Is it better to be an ally or an advocate?

Is it better to be an ally or an advocate?

by Suswati Basu

It’s LGBT UK History Month and Black History Month in the US, so learning to be a good ally is crucial. But do we need to be more than just an ally? Or is it enough?  

Author Ta Nehisi Coates says: “I don’t know that white people need to be ‘allies’ so much as understand that any black struggle in America is ultimately a struggle for the large country. ‘Ally’ presumes a kind of distance that I am not sure exists.”

So how do we be the best advocate that can be?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Amazin Lethi, a global Vietnamese LGBTQ+ sports and human rights advocate and thought leader. Here is the full interview:

Rachel Lambert, Managing Director of StudyFlex.

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Writer and speaker Ijeoma Oluo at Google in 2019:

Books looked at this week:

Ijeoma Oluo: So You Want to Talk About Race

Dr David M. Hall: Allies at Work: Creating a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Inclusive Work Environment

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.


Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to the eleventh episode of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

It’s LGBT UK History Month and Black History Month in the US, so learning to be a good ally or an advocate to our brothers and sisters is very important. After last year, I definitely had a lot of discussions with South Asian groups about where we could be better at addressing colourism within our own communities, but I felt I could help more.

So how to do we become better advocates or allies for people from a protected status?

I spoke to the amazing Amazin Lethi, a global Vietnamese LGBTQ+ sports and human rights advocate and thought leader. Being adopted from Ho Chi Minh City to an Australian family, she faced a lot of adversity and it was because of this she went into bodybuilding at the tender age of 6, and then onto become a competitive bodybuilder in her teens.

And from homelessness to speaking to the United Nations, Google, and even being part of the first White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Asian anti-bullying campaign ‘Act to Change’, Amazin is going from strength to strength with her new foundation to be launched this year.

Here she is speaking about allyship, but find the full interview on


The first book we’re looking at is So You Want to Talk About Race by writer and speaker Ijeoma Oluo, which explores the complex system of racism in the US, from police brutality to cultural appropriation. Here she is at Google in 2019.


Before we continue, it’s helpful to establish a clear definition of racism. Oluo explains one definition as: “any prejudice against someone because of their race, when those views are reinforced by systems of power.”

She talks about how racism is inextricably woven into and reinforced by these very systems of power. After getting fed up of arguing against how working class white men were being excluded from the conversation, she says the truth is race is one of the largest variables determining your success in the US.

After understanding this, she says having uncomfortable conversations about race is a necessary first step toward progress. Here are some guidelines for how to approach the conversation:

First, state your intentions. That way, the other person can decide right away if this is a conversation they want to have.

Second, do your research. The onus is not on people of color to educate you on things a quick Google search could tell you. 

Third, if you start feeling defensive, pause and ask yourself, “Has my priority shifted to protecting my ego?” Finally, don’t police your conversation partner’s tone.

She says these conversations will go wrong sometimes, but don’t try to force a resolution. Apologize, step away, and consider whether it’s possible to revisit the conversation in a productive way later.

Very importantly she tells us to check our privilege. Checking your privilege means questioning when you receive benefits denied to others, even if that means giving up those benefits. It requires you to stop and consider not only how your perspective and actions have been shaped by the advantages you’ve had in life, but also the struggles you’ve avoided. the reason we must examine our privilege and adopt intersectionality is to stop personally perpetuating oppression.

As allies or advocates, we must believe that Black people and people of color are not fabricating their experiences with the police – and then demand justice and real change.

Systemic change is the only way to ensure that people of color don’t need to “beat the odds” in order to thrive. One of the ways we can tackle this is through affirmative action which seeks to increase recruitment efforts for these demographics to readdress the imbalance caused by slavery and the Jim Crow laws.

She also tells us to start talking to schools and school boards to check whether their policies are disproportionately affecting Black and other minorities. Demanding a more inclusive curriculum that does not penalise students of colour is key.

The n-word, cultural appropriation, and microaggressions are all tools of oppression. The cumulative impact of microaggressions can be severe. If you’re the person being called out, pause and consider why you took that action. Apologize – even if you don’t fully understand how you were offensive. Then do your research to find out why. And finally, advocate and definitely take action.

The next book is by Dr David M. Hall. Allies at Work: Creating a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Inclusive Work Environment.

Dr. Hall began his lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy work while he was just a teenager.

It was after learning in his high school human sexuality class about the historical treatment of the LGBT community that he was struck with the urgency to become a straight ally, even if he did not know anyone at the time who would benefit from his work.

Here is Dr Hall in his own words from his channel.


Out & Equal Workplace Advocates partners with Hall on the book, which details the importance of LGBT allies in shaping workplace climates, the business case for developing a strong ally program at work, and the cultural competencies required to understand the impact of living in the closet.

In Allies at Work, Hall provides the framework for teaching what he calls “cultural competency,” which is the removal of all assumption and enforcement of heterosexuality in the workplace, creating environments in which everyone is equal.

Dr Hall says diversity and inclusion language is fluid. The norms and rules will change, so it is valuable to have ongoing communication. He adds do not let one person speak for an entire group. Communicate about communication. Ask people what they prefer. Share with them what you know about the topic. Stress to others the power of language.

Divisive social issues should have no impact on the workplace or anywhere to be fair. Creating an equitable environment requires extensive and ongoing work. He also refers to the five Ps to ensure workplace equity which are Protection, Progress, Procurement, Pride, and  Productivity.

A primary objective for any corporation is to maximize productivity. But the base of a productive workforce originates from nondiscrimination policies and equal benefits which falls under Protection. The next step is Progress, which is the goal of gradual or even rapid betterment for the corporation. Progress leads to confidence in the workplace and a greater capacity for Procurement of the most talented workforce.

Dr Hall says if someone is in the process of coming out let people know that you can be part of their support network. He adds that the quality of a true ally looks like this:

1. Accept everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

2. Be passionate in advocating for an equitable environment.

3. Possess a strong sense of self.

4. Be culturally competent in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

5. Possess a clear understanding of the legacy of heterosexism and homophobia.

6. Demonstrate model behavior and attitudes through your everyday words and actions.

7. Be well trained and committed to personal growth.

These are incredibly complex subjects and require constant dialogue with the people facing these challenges everyday and there were numerous books that could be looked as well.

Some other books I really liked was Renni Eddo Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, as well as Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America by Mitchell Gold and Mindy Drucker, and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterston.

But to sum up our two books today:

Oluo says talking about race is only the first step in the fight for justice. Listen, examine your racism, check your privilege, practice intersectionality, and challenge the systems that keep people oppressed. Advocate for diversity and inclusivity and, finally, take action by lobbying schools and boards.

Dr Hall says make a point of using inclusive words such as “partner” or “spouse” that do not assume that everyone with whom you are speaking is in a heterosexual relationship. Stay up-to-date on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Talk with your peers about the things that you could do in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. Attend ongoing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender diversity training, events and programs. Listen for—and avoid—making assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Correct anti-gay jokes or slurs. Correct the use of the word “gay” when it is used in a derogatory way. Don’t stay silent.

I hope to be a better advocate as Amazin says and not just an ally. From the author Ta Nehisi Coates: “I don’t know that white people need to be ‘allies’ so much as understand that any black struggle in America is ultimately a struggle for the large country. ‘Ally’ presumes a kind of distance that I am not sure exists.” And I believe that, if one person is affected, then we all are.

I’ll leave you with Rachel Lambert, Managing Director of Studyflex who holds work trainings on allyship. And if you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe!


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