Authenticity in Allyship

by / Monday, 26 June 2023 / Published in Uncategorized

Authored By: Jim Kinsey

Here we are at the end of Pride month! I hope that each of you found time to celebrate the community and yourselves! Pride month is such an important moment each year. It provides opportunities to celebrate, and to reflect on the history of the LGBTQ+ community and find joy in the advancements that have been accomplished. Pride is also a time to discuss what allyship is and, more importantly, what it is not. However, before we dive in, I want to be clear that allyship is not exclusive to the LGBTQ+ community. Allyship has a place in supporting all disenfranchised groups.

Allyship can be described as an association with the members of a marginalized or mistreated group to which one does not belong. (Websters, 2023) The key to authentic allyship is in the action that is taken, the support provided, and extending that support consistently. But unfortunately, not all allyships are authentic.

Performative allyship is “the act of outwardly demonstrating support of a cause without implementing meaningful actions behind the scenes.” (Crescendo, 2023) . Unfortunately, performative allyship is more prevalent than ever today. Forbes Magazine spotlighted this trend, and its risk, in an article published in April of 2022. Social causes have become commercialized due to the reach of social media, and some corporations are using these times of celebration as an opportunity to drive profit rather than to drive sustainable change through action. This is, by definition, performative allyship. The act of performative allyship comes with negative outcomes. It dilutes the importance of the issue by implying it can be resolved with a slogan or a sign. It may also give the disenfranchised person/group a false sense of having support if once the spotlight is removed, the allyship ends.

During Pride, for example, the concept of rainbow washing is widely discussed. This is the application of rainbows on products, social media, etc. without participating in supporting the LGBTQ+ community through action throughout the other 11 months of the year. As the LGBTQ+ community experiences threats of violence, laws that seek to remove rights, and challenges to how the community members can express themselves in public, now more than ever we need to provide much more than performative allyship.

Healthcare organizations have an opportunity to be genuine allies by acting beyond Pride month and providing support to those they care for and those who work within their organizations. This support must extend beyond a singular month of celebration. Allyship is an enduring demonstration of support, not a seasonal one. Without this ongoing support, disenfranchised groups are left with a sense of fear that they are not truly accepted, and may be othered within a healthcare setting.

What can we, as leaders in person-centered healthcare, do to showcase true and sincere allyship? The first (and most important) step is to demonstrate allyship through experience taking, by supporting gender identity, providing gender affirming healthcare, and creating affinity groups for staff and community members to explore the impact healthcare has on their experience and contribute to improvement. This support must go beyond a slogan, sign, or words on paper. It needs to be shown through action, sustainable change, and creating a culture of inclusion and belonging.

One powerful way to show support is through the creation and support of affinity groups. Florida University defines an affinity group as voluntary associations comprised of staff (and patients) who have common interests. They play a vital role in articulating, promoting, and supporting the needs and goals of their various communities and organizations. Affinity groups are essential in building bridges with external organizations that can work together with a healthcare system as they develop programs and practices to support patients, families, caregivers, and their community. Including a process of co-design with the affinity group will create a powerful action and improvement focused allyship. Affinity groups serve as sources of awareness, evaluation of how their group is served in the organization, and are vital partners in co-designing improvements and holding the organization accountable to change.

The need for authentic allyship cannot be overstated, and now, more than ever, it is an essential part of creating equitable spaces. Moreover, an allyship in its purest form will protect, defend, and support disenfranchised groups, in these challenging times.

Let us look to the future of person-centered care through the lens of not only individual healthcare needs, but of understanding and learning how an individual’s experience with being disenfranchised has impacted their relationship with healthcare. Authentic allyship is seeing the whole person, understanding their experience, supporting their right to live an authentic life, and taking the necessary actions to support and defend that right!

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