What Does It Mean to Be a Good Ally in 2019?

GQ talks with LGBTQ players from all walks of life to find the answers.

June 26, 2019

This month, LGBTQ people around the country, and the world, are marching—to celebrate, to recharge, to resist—in honor of Pride Month. Even in 2019, on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, this is no small feat. Under our current president’s administration, the rights of LGBTQ people are under attack, both directly—in the workplace, in the military, and beyond—and more indirectly as part of broader legislative assaults, including state abortion bans and restrictive immigration policies. It’s not an exaggeration to say that in another 50 years, to continue to be able to march and to exist proudly and freely, we need support, both from those within our community and from our allies.

So what does it mean to be an ally in this cultural climate? For insight, GQ spoke with LGBTQ players from all walks of life—from activists to Olympians to pop stars—to hear about how their allies have played a pivotal role in their lives, to share in the lessons they’ve learned about how to be a better ally themselves, and to envision what true allyship means moving forward.

GQ: Why is LGBTQ allyship especially important in 2019?

Wilson Cruz (actor, Star Trek: Discovery and My So-Called Life): These are darker times than we’ve known, as a community, in a very long time. After eight years in which we had an administration that was clearly working toward creating a society, a culture, and a government that supported LGBTQ people, that era has ended. We can’t just sit by and allow hate speech and violence—either physical or mental—without speaking up and doing something about it. Being an ally right now is just being really vocal—not just in word and in feeling, but also in deed. We can’t do it alone.

Margaret Cho (comedian): There are people who are trying to reverse all of the work that’s been done. Being a queer activist for as long as I have, I’ve never seen such a stark intensity of trying to return to these quote-unquote family values. It’s disgusting. It’s really about being united against bigotry and this hatred we’re facing. I think it’s just an important time to be very, very active in what’s almost like a civil war.

Nico Santos (actor, Superstore and Crazy Rich Asians): Before, it seemed like it was just totally acceptable for our allies to be like, “I watch Will & Grace! I’m cool! I’m hip with it!” But the stakes are so much higher. Nowadays, I don’t care if you watched Pose—I need you to go out and vote and make sure that my rights aren’t taken away, to make sure that trans rights are protected.

Daya (singer): People in the LGBTQ community are straight-up being denied rights that heterosexual people might take for granted, whether it’s the transgender military ban or something else that this administration is trying to implement to limit the rights of LGBTQ people. We need other people to have our backs and to understand where we’re coming from and that we just want to be treated like normal human beings.

What traits or actions make for a great LGBTQ ally?

Chella Man (actor): The ability to see each individual as a person with their own unique story, behind whichever label they choose—or don’t choose—to identify with.

Jacob Tobia (writer, producer): The best allies understand that their own personal liberation—in terms of sex, gender, identity—is wrapped up in the liberation of queer and trans folks. Supporting a world in which trans and gender-nonconforming people are possible also supports a world in which everyone has less gender-based trauma, where everyone is able to be more free and expressive and complete in their gender expression and the way that they exist in the world. It’s important for people to understand that your rights and dignity as a human being is on the line, too.

Alaska Thunderfuck (drag queen, recording artist): Paying respect where it’s due. Speaking from the point of view of being a drag performer, I think a lot of times, things get co-opted from the drag world, and there’s not really a reverence or letting people know where it came from. Like, when I steal stuff from people, I’m the first to say, like, “Okay, this is exactly who I stole it from—and shout out to them!” I think that’s important.

Nico Santos: I don’t live in New York but I’m here for the summer, and every time I go into the subway, I keep hearing [the phrase], “If you see something, say something” on the subway speakers. And I feel like that’s actually such a good phrase to represent being an ally. You really can’t be an innocent bystander.

Daya: Compassion, first and foremost. I think it’s about having love for yourself, but also a love for those around you and a desire for them to have the same rights you have.

What's one time when someone was an excellent ally to you, and how did it change your experience or perspective on allies?

Chella Man: My girlfriend of two years and eight months has now become fluent in sign language to communicate with me, language barrier–free. This has shown me true love.

Adam Rippon (Olympic figure skater): When I was young, there were times when somebody made a joke or teased me about something, and my friends stuck up for me right away, without any question. That inspired me to stick up for other people when given the chance—it can be scary, but that feeling of safety and pride is so awesome.

Wilson Cruz: My parents had a very hard time with my coming out. When I was 19, I did the pilot of My So-Called Life, and then I came out to them because I knew I was going to come out publicly. My dad threw me out, and we were estranged for a year.

In the end, he reached out to me to say, “I want to know you, and I want to understand you because I love you. You’re my son and I need to figure this out.” We had the most vulnerable and honest and uncomfortable conversation that I’ve ever had in my life. But what came out of it was a richer and more real relationship with my father.

One of my favorite memories [since then] was that I got on the phone with him and he asked, “Hey, how was your date the other night?” And I said, “You know what, it was really good, but he’s not for me!” And he said, “Okay, well, there’s going to be someone who deserves you.” It was such a small gesture, but it meant so much to me.