'Straight allies of the gay community should be celebrated, not criticised' (Opinion)

LGBT people should respond to slip-ups with compassion and education, not hostility, writes Editor-in-Chief Matt Cain.


(Image: Leigh Keily)

On the cover of the new April issue of Attitude is actor, comedian and TV presenter James Corden, who we’re proud to celebrate as a straight ally of the LGBT+ community.

If you doubt James warrants the title, have a look at our list of his most gay-friendly moments so far.

I bring this up because, once or twice since I started this job, I’ve been shocked by how unfriendly the gay community can be towards straight people in the public eye who want to be our allies. And again, one or two people have been critical of our decision to feature James on the cover. That’s inspired some thoughts I’d like to share with you.

Don’t get me wrong, if we get the sense that straight stars are pledging allegiance to the gay community purely for commercial reasons then we should absolutely call this out. And I don’t think any of us should feel we need to be pathetically grateful for any crumb of acceptance mainstream society throws our way; total equality is what we deserve and we shouldn’t settle for anything less.

But there have been times over the past year or so when well-meaning straight people have tried to speak out in support of the gay community, expressed themselves a little clumsily, and ended up being roundly savaged on social media.

The truth is, we can’t expect straight people to know all about every aspect of LGBT+ life or to appreciate some of the more subtle points of language we prefer. But if they’re demonstrating compassion, understanding and support, we should try and gently educate them – we shouldn’t throw their goodwill back in their face.

There are some gay men who feel we should engage with anyone at all who needs educating about our experience – or, as Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown says elsewhere in the new issue, give them a "teachable moment". It’s certainly true, as I’ve said here before, that the only way to eradicate homophobia is by engaging with homophobes and trying to change their minds.

But I understand that not everyone wants to do this or feels cut out for it – and I have to admit there are certain people I find it impossible to engage with. Or would just flat-out refuse to.

But if a straight person is trying their best to be an ally and gets something a bit wrong, please don’t respond with outrage. Please just express your feelings and explain why you’ve been offended. Because if the straight person does want to be an ally, the chances are they’ll listen.

Most straight allies I’ve met have been – and often still are – engaged in some kind of journey towards a greater understanding of gay people. Many of them admit to making mistakes in the past, as James Corden does in his interview. But if they want to continue on that journey, please don’t steer them off course.

Because let’s be honest, many of us have been on our own journeys – even if we are gay ourselves.

Attitude's April Style issue is out now - Buy in print, subscribe or download.