beyond personal support to address discrimination in schools, workplace policies, legislation, and so on.

Lack of support sticks out.

People sometimes think they’re supportive when in fact they’re

  • Not being fully accepting others—for example, claiming to “love the sinner but not the sin”;
  • Laughing at jokes that are told at the expense of others;
  • Letting hurtful words slide;
  • Being overly interested or voyeuristic in personal or intimate matters—for example, asking a transgender person pointed questions about surgery;
  • Expressing support in one context but not in another;
  • Being silent in the context of clear discrimination, and so on.

Consider, though, that such a person may be teachable.

Please remember that we’re all on a journey. Sometimes people who intend to be supportive aren’t completely up to speed. That’s when the second quality above—being open to new ideas, teachable, inquiring—comes into play. If you’re willing to be a teacher—or enlist another person to be one—you may be able to help someone live up to their intention!

Contributed by Ann Thompson Cook

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