It’s well known that transgender people face many challenges in the world. The Human Rights Campaign outlines the specifics surrounding these challenges and the repercussions resulting from the "severe discrimination, stigma and systemic inequality” faced by trans individuals. Specific problems include lack of legal protection and health care coverage as well as violence against trans people. Trans people need the allyship of the communities around them to help push forward change and drive home acceptance in all parts of life. Here are some ways to be a better ally to your trans family members and friends.
There are many reasons why trans people may find it difficult to express their preferred pronouns. For example, friends or family, people who have known them for years, will have to unlearn old pronouns and acknowledge new pronouns. This is an easy change with a bit of effort and awareness, but nonetheless, asking this may be nerve wracking for trans individuals. To help ease this stress, it is so important to create a space where everyone can feel assured that sharing their pronouns will be welcomed and respected.
First off, what are pronouns? According to the Binghampton University LGBTQ Center “pronouns are an important part of how we identify that deserves to be respected. And we recognize that assuming someone’s gender can be hurtful, especially to members of our community who are transgender, genderqueer, or gender expansive.” Examples of pronouns include he/him, she/her, or the gender-neutral they/them.
If your friend or family member shares their pronouns with you, respect them, whether their pronouns are the same or different from how you’ve known them for years. It can be very harmful to misgender a person, according to Healthline.com, “misgendering can have negative consequences for a transgender person’s self-confidence and overall mental health.” If you accidentally misgender someone, just swiftly apologize, remember their pronouns for next time, and move on. Don’t dwell on your mistake — it will only make things more uncomfortable for the person you misgendered. Additionally, if you are in a position where you are uninformed or unsure of someone's pronouns, it is best to simply ask them instead of assuming or guessing.
Similarly to pronouns, it’s important to refer to a transgender person by their preferred (sometimes, known as chosen) name, according to Johns Hopkins University. What's a preferred name? According to the article, “a preferred name (sometimes known as a chosen name, a nickname, or a name-in-use) is the use of a name, usually a first name, that is different from a person’s legal name.”
If a transgender loved one introduces themself or refers to themself as their chosen name, you should refer to them that way, too. It shows you respect them and you're listening to their needs. Make a deliberate effort to refer to your loved one by their chosen name, and don’t be afraid to correct those around you who get their name wrong. Again, mistakes can be quickly forgiven and forgotten by a simple apology and correction.
If you can afford to, donating to nonprofits like the Point Foundation and HRC - which are working to create an equal and supportive world for trans people - is a great way to advocate and support. These are also great resources for learning more about Trans rights, struggles, history, and perspectives. You may want to look into local groups that are working for positive change within your own community. There are likely groups through nearby youth centers, community centers, or neighborhood organizations that need your help (and likely have fewer resources than the national organizations). You can support their work through monetary donations—or, if you have time, you can get in contact with your local branch and see what kind of in-person support they need. Many organizations may need help organizing donations, with set-up for an upcoming event, and maybe even have part-time volunteer positions available on an ongoing basis. A lot of these organizations only survive because of volunteer resources, so don't be afraid to help out. If you aren't in a position to help in these ways, you can be an advocate for the trans community simply by maintaining a safe and welcoming presence for trans individuals and encouraging others to as well.
Sometimes, lending an ear is all someone needs when they’re faced with a stressful situation. Be there to listen to your transgender loved one, whether they’re talking about frustrations with discrimination or are coming out as transgender. Like any other situation, it’s important to be there to listen and support someone when they confide in you. For the trans community, having a safe network of people they can rely on is crucial—especially since trans people are faced with discrimination at the workplace, public spaces, and more, according to the ACLU. And, unfortunately, trans people also face rampant transphobia, as stated in an article on PlannedParenthood.com, which is extraordinarily harmful to mental health, underscoring their need for support. Planned Parenthood stresses that “transphobia can result in violence and even murder. It can also result in depression, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide.” So, be there to support your trans loved ones and the greater trans community.