Are You Actually An Ally?

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

You:” 


“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.

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