Texas Tech University

Handouts and Information

Becoming an Ally

What is an ALLY?

  • “A person who is a member of the dominant or majority group who works to end oppression in his or her personal and professional life through support of, and as an advocate for, the oppressed population,[1] ”namely, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
  • An ALLY for persons who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT) is most often a heterosexual person who works as an advocate for GLBT people and GLBT issues in their personal an professional life.

What Does an ALLY Do?

  • Commits him or herself to personal growth in the area of GLBT awareness in spite of discomfort
  • Is willing to confront his or her own prejudices, stereotypes and misunderstandings
  • Believes that all persons regardless of age, sex, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation should be treated with dignity and respect
  • Engages in and is committed to developing a climate (e.g., on campus, at home, at work) that is free of hate and oppression toward GLBT individuals, and free from homophobia and heterosexism
  • Recognizes the legal, political, and financial power & privilege that heterosexual persons have that GLBT persons are denied
  • Supports the Ally program at his or her university or place of work
  • Practices acceptance, support and inclusiveness of GLBT persons
  • Is willing to be an advocate for GLBT persons and GLBT issues
  • Is willing to avoid making a point of being heterosexual
  • Is aware of & comfortable with his or her own sexual orientation & the development of that orientation
  • Understands the coming out process
  • Understands the concepts of internalized homophobia and oppression
  • Understands that there is great diversity within the GLBT community as with any other group

There are four basic levels to becoming an ALLY (Washington & Evans, 1991) …

  1. Awareness:This involves becoming aware of who you are, and how you are different from and similar to GLBT persons. This is accomplished through self-examination, talking with GLBT persons, attending GLBT related events, reading material that is inclusive of GLBT lifestyles, etc.
  2. Knowledge/ Education: Understanding and knowledge regarding the experiences of GLBT persons in your community, state and nation.Understanding the laws and policies that affect GLBT persons, and the history of those laws and policies.Educating yourself about the GLBT community in your area and around the country. Contacting and being aware of GLBT groups, organizations and other resources in your community & around the country.
  3. Skills: This involves developing skills you need to communicate your awareness and knowledge as an advocate.You can gain these skills through attending workshops & other ALLY training events, practicing awareness-raising in safe settings (e.g., with supportive friends & colleagues).
  4. Action: The most important, & scariest level.This step involves taking what you know, and what you have learned & feel strongly about concerning GLBT issues and helping to cause change in our society.

The Student Counseling Center; 201 Student Wellness Center; 742-3674


  • Some Information in this handout taken from the Human Rights Campaign brochure on “Establishing an Allies Program on Campus or in the Workplace.”www.hrc.org.
  • [1] Washington, J. and Evans, N.J.(1991).“Becoming an Ally.”In N.J. Evans and V.A. Wall, eds., Beyond Tolerance: Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals on Campus.Alexandria, VA: American College Personnel Association.

Developing a Common Language

  • LGBTQ*:  Refers to individuals who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer (and/or Questioning). Other letters that may also be seen include: I (Intersex), A (Asexual and/or Ally), P (Pansexual)
  • Gay: A common and acceptable term for men who are emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to other men (also sometimes an umbrella term used to describe men and women)
  • Lesbian: A common and acceptable term for women who are emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to other women
  • Bisexual: A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to both men and women.
  • Transgender: Someone whose physical body does not match their gender identity
  • Cisgender: Someone whose physical body and gender identity are congruent from birth
  • Queer: In the past, this term was a derogatory word for gay men and lesbians. It was reclaimed by LGBTQ*activists during the 1980s and used in the slogans of ACT UP and Queer Nation ("We're here, we're queer, get used to it!"). Used as an umbrella term, it is often considered a more inclusive than gay. It is also used by some to represent sexual attraction and/or identity that does not fit within in gender binaries.
  • Intersex: An umbrella term used for several conditions that result in an individual having partially or fully developed sex organs of both genders. While not a dangerous physical condition, it is often treated as a medical emergency, and physicians generally assign a gender to an infant, using surgery and recommending hormonal therapy throughout a lifetime. Frequently, individuals with intersex conditions are not told of their birth status, their surgery, or the cause of resulting medical problems.
  • Asexual: Someone who is not sexually attracted to anyone
  • Pansexual: Someone whose sexual attraction is not limited by sex, gender, or gender identity.
  • Homosexual: In the past, the preferred term used to discuss people who are attracted to the same sex. Now seen by many as derogatory because of the former pathologizing associated with the term.
  • Cross-dressers: Individuals who engage in dressing in traditional or stereotypical clothing of the opposite gender. Some, but not all, crossdressers engage in cross-dressing for erotic stimulation. Cross-dressing may be limited to undergarments only but may require full attire and make-up for erotic effect. Generally, cross-dressers have no intention of changing their biological sex.
  • Drag Queens/Kings: Individuals who cross-dress, often very elaborately and mostly for entertainment purposes, to imitate the opposite sex as closely as possible. The vast majority are gay men whose relationships are typically with more masculine gay or bisexual men. Although some may be transsexuals, most identify with their biological sex. In contrast, male or female impersonators cross-dress for entertainment purposes only and are mostly heterosexual individuals who identify with their biological sex.
  • Homophobia: Irrational fear of LGB individuals or any behavior, belief or attitude of self or others which does not conform to rigid sex and gender-role stereotypes. The extreme form of homophobia is violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons. Sometimes also refers to a heterosexual individual's fear of being thought of as non-heterosexual.
  • Transphobia: Irrational fear of those who are gender variant and/or inability to deal with gender ambiguity
  • Heterosexism: Prejudice against non-heterosexual behavior and identities. Frequently in seen in the assumption that everyone is heterosexual and/or that being heterosexual is "preferred" or "correct." Occurs at the micro and macro level.
  • Internalized Oppression: The process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate myths and stereotypes applied to the group.
  • Ally: Any non-lesbian, non-gay, non-bisexual or non-transgender person whose attitudes and behavior are both anti-homophobic and anti-heterosexist and who works toward combating homophobia and heterosexism on a personal and professional level.
  • In the Closet: Someone who's sexual orientation and/or gender identity is hidden. This is often in order to maintain one's job, housing situation, friends, family support, or in some other way to survive life in a heterosexist culture (e.g., avoid harassment, discrimination, etc.). Many LGBTQ* persons are out in some circumstances, but closeted in others.
  • Coming-Out: To publicly declare and affirm one's sexual orientation to oneself or to others. ("coming out of the closet")
  • Outing: The unwanted intentional or unintentional disclosure of someone's or your own sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
  • Ze/Hir: Pronouns that are gender neutral and preferred by some people. Ze is pronounced /zee/ and replaces "he"/"she." Hir is pronounced /here/ and replaces "his"/"her."

Gay and Lesbian Identity Development

Identity Confusion:

  • "Could I be gay?" Denial and disownment.
    • Possible responses:
      • Avoids information about homosexuality; inhibits behavior; denies homosexuality ("experimenting", "an accident", "just a phase").
      • Men: keep emotional involvement separate from sexual contact.
      • Women: keep relationships non sexual, though strongly emotional.
  • Therapeutic Task:
    • Explore internal positive and negative judgments.
    • Be permitted to be uncertain regarding sexual identity.
    • Find support in knowing that sexual behavior occurs along a spectrum.
    • Receive permission and encouragement to explore several identity as a normal experience (like career identity, social identity).

Identity Comparison:

  • "Maybe this does apply to me." Accepts possibility that he or she may be gay/lesbian/bisexual.
    • Possible responses:
      • Begin to grieve for losses, the things he or she will give up by accepting an LGB identity.
      • Compartmentalizes own sexuality. Accepts "homosexual" definition of behavior but maintains "heterosexual" identity of self.
      • Tells oneself: "It's only temporary"; "I'm just in love with this particular man/woman", etc.
  • Therapeutic Task:
    • Very important that the person develops own definitions.
    • Need information about sexual identity, gay, lesbian, and bisexual community resources.
    • Need encouragement to talk about the loss of heterosexual life-expectations.

Identity Tolerance:

  • "I'm not the only one." Accepts probability of being homosexual and recognizes sexual, social, and emotional needs that go with being gay/lesbian/bisexual.
    • Possible responses:
      • Beginning to have language to talk and think about the issue.
      • Recognition that being gay or lesbian does not preclude other options.
      • Accentuates differences between self and heterosexuals.
      • Seeks out lesbian, gay, bisexual community (positive contact leads to more positive sense of self; negative contact leads to devaluation of the culture). May try out variety of stereotypic roles.
  • Therapeutic Task:
    • Be supportive in exploring client's own shame feelings derived from heterosexism, as well as external heterosexism.
    • Give support in finding positive gay and lesbian community connections.
    • It is particularly important for the counselor to know of community resources.

Identity Acceptance:

  • "I will be OK." Accepts, rather than tolerates, LGB self-image and there is continuing and increased contact with the LGB community.
    • Possible responses:
      • Accepts an LGB self-identification. May compartmentalize "LGB life".
      • Maintains less and less contact with heterosexual community.
      • Attempts to "fit in" and "not make waves" within the LGB community.
      • Begins some selective disclosures of sexual identity.
      • More social coming-out; more comfortable being seen with groups of men or women who are identified as LGB.
      • More realistic evaluation of various situations (job, etc.).
  • Therapeutic Task:
    • Continue exploring grief and loss of heterosexual life expectations.
    • Continue exploring internalized "homophobia" (learned shame from heterosexist society).
    • Find support in making decisions about where, when, and to whom he or she self-discloses.

Identity Pride:

  • "I've got to let people know who I am!" Immerses self in LGB community. Less and less involvement with heterosexual community. "Us vs. Them" quality to political and social viewpoints.
    • Possible responses:
      • Splits world into LGB (good) and "straight" (bad).
      • Experiences disclosure crises with heterosexuals as she or he is less willing to "blend in" or "pass."
      • Identifies LGB community as sole source of support; all LGB friends, business connections, social connections.
  • Therapeutic Task:
    • Receive support for exploring anger issues.
    • Find support for exploring issues of homosexism and heterosexism.
    • Develop skills for coping with reactions and responses to disclosure of sexual identity. Resists being defensive.

Identity Synthesis:

  • Develops holistic view of self. Defines self in more complete fashion, not just in terms of sexual orientation.
    • Possible responses:
      • Continue to be angry at heterosexism, but with decreased intensity.
      • Allows trust of others to increase and build.
      • GLB identity is integrated with all aspects of "self".
      • Feels alright to move out into the community and not simply define space according to sexual orientation.
  • Therapeutic Task:
    • Continue to affirm and support client progress and positive identity development.
    • Explore other facets of identity and their interaction with gay/lesbian/bisexual identity.
    • Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality

Heterosexual Privilege

I have heterosexual privilege if….

  1. I can, if I wish, legally marry my life partner.
  2. I can, if I wish, have public recognition and support for my intimate relationship.
  3. I have and can receive cards or phone calls celebrating my commitment to another person.
  4. I can, if I wish, kiss my partner and show affection on the street without being conscious of what others may think or do to us.
  5. I can, if I wish, easily talk about my relationship with anyone.
  6. I don't have others or myself question my normalcy.
  7. I can, if I wish, show pain and get support when a relationship ends.
  8. I can, if I wish, have children without any questions.
  9. I can, if I wish, be open, without hesitation, about apartment or house hunting with my significant other.
  10. I can, if I wish, choose not to do something if it means others may think it makes me gay or lesbian.
  11. I am validated by my religion.
  12. I am socially accepted by my neighbors without question.
  13. I have accepted paid leave from my employment when my partner was sick or in need of my assistance.
  14. I am comfortable and accepted in my children's school, with my children's teachers and school activities.
  15. I can, if I wish, dress however I want without worrying about what it represents.
  16. I can, if I wish, have in-laws.
  17. Under probate law, I can, if I wish, inherit from my partner/lover/companion.
  18. I can share health, auto and homeowner's insurance policies at reduced rates.
  19. I can, if I wish, be employed as a teacher in a pre-school through high school without fear of being fired any day because I am assumed to corrupt children.
  20. I can, if I wish, raise children without threats of state intervention, without children having to be worried which of their friends might reject them because of their parent's sexuality and culture.
  21. I can and have dated the person I desired in my teenage years.
  22. I don't have to lie about my social activities.
  23. I can, if I wish, work without being identified by my sexuality and culture (e.g., I get to be the farmer, the artist, the professor without being labeled the heterosexual farmer, the heterosexual artist, etc.).
  24. My sexual orientation is represented in the media and I don't feel excluded.
  25. I can, if I wish, share holidays with my lover and families without question or rejection.
  26. I don't have to explain or justify my sexual orientation.
  27. I don't have to be nervous about talking to my family and friends about my sexual orientation.
  28. I don't feel compelled to disprove myths of my own heterosexuality.
  29. I don't have to fear that my sexuality may become a major point in a smear campaign that may affect the custody of my child, the job I want, the house I want to buy, the way I am treated by my neighbors and family.
  30. I automatically have custody of my own children if my partner dies.
  31. I can, if I wish, easily visit my partner/spouse in the case of hospitalization without lying or without question.
  32. I am accepted by society as a heterosexual person, not just tolerated.

Overview of the Transgender World

When we talk about the concept of gender and how that relates to physical sex, we quickly get into very complex territory. The various combinations of gender identity, physical sex and how the individual chooses to express both of these can result in a vast array of transgender individuals. Our tendency as humans is to want to simplify complex phenomena into easily understandable categories or types – this is probably not an accurate way to describe the transgender experience. You will often find an individual who does not fit one of the clean definitions of one of our transgender groups or categories.

That said, I think it can help sometimes to start with a more simple explanation of what it means to be a transgender person – and to know that we are likely going to have to expand our understanding over time.

So, I'm going to give you a basic framework for understanding what it means to be transgender. One way to think about this is to consider two separate and distinct continuums – one being the continuum of physical sex and the other being the continuum of gender identity – in order to conceptualize the transgender experience. When we talk about the continuum of physical sex, we're talking about the internal and external physical characteristics that define us as male or female. For some people, it can be a stretch to consider this a continuum – I mean, doesn't everybody fall into clear categories of male and female? The little known truth is that, no, not everybody has physical characteristics that clearly defines them as male or female. There are a number of medical conditions that result in an individual being “intersexed” – that is, lying somewhere on the continuum between being clearly male or clearly female. We're going to spend some time talking about intersexuality more in depth later. The second continuum that is helpful in understanding the transgender experience is that of gender identity – that is, what is our internal sense of our gender – from the masculine extreme to the feminine extreme. Most people have little difficulty thinking about this continuum – the word “androgynous” is fairly common – and we all can probably think of people – both male and female – who at least display varying levels of masculinity or femininity. Remember, though, that what we observe as masculine or feminine in a person's behavior may or may not be an accurate reflection of their internal sense of gender. While outward expressions of gender identity are certainly important, it is this internal sense of gender identity that helps us understand the transgender experience.

In a nutshell, any individual who does not fall at the extremes of both continuums – that is, a physical male with a masculine gender identity, or a physical female with a feminine gender identity – could be said to fall under the umbrella term of “transgender”. Obviously, this includes a lot of people in lots of different circumstances – the combinations are probably limitless. We have several terms that are meant to help us categorize some of these individuals' experiences – terms such as drag queen, drag king, transvestite, female or male impersonator, she-male, hermaphrodite, transsexual, intersexed, transgenderist, crossdresser. Much of the time, there is little agreement as to what exactly defines each of these terms – there always seems to be individuals that defy any clear-cut category we try to place them in. This is just more evidence that we are talking about a highly complex phenomenon.

The Intersex Condition

Again, we are in pretty murky waters when we try to define exactly what it means to be intersex. Broadly speaking, intersexuality constitutes a range of medical conditions in which an individual's anatomy mixes key masculine anatomy with key feminine anatomy. Sometimes, physicians will use the term “ambiguous genitalia” instead of “intersexuality”, but that begs the question “what should count as ambiguous?” (How small should a baby's penis have to be before it counts as “ambiguous”; or conversely, how large should a baby's clitoris be before it is ambiguous) This is a difficult question. And it doesn't address intersexuality of internal sexual organs or genetic intersexuality, when the external genitalia appear to be clearly male or clearly female.

There is a lengthy list of medical conditions which can result in a child being born as intersex. They vary greatly in how often they occur in the general population. The Intersex Society of North America estimates that in approximately 1 in 100 births, a child's body differs, in some way, from standard male or female. They also estimate that in 1-2 births out of 1,000 the infant receives surgery to normalize their genital appearance. We'll talk about possible effects of these surgeries in a few minutes.

First, I'd like to cover a few of the medical conditions that result in intersexuality – these are conditions that occur a little more frequently than the other, more rare, conditions. There are a several conditions in which the child's genetic make-up is not clearly male (XY) or female (XX).

    • Klinefelter's Syndrome
      You've probably heard of this before – it's not uncommon and occurs in approximately 1 in 500 to 1 in 1,000 births. Instead of the typical, XX or XY chromosome pattern, the child is born with an XXY pattern. The condition is not hereditary and seem to develop in the fetus. The extra X chromosome results in feminizing effects on the body. They are typically seen as boys and are raised as boys. The condition is often not diagnosed until puberty, when expected secondary sexual characteristics don't develop. These individuals are sterile, have enlarged breasts, small testicles & penis, tall in stature with long legs and short trunk, and are often learning disabled. Testosterone therapy seems to help with many of the results of Klinefelter's, with the exception of sterility.
    • Turner's Syndrome (XO)
      These are females that are born without a second X chromosome. 1 in 2,000-2,500 births. Not hereditary. They tend to be short in stature (average height of 4'8” if not treated with growth hormones). They tend to have ovarian failure which results in a lack of development of secondary sex characteristics. 99% are infertile. Hormone replacement therapy can help.
    • Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome
      Occurs in about 1 in 13,000 births. These individuals have a male genetic make-up (XY chromosomes). Testes develop during gestation, while the fetus is developing. These testes produce Mullerian Inhibiting Hormone (MIH) which prevents the development of a uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix. The testes also produce testosterone. However, because cells fail to respond to testosterone, the genitals form in the female, rather than the male, pattern. Newborn infants may have the genitals of a normal female appearance. Occasionally, the testes may be partially descended. There is a short vagina with no cervix. Occasionally, the vagina is nearly absent. At puberty, the estrogen produced by the testes produces breast growth. She does not menstruate and is not fertile. Most AIS women have no pubic or underarm hair.
      When AIS is diagnosed during infancy, physicians often perform surgery to remove the undescended testes. Vaginoplasty surgery is frequently performed on AIS infants or girls to increase the size of the vagina. Most AIS women who received surgery as a child state that they would have preferred that they had been given the choice when they were old enough to understand the surgery. Not all AIS women choose surgery. There are non-surgical options to increase the size of the vagina.Because AIS is a genetic defect located on the X chromosome, it runs in families. The mother of an AIS individual is a carrier, and her XY children have a 50% chance of having AIS. Her XX children have a 50% chance of carrying the AIS gene.

AIS women tend to have a feminine gender identity.

  • Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
    Occurs in both males and females. Occurs in about 1 in 13,000 births. In females (with an XX chromosome make-up), hypersecretions of steroid hormone from the adrenal gland causes masculinization of the external genitalia of the female fetus. Affected infants can have mixed genitalia. Internal female organs are intact. Many of these children receive “corrective” surgery during infancy. If the child is raised as male, following any "adjusting" surgery and given male hormones at puberty, the individual develops as a "normal" but sterile male with XX chromosomes. On the other hand, if the infant is surgically corrected to female and given female hormones, there is a 50/50 chance of transsexualism. So – this is more evidence that gender identity may be greatly influenced by hormones during development in the womb (rather than by chromosomal make-up).
  • Corrective Surgery This "correction" is the source of much unhappiness – most advocates for intersexed individuals promote not performing any corrective surgeries on children and raising them as either as a boy or girl following consultation with medical professionals who are familiar with intersexed conditions. But the parents should watch for signs of gender expression in the child, not attempt to suppress these expressions if they don't fit with the gender they are being raised as, and when the adolescent is old enough to understand their condition, they should be informed and given the choice whether or not to proceed with surgery if an incongruity between physical sex and gender identity exists.
    I don't envy the parents of children who are intersexed – it is challenging in our society to provide a child with gender-neutral support and to possibly need to adjust parenting strategies to fit with the developing gender identity of the child.

Choosing a LGBTQ*-Affirming Therapist

Adapted from Bernice Goodman, "Out of the Therapist Closet," in Hilda Hidalgo & Travis Peterson (Eds). NASW Resource Manual on Gay and Lesbian Issues

  • What extent of knowledge does the therapist have about LGBTQ*
  • How long has the therapist been working with LGBTQ* clients? How many LGBTQ* clients has the therapist worked with?
  • What type of training does the therapist have in working with LGBTQ* clients?
  • How much understanding and knowledge does the therapist have about racism, sexism, and homophobia/biphobia in society?
  • What is the therapist's knowledge of and commitment to issues of diversity among LGBTQ* persons and culture?
  • Can the therapist constructively challenge self-oppressive attitudes and internal biases with clients and also help to create and support new, healthy ways of being?
  • Is the therapist a visible part of the LGBTQ* community?
  • What feelings do you have of this person? Is there a feeling of trust and safety? Would you feel comfortable in participating in therapy with this person?
  • Does this therapist understand the effects of institutional homophobia, biphobia, and heterosexism upon LGBTQ* people?
  • Can this therapist recognize the differences between appropriate behavioral responses related to societal oppression and the unique psychological difficulties that a LGBTQ* person may be experiencing?
  • How well does the therapist acknowledge the impact of socially defined gender roles on an LGBTQ* individual's sense of self?

For more information about TTU Allies program, or for any questions related to the information on this page, please contact our Allies coordinator Jody Randall

Student Counseling Center