Sept. 16, 2021
How to turn allyship into action: Listen, validate and include others
While Calgary Pride Week has wrapped up its celebrations for the year, the University of Calgary continues to make strides toward promoting equity across the community.
For Carla Bertsch, BA’08, co-ordinator, sexual and gender-based violence support with the Wellness Centre, as a queer woman, Calgary Pride Week is a time to celebrate — but it is just as important to maintain momentum in advancing equity.
“We must continue to raise awareness on the issues we face, and we want to highlight that we’re not the painted stereotypes and constructs that have been built by heteronormative societies,” she says. “We’re your friends, family members, teachers and everyday people.”
Building an inclusive space
Establishing a safe and inclusive place for marginalized communities at the university is vital to ensure students, staff and academics can succeed. “If our members don’t have a safe place on campus, this can lead to transferring programs, schools or leaving — and, ultimately, we are overlooking their important contributions in our programs,” Bertsch says.
First-year students in the queer community, in particular, see post-secondary education as a fresh start. “We want to create a safe environment for students, especially for those who faced discrimination in high school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” says Bertsch. “UCalgary can be a new experience for them, but we can’t learn and be creative if we’re living in fear.”
All it really takes, according to Bertsch, is another person to listen, validate and include others. “If they have a supportive community and sense of commonality, students can really thrive in this environment,” she says.
Turning allyship into action
Actions speak louder than words. “Speaking up when you witness discrimination and checking in on your LGBTQ2S+ colleagues can help create a safer environment,” says Bertsch.
At UCalgary, shifting discussions on the label of allyship into action is critical. She adds: “Supporting the research done, helping LGBTQ2S+ colleagues navigate academic institutions, and bolstering queer education by listening to queer voices are just three ways to show support for the community within a post-secondary institution.”
Bertsch also notes that small considerations can make big differences such as mindful and inclusive language, and using privilege to amplify the voices of marginalized friends and family members helps promote visibility and validation.
Though Pride Week is a time for celebration for the queer community, there is more to being an ally for the LGBTQ2S+ community that goes beyond Pride parades and rainbow flags. "Allyship is not a one-time affair,” says Bertsch, who reminds allies about the ongoing work that goes into supporting the queer community. “Allyship cannot be self-proclaimed. The queer community decides when someone is an ally, which is often dependent on your commitment to show up.”
Carla Bertsch is co-ordinator, sexual and gender-based violence support with the Wellness Centre. As a registered social worker with professional experience in domestic and sexual violence, education, and mental health, she brings an intersectional, trauma-informed perspective to her role championing the needs and rights of anyone impacted by sexual and gender-based violence. Whether she’s providing confidential consultation, advocating for accommodations and rights, or just being there to listen, Bertsch promises a safe space where people of all genders, sexualities and backgrounds can find the support they need.