I went to Fair Day today – a celebration of all things LGBTI, Queer and wonderful. I don’t do many specific LGBTQIA+ social things so it was a really nice thing to do. I was with my friend Verity who is a wonderful ally on many different counts. We got to the venue for Fair Day and there was no parking so we drove around looking for a park. We found a quiet street where people had parked on nature strips and found a shady spot on the roadside. We weren’t encroaching on anyone’s driveway or really bothering anyone. As we got up to walk to the event an older man who was evidently very angry came and yelled at us for parking there. Belonging to a number of diversity groups as I do, I was pretty certain that my rainbow shirt and Pride badge were more the problem for him than the parking spot we selected. We were about to get in the car and get out of there and the cranky man’s neighbour said very emphatically ‘You can park in my driveway.’ She had a big driveway and there was another car full of people evidently going to Fair Day parked next to us. The woman said ‘This day is about friendship!’ and she and my friend hugged. It was a beautiful counter to a horrible exchange with someone who I am pretty certain was a nasty bigot. The woman who so gladly offered us a spot in her driveway demonstrated a beautiful, genuine alliance in the face of bigotry. This exchange prompted this post about allies.
There are different sorts of allies, but in this piece I will look at allies in the autism community.
The friend I was with today is also an ally. In fact I know a bunch of them. You can tell they are great allies because they actually listen to and respect autistic people. I think the best test of an ally is how they view themselves. If they feel that they are NOT much of an ally and it seems to be a good indication that their heart is in fact in the right place.
So what makes a good ally? In my understanding, a good, genuine ally:
- Listens to autistic people as a matter of course
- Bases their decisions (which impact on autistic people in their life) on listening to autistic people
- Recognises that the role of ally is always going to be a support role not a leading role
- Encourages and supports autistic people to take the lead
- Asks and doesn’t assume
- Wants to build their autism knowledge and listens to autistic people without getting defensive in order to do so
- Will challenge ableist views
- Sees autistic people as equal, valued and worthy
- Is a genuine friend and supporter to autistic people
- Doesn’t make it all about them
- Respects that autistic people are the experts on being autistic.
And what makes a poor ally? In my experience an ally who is not genuine or helpful often does one or more of these things:
- Drives their own agenda regardless of the needs or wishes of autistic people
- Takes credit for autistic people’s work and ideas
- Promotes themselves as an ally
- Is condescending
- Thinks it is all about them
- Doesn’t listen to autistic people and acts on the basis of not listening
- Discounts or totally ignores autistic perspectives on harmful therapies (e.g. ABA) and mindsets
- Sees their role as ‘doing for’ or speaking on behalf of autistic people
- Is untrustworthy
- Denigrates and belittles autistic people, such as telling cruel jokes or being exclusionary
- Uses their involvement with autistics as a means to a goal (such as career advancement)
I have come across both kinds of ally. I actually don’t think the second list describes allies. There can be an issue where people use the guise of alliance with autistic people as a means to an end – so basically they are using us. It can be very confusing trying to work out who is genuine and who isn’t. Another issue is that of nuance as some people fit a little bit in both camps. I am a very positive Jeanette and like to try to steer those people further into the camp of genuine alliance but it doesn’t always work that way sadly. I can usually pick the genuine allies because I want to spend time with them.
Genuine allies can make a world of difference in our lives. We need more of them! I hope that the information in this post will help both autistic people and aspiring allies understand what a positive and respectful alliance can look like.
Just a picture of me being me 🙂