My Allyship Workshop: The Unlearnings

My Allyship Workshop: The Unlearnings

Gunjan Pant Pande

Serendipity. That is the only way I can think of describing the eye-opening journey I took last year quite by chance. 

Let me elaborate. The pandemic as you know had taken a physical and mental toll on everyone, including me and on top of that I was to be an empty-nester. My panic level understandably was quite high.

One coping mechanism that immediately occurred to me then was why not I too enroll as a student, just like my son, and study a subject I’ve aways wanted to explore. 

Yes, studying had always been part of my bucket list so this was the perfect moment. And thus began my exploration of “Feminist Leadership and Justice” – a subject close to my heart, an integral part of which was re-learning the concept of ‘LGBTQ Allyship’. 

Ally is good

According to a magazine article, “each year selects a word which sums up the year in a succinct and concise way. 2020’s word was ‘pandemic’ and this year (2021), their word of the year is ‘allyship’.” What a beautiful coincidence, a coincidence that went on to change my perspective of privilege, power, consent, charity, community care and gender justice, especially in relation to the LGBTQIA+ group. 

A dictionary of psychology that I often read states that “our needs according to Maslow are what motivate us to do things, to fulfil our purpose in life. How well we succeed in satisfying those needs determines how we feel about ourselves and affects our outlook of the world.” In this hierarchy of needs the desire for self-actualisation is ranked highest and that probably prods us to constantly try and make this world a better place through positive change. Here ‘allyship’ plays a critical role as a catalyst for that very change.  

What is allyship then?

It is the “active support for the rights of a minority or marginalised group without being a member of it. An ally is often defined as someone who is not a member of a marginalised group but wants to support and take action to help others in that group. Allyship is crucial for inclusion and equality.” 

Talking to Vogue, Oscar winner and LGBTQIA+ change maker Ariana DeBose added, “I am aware of the importance of allyship right now… historically anytime we’ve made gains as a community is because we’ve had the support of others.” Actor-singer Cynthia Erivo went on to stress that “people who want to help but don’t know what to do need to find their queer family and sit and chat with them.” 

However, I learned that one of the side effects of trying to ‘help’ others can be the Saviour Complex, which one needs to understand and steer clear of. Academically this white knight syndrome is “a psychological construct, which makes a person feel the need to save other people.  This person has a strong tendency to seek people who desperately need help and to assist them, often sacrificing their own needs for these people. The underlying belief of these individuals is: it is the noble thing to do.”

Learning and growing

I was introduced to a more participatory allyship model that catered to continuous growth and an exchange of learning. A model that propagated authenticity, ownership, shared power, individuality, and an open-learning approach that could reimagine power distribution in society. 

Yet another essential component here was ‘consent’. Yes, allyship needed consent. You don’t just barge into another life just because you aim to ‘help’. The trust has to be built and the respect has to be earned before ‘consent’ to ally is given.

The emphasis was on a participative transformational model committed to new ideas and creativity through constant self-reflection, especially in relation to privilege and intersectionality. 

The acknowledging of the many facets of one’s identity and the fact that these may overlap so that we understand the overlapping systems of discrimination in society to map personal interactions was the basis of smashing stereotypes. 

Becoming an ally

So, in a nutshell what makes a good ally?

To begin with, one who can challenge her own behaviours and beliefs through self-awareness. One who can dismantle biases and forge accountable collaborations by ensuring basic safety and freedom of expression.

Before you begin your journey of allyship it is essential to think about the ‘purpose’ so that the other 3 Ps – people, power and process are better aligned otherwise its just charity and philanthropy regarded today as “tools of capitalism” and not mutual aid that stresses on collective solidarity. 

The very first criteria, therefore, to become an ally is to de-condition the mind and “not be afraid to start over again because this time you do not start from scratch but from experience.” Because “allyship born out of heroism not altruism will ultimately be performative and harmful,” as author Jamie Arpin Ricci rightly points out.


Being an ally is “to accept the flawed dynamics that make for inequality,” and this can only be done if you are self-aware, compassionate, ready to speak up against injustice, committed, willing to share the spotlight, able to face the reality and seriously listen. 

Otherwise, it’s probably Slactivism – the other scourge to beware of. Slactivism aka “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterised as involving very little effort or commitment.”

Model Cara Delevingne says, “Trans rights, women’s rights they are all human rights!” In that respect, are we as allies ready to understand the matrix of domination and oppression with a new perspective which will then transform into real social justice? After all, as one of my favourite quotes by Fannie Lou Hamer underlines, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”