What is Allyship?
Allyship is a verb, a ‘doing’ word. It is when a person with some aspect of privilege works in partnership with a marginalised or minoritized group to challenge society for that group’s basic rights, equal access, and ability to thrive in society (Nicole Asong Nfonoyim-Hara, Mayo Clinic, 2021). Allyship can be described as seeing something through a different lens, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and appreciating other people’s lifestyles and perspectives.
Allyship is an action, not a label. Being an ally means actively engaging and supporting the LGBTQ+ and/neurodivergent community. This means challenging comments made by your friends, family, and co-workers when they use offensive language. It is also means supporting LGBTQ+ people, understanding the history, amplifying neurodivergent and queer voices, and celebrating diversity every day.
How can we be better allies?
We can all do something to be a better ally to both neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ people.
Familiarise yourself with LGBTQ+ terms
Language is constantly changing and evolving. It’s easy to throw around the LGBTQ+ acronym, and not truly understand what it means. Don’t rely on LGBTQ+ people to keep you appraised of new lingo. There are lots of great glossary that you can access to educate yourself. At Creased Puddle, we use some of the following:
Attend webinars, read books, listen to podcasts, watch TV shows and films that celebrate LGBTQ+ and queer culture. There are multifaceted ways of learning about LGBTQ+ topics. Also consider your understanding and use of pronouns.
Speak to and stand up for neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ people
Connect with, share, amplify and support neurodivergent and LGBQT+ people on LinkedIn and other social media platforms. Learn about their challenges and their experiences within society. Sign online petitions (such as the one about trans conversion therapy). Ask questions (if they are happy to be open and talk about their experiences) and be curious (keeping your own judgement in check). Use your voice to learn and stand up for neurodivergent LGBTQ+ people, but not to speak over or interrupt them.
Reflect on your own privilege and prejudice
A large majority of people in society have some type of privilege (including those within the neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ communities). This might be in relation to your race, your socio-economic status, being cis-gendered, able-bodied, or straight. Understanding your own privileges can help you empathise with marginalised groups. Once you begin this journey of self-reflection, you can begin to challenge your own biases, stereotypes, and assumptions, even those you didn’t realise you had.
Support with accessing healthcare
What we know both from research and anecdotally about access to healthcare for neurodivergent people, combined with stigma received by LGBTQ+ people, is that there are a number of challenges related to receiving medical support. Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen (2020) found that 70% of autistic gender-diverse adolescents say they need medical gender-related care. However, 1 in 8 LGBTQ+ people have experienced some form of unequal treatment from healthcare staff because they are LGBT, with approximately 90% of transgender people reporting delays when seeking transition-related healthcare (Britain Health Report, 2018). This is generally due to a lack of understanding about LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent health-related issues.
Providing support to neurodivergent people to access healthcare, extends to those who identify as LGBTQ+.
Create neuro-inclusive LGBTQ+ spaces
Many neurodivergent people report that typical LGBTQ+ spaces, such as nightclubs, bars and even Pride marches, create sensory and communication/social challenges. It is important to acknowledge that neurodivergent LGBTQ+ people might need different things when they want to go out and celebrate their sexuality, gender identity, or simply meet like-minded people.
If you want to create spaces for neurodivergent LGBTQ+ people, consider the sensory environment. These spaces might also be alcohol free and include activities that don’t require causal social interactions e.g., something with a focus such as board games or quiz nights are helpful. Spaces can be wider than the physical space too, so consider your use of gender-neutral language, pronouns, and general understanding of LGBTQ+ issues when working with neurodivergent people (or vice versa) in any context.
Inclusive sex education
In 2019, the government announced new regulations for teaching Relationships and Sex Education in England. This will include, but will not be limited to:
- All schools teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity at secondary level
- All schools teaching about different family types (including LGBTQ+ families) at primary level
Though this is a great step in the right direction, autistic students (specifically) have been reported to be pulled out of sex education classes for a variety of reasons, including them being deemed ‘unsuitable’ for such classes. This is despite research conducted by the University of Cambridge finding that the majority of autistic people (over 70%) engaging in sexual activity.
Inclusive sex education is essential to ensure neurodivergent people have the opportunity to explore their sexual identity, as well as their gender identity and expression. Ambitious About Autism have some excellent LGBTQ+ relationship resources should extra support in this area be required.
Nicole Asong Nfonoyim-Hara
Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues
British Health Report by Stonewall
Ambitious about Autism resources