The ‘dos and don’ts’ of supporting a marginalised group

On any other day it will make all the sense in the world to simply say, “Support marginalised groups,” and leave it at that.

It is a simple enough ask to make of decent people because it is clear on two things – that these people are treated as insignificant or peripheral and that we could help change that by using our platforms to amplify their reality and demand for better for them and ultimately for posterity. Does that sound like something you could get behind?

Today is however not any other day, nor is this month – June; a month celebrated almost universally as LGBT+ Pride month – any other month. Yet today has been made an even more unique day thanks to an essay by a renowned author that has ignited anew the discussion about what it means to support marginalised groups – in this case trans women.

Is it enough to say, “I support trans rights,” while also using one’s platform to ‘other’ transness as something peculiar that must remain ‘othered’ to gain space in our activism? There is a clinical discussion that can be had in highly intellectual spaces about how best to handle this seeming conundrum in a way that it doesn’t further empower bigots. Our focus here is what trans women living in Nigeria think.

Here is how to support a marginalised group so you never have to write long reflective pieces peppered with declarations about how you support said marginalised group. More often than not, when you walk the talk you don’t need to repeat the talk because you walk would have left indelible marks no one can dispute.

  • Listen

This is tricky because of how used we have become so used to chasing after life in a race to catch up with technology, we struggle with responsibilities that require we repeat them over and over again. Think about it this way however, you may have to listen your whole life so posterity can pick up where you left off, but to achieve this you have to be intentional with passing across what you learn.

The thing about listening is that you may discover soon enough that you have been messing up big time for a while. Resist the urge to become defensive. When listening is the hardest thing to do; is usually when it is the most useful.

Sandra (not real name) has seen this play out before with a friend.

“She said some really hurtful things about gender dysphoria being a choice trans people make and so the onus is on us to take whatever treatment we get from people who refuse to ‘walk around eggshells because of that choice’ I am quoting her,” she said about her now estranged friend, “she later apologised for hurting me but there was no acknowledgment of the fault in her position and how it enables violence against trans people. No accountability.”

You are bound to mess up. Acknowledge when you are told you have messed up and do better moving forward.

  • Educate others with your education

As you learn about the marginalisation of the group you seek to support, spread that knowledge farther afield. Influence your friend groups and gently correct acquaintance when they do/say things that give credence to continued mistreatment of said group.

Teach your children about the humanity of said group, teach them about treating everyone with equal dignity. Pass the torch.

  • Advocate

With your time, words, action and funds.

Somi, a nonbinary trans woman living in Lagos thinks many of the people who most like to say “I support trans rights,” can do so much more materially.

“Many trans women are in the streets, many survive through sex work. Create opportunities for trans women, provide shelter, there is so much you can do materially if you care at all.”

If it is possible to organise and be on the frontline agitating for change in the bad treatment of a marginalised group you claim to support, go all out. March with them. Use your platform to amplify their voice. Insist on their seat at the table so they can speak for themselves – get out of the way when you must.

  • Ask what you can do

And do nothing if that is what you are asked to do. You may not know how what you do will hurt this group, asking ensures you don’t unintentionally cause harm with good intentions.

There is a way this can be invasive for many trans folk whose bodies are under public scrutiny all their lives, Sandra thinks the solution is to only ask people who you already have a very good relationship with.

“Some people may not feel the need to be your personal human encyclopedia, so use Google if you sense your asking is making someone uncomfortable,” she said, “we are all learning so even someone with the lived experience may not have the language for what they have gone or are going through.”

Whatever you do, do not publish a piece in Pride month that can be weaponised against any subgroup of the LGBT+ community. Nothing says I am a villain quite like that.

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