Ally Development

Strategies for Being a Safe Zone Ally


  • The most important strategy for an Ally is to listen without judgment and with compassion.

Don’t Make Assumptions

  • Don’t assume that the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person is the most important aspect of that person, or the only topic they want to discuss. Remember that everyone is a multifaceted individual whose sexuality is only one aspect of their total life.
  • Don’t assume that all unmarried people are single or have relationships or desire relationships with individuals of the “opposite” gender/sex.
  • Don’t assume all mothers and fathers are heterosexuals or that children live in families consisting of a male-female couple.

Be Aware of Your Language

  • Use inclusive terms such as “partner,” “significant other,” or “date” instead of “spouse,” “wife,” “husband,” “boyfriend,” or “girlfriend.”
  • Use inclusive terms such as “committed relationship” instead of “marriage.”
  • Use terms that are gender neutral and don’t assume the sex/gender of someone’s partner, such as “person,” “someone,” or “anyone.”
  • Use preferred pronouns including gender neutral pronouns such as “zi/hir” or the singular “they.”

Be Aware of Your Own Bias

  • Be an Ally 100% of the time, no deals, no strings attached.
  • Recognize that it will take some time to bridge communication gaps and develop an understanding of the experiences of people with different sexual orientations and gender identities from your own.
  • You don’t have to try and convince individuals that you are “on their side,” just be there for them.
  • Confront jokes and slurs: silence may communicate that you condone the prejudicial behavior.

Return to Top

What Can I Do? Ideas for Allies

  • Do not assume that everyone you meet is heterosexual/cisgender.
  • Refuse to tolerate anti-LGBTQ comments, attitudes, remarks, or jokes.
  • If you want to know something about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, go to that person directly and ask in an appropriate manner and setting.
  • Refuse to propagate rumors.
  • Report all harassment or discriminatory behavior to the appropriate officials.
  • Respect confidentiality at all times. It is imperative that you can be trusted.
  • Display positive materials in support of the LGBTQ community (flyers for activities, posters, cards, Safe Zone Placard, etc.)
  • Use inclusive, non-gender specific language that does not assume the heterosexuality of others.
  • Educate yourself on issues and concerns of the LGBTQ community and take the initiative to obtain accurate information.
  • Keep everything in balance. Don’t assume that being LGBTQ doesn’t matter or that it is the only thing that does matter. While it is true that being LGBTQ a large part of an individual’s identity, it may not be the most important to them. In other words, being LGBTQ may not be that important to them. On the other hand, remember that being LGBTQ is not being “the same as everyone else” and that there are significant differences between LGBTQ individuals and heterosexual/cisgender individuals.
  • Know your own biases and fears. Know what you are comfortable talking about and be comfortable enough to refer individuals to others when necessary. In addition know your limits. Know when it is necessary to refer an individual to an “expert” who can assist them better.
  • Remember that just because an individual is LGBTQ does not mean that is their sole identity or issue. In other words, “not everything is about being gay.” There will be times when an individual is dealing with other areas of their identity: their socio-economic status, their religion/faith, their race, or their ethnicity. It is important to be culturally competent across the board to better serve this community.

Return to Top

Risks/Benefits to Being a Safe Zone Ally

Some Risks of Being an Ally:

  • Others may speculate about your own sexual orientation or gender identity. You may be labeled as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (“by association”). This may be uncomfortable for you.
  • You may become the subject of gossip or rumors.  You may be criticized or ridiculed by others who do not agree with you or who view the issue as unimportant or unpopular.
  • You may experience alienation from friends or colleagues who are not comfortable with the topics of sexual orientation or gender identity. These people may distance themselves from you in order to avoid conflict or labels.
  • Your values, your morality, and your personal character may be questioned by people who believe homosexuality is wrong, sinful, against family values, etc.
  • You may become the target of overt or subtle discrimination, such as being excluded from certain activities or a negative reflection on an employee evaluation.
  • People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender may not accept you right away.  Due to some past negative experiences with heterosexuals/cisgenders, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender may not trust you and may question your motivation.

Some Benefits of Being an Ally:

  • You learn more accurate information about the reality of being part of the LGBTQ population.
  • You learn more about how values and beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity impact your own and others’ lives.
  • You open yourself up to the possibility of closer relationships with a wider range of people. You increase your ability to have close relationships with same-sex friends.
  • You become less locked into gender roles, gender expectations, and stereotypes.
  • You have opportunities to learn from, teach, and have impact on an often marginalized population, which you may not have otherwise interacted with.
  • You empower yourself to take an active role in creating a more accepting world by countering prejudice and discrimination with understanding, support, and caring.
  • You may be a role model for others. Your actions may influence others and help them find the inner resources to speak and act in support of this population.
  • You may have opportunities to share with others what you have learned, and have a positive impact on the climate in your school or workplace or the attitudes of your family or friends.
  • You may make a difference in the lives of young people who hear you confront derogatory language or speak supportively of this population. As a result of your action, they may feel they have a friend instead of turning to alcohol, drugs, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms, including suicide.

Return to Top

Coming Out as an Ally

Allies often find that they must go through a similar process as their LGBTQ friends, peers, students, etc. The process looks slightly different, but can be very similar in many ways. There is a process that Allies go through to fully realize their status as an ally for this population. Allies “come out” to themselves, to others, and can often be met with similar disdain, distrust, and disassociation from their friends, family, peers, coworkers, etc. Below is some basic information about this process:

Coming Out to Yourself:

It is extremely important for Allies to “come out” to themselves. This is simply a realization that you desire to help this population (LGBTQ). If you have already gone through the Safe Zone Ally training then you have already taken this first step.

Coming Out to Others:

After you realize that you want to be an Ally and possibly after you go through the Safe Zone training, now you may wish to “come out” to others. This process simply notifies those around you (your co-workers, peers, students, and supervisor) that you are a Safe Zone Ally. Here are some possible things you may do to “come out” to others:

  • Post the Safe Zone Ally placard in your office/classroom
  • Share information on how to become a Safe Zone Ally
  • Interrupt jokes and derogatory comments about the LGBTQ population
  • Work with and provide services to LGBTQ students
  • Attend programs geared at educating the public on LGBTQ students

Safety Considerations:

Remember that not everyone at UNC Charlotte or who visits UNC Charlotte is fully supportive of the Safe Zone Program; therefore, it is important to remember your own safety when becoming an Ally and then when “coming out” as an Ally.

As a result, there are some questions to be answered regarding your safety:

  • Is your office/department accepting of the Safe Zone Program?
  • Will you lose your job, a promotion, or incentives by becoming a Safe Zone Ally?
  • Are the students you work with receptive to the Safe Zone Program?

Are you comfortable with the risks associated with being a Safe Zone Ally?

Return to Top

Ten Steps to Making a Referral

  1. Listen to the Student
    When dealing with any student, it is always important to listen. Listening without judgment, without bias, yet with compassion and understanding is the cornerstone of the Safe Zone Ally Program. This step may take a long time and may not all occur in one sitting. Be sure to listen for clues and realize it may take some time for a student to come forward with troubling information.
  1. Identify the Issue/Concern
    Once you and the student feel you can identify the root cause of an issue/concern, then be sure to identify it. Identifying an issue or concern can be an arduous conversation, but is essential in assisting the student. It may be helpful to make a written list of all issues/concerns to assist the student in prioritizing their needs/wants.
  1. Identify Resources Available
    After identifying the issue/concern now you must identify what resources are available to assist the student. Please remember that the purpose of being an Ally is not to be an expert in everything and to “save” a student; the purpose is to guide the student to the experts that are available. Please feel free to utilize the resources suggested in your manual.
  1. Discuss Resources with Student
    After identifying the resource it will be important to explain the role of the resource. Students are often oblivious to the opportunities around them and are unsure about what campus resources actually offer. For example they may have heard of “tutoring programs” but are unsure of where those programs are housed. Remember you do not have to refer students to other Safe Zone Allies, and there may be occasions when there are no Safe Zone Allies in the desired offices.
  1. Give a “How To” for Contacting the Resource/s
    Often students are unsure of how to approach different resources. It may be helpful to give the student information beyond simple phone number, website, or campus location. Whenever possible refer a student directly to an individual and not just a department or an office. As stated above you may be referring a student to a non-Safe Zone Ally. In those cases it may be beneficial to discuss what information is “necessary” to share and what information can be kept from the resource. Remember the ultimate goal is to assist the student.
  1. Outline an Action Plan
    It is important that the student creates an action plan, with your assistance, which will serve as their guide to working through their issue/concern. This action plan should be as specific as possible. Dates and deadlines can often be helpful to students because it provides accountability. In fact the entire purpose of an action plan is to hold the student accountable for taking the necessary steps to help themselves.
  1. Discuss Potential Outcomes of Plan
    Once the Action Plan is developed, it is important to clarify what are the potential outcomes with utilizing the campus resource you are referring them to. This discussion should focus on reviewing the issue/concern and how the student wants to “fix” that issue/concern. This is basically a discussion of “what could happen” and it can provide “buy in” for the student to appreciate the resource. Ultimately this is a “check” to ensure the student is receiving the appropriate help.
  1. Review Action Plan
    Reviewing an Action Plan is important and it really provides a good opportunity to “sum up” the conversation you have had with the student. This is also a way to review the responsibilities now placed on the student within the Action Plan.
  1. Contact the Resource
    It is sometimes helpful to lay the groundwork for a student by personally making contact with the resource you are referring them to. Never disclose information about a student that the student is not comfortable sharing. In addition always tell a student your intentions to contact a resource. It is important to keep the student in the “loop” about your contact so they feel you can be trusted with their private information.
  1. Follow Up with Student
    Follow up is often the piece the majority of people forget. We have a great conversation with a student, provide them with resources, even develop an action plan, but we rarely check back in with the student. Follow up can take on many different forms: an email, a phone call, another meeting, etc. But the most important piece of any referral is following up with the student to ensure they have gotten the assistance they need. Following up often takes more than one contact, but is an integral part of the referral process.

Return to Top