By Alex Watson
For context, this is primarily directed at those in the debate community with privilege,
mainly cisgender, heterosexual, white men. While this is meant to be about allyship as a
whole, I am speaking from the perspective of a queer person and thus a lot of the anecdotes will be related to queerness.
A lot of us debaters have probably heard arguments about alliances- “When A goes to war
with B, C will go to war also, because C is allied with A.” The lynchpin idea of these
arguments is that allies will go to war for each other.
I, as a person who is queer in both their gender and sexuality, have some wonderful allies
in my life. Multiple friends have taken the time to explain my gender identity to their
parents and teachers have corrected guest speakers when they have misgendered me. One of my most vivid debate memories is when, after being questioned about my pronouns in the round by a judge, the tournament’s Tabroom took the time to send out an email to the
judge pool explaining why this behavior was wrong.
I don’t have very much power in the debate world. I’m not old enough to coach or be in a
Tabroom. I’m not in a prep group and I personally try not to “clout chase.” All of the
examples of great allyship outlined above happened not because I did anything, but
because people chose to help me. They chose to be there for me, even if it meant sending an awkward email or having a long conversation.
Real, concrete allyship is using whatever forms of power you may have-- your various types
of privilege and the access they allow you-- to create safer spaces for those of us without
that power. That is what I need more of from the debate community.
As Cobin Szymanski articulates perfectly in their article “A Letter to Allies, Activists, and
“The debaters who ‘put their pronouns on Tabroom’ are often the debaters that don’t educate themselves, misgender other debaters, stand complicit when judges make queerphobic comments, and listen to their friends’ transphobic jokes...Being an ally...is a constant process of education, activism, and relearning. It means using your cis-privilege to advocate for your non-binary, trans, and queer friends and debaters.”
For many debaters, power and/or privilege can look like access to prep groups or the
reality that, as a successful debater, you are looked up to. Genuine allyship entails making it
unquestionably clear to those around you that you will not create a safe space for sexism, racism, queerphobia, classism, ableism, or anything else that will exclude people. It
involves both confronting those who seek to exclude and supporting those who have been
excluded. It does not end with your respectful treatment of those of us with marginalized
identities (which frankly, is the bare minimum of what I require to associate with anyone).
Allyship asks you to take the space you occupy and make it safer for people who are not a
part of the accepted majority.
In my case, for example, if you’re going to claim to be my ally or care about me,
queerphobia should make you uncomfortable. You should be willing to do something even
if it involves having an uncomfortable conversation or losing some of your “clout.” If I could
snap my fingers and instantly make the debate community a magical, accepting community, I would. But, that’s unrealistic and I don’t have that power. Your straight, cisgender, male prep group does not care about me, they care about you. Your clout, your prep, your support. You have the power, so use it.
Alex Watson is a senior at Hawken School in Cleveland, OH. This is their third year
competing in Public Forum debate.
Note: The Beyond Resolved blog reflects the ideas of individual authors and not necessarily of the organization as a whole.