"Speak Up!": An Interview With The Ally Coalition's Rachel Antonoff Ramou Sarr

In addition to creating some of the most ridiculous (in the best way possible) wing tip oxfords of all time, designer Rachel Antonoff is also co-founder of the non-profit organization The Ally Coalition, whose purpose is to inspire people. In particular, those in the fashion, entertainment, and music industry, to take action in the fight for LGBTQ equality. The organization reflects Antonoff’s and her co-founders’, Fun. band members Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff, and Andrew Dost, belief that straight allies are fundamental in this fight. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Rachel about why this is more than just a “gay issue,” self-education and speaking out, and how sometimes it’s best to not be polite.

What was the inspiration behind the creation of The Ally Coalition?

This is something we had been talking about starting for years. Jack and I have always felt deeply and strongly about the issue and Nate and Andrew were on the same page. Fun. had been donating a good portion of ticket sales to LGBTQ organizations so it just really seemed like the right time to begin.

How important is taking an initiative and self-education in terms of being an ally?

I believe both are hugely important. It is so easy to go about our busy day to days and just accept the inequalities around us. This is the problem, these glaring inequalities are so a part of our lives and accepted as just the way things are, taking the initiative to educate yourself and speak out are pretty much the best things any of us can do.

I do a lot of writing and talking about race issues and there’s a lot of discussion surrounding what constitutes a good ally to people of color. I imagine that this discussion is mirrored in the LGBTQ community. What are your thoughts on how to be a good, rather than a bad, ally?

I feel an ally is an ally, the rest is semantics. If something renders one a “bad ally” then they probably just aren’t an ally?

How do you respond to people who say that those who aren’t members of the LGBTQ community shouldn’t care about – or are not affected by – LGBTQ issues?

I feel deeply offended by this sentiment. This goes hand in hand with its less aggressive cousin sentiment of ‘why do you care so much about this issue? is your brother gay?’ People assume one must be gay or have a gay relative to care about equality. For us, this is NOT a gay rights issue. This is a human rights issue. We currently live in a country (and world) where groups of people are singled out and stripped of basic rights simply because of who they are, who they were born as. This has happened time and time throughout history to countless different groups. I believe it is the job of everyone to police our own system and ensure we are all treated equally. Otherwise, what we call rights are actually just privileges enjoyed by some.

Where do allies fit in the LGBTQ civil rights movement?

I think allies play a huge role in this fight. It is the responsibility of the non-oppressed party to stand up and say, this is unacceptable. WE do not accept this. If every straight person took a stand in favor of equality I believe it would make a huge difference.

It seems pretty clear from just scrolling through The Ally Coalition’s Facebook page that the movement is focused on non-violent protest, and the organization itself is a form of this. Would you agree? And how do you think that this type of activism is effective?

We are definitely focused on non-violent protest and the organization as a whole focuses on positive, what can we do to help, how can we get people involved. Very little to none of the organization focuses on attacking or calling people out. We just don’t feel it’s really all that productive and historically speaking, not how change happens.

The Ally Coalition’s social media, the Facebook page in particular, exhibits this really great sense of community. How important is the aspect of community to The Ally Coalition?

I think the aspect of community is a big part of it. People like to feel like they are a part of something and I think it’s a wonderful cause for people to bond over!

A few months ago your brother, Jack Antonoff, told Rolling Stone that there have been some pretty heated and aggressive negative reactions to The Ally Coalition via your social media channels. How do you respond to this resistance to your cause and your organization?

We don’t respond. This is something Jack is way better at than I am. I would probably get into fights on all manner of social media if he didn’t stop me. Comments can be entirely enraging but we feel it best to not shine a light on those people. It isn’t the fundamentalists we realistically plan on reaching. Our goal is those who care but don’t know what to do and those are apathetic.

Some people believe that they’re not big or powerful enough to make a difference. What are some ways that people can be allies within their own communities?

This is such an understandable feeling and (I think) we all feel it. The world is huge and the amount of hate is truly overwhelming, but as corny and tried as it is, every bit actually does count. Every effort, however small, adds up. As simple as it may seem, I feel one of the best and biggest things people can do in their day to day is just Speak Up! Don’t stay quiet when someone says “gay” meaning “stupid”. Don’t be polite when your teacher/doctor/date/friend/frenemy/whathaveyou says they don’t believe in equality for “religious reasons”. I think this need to be polite is an epidemic. And believe me, I get it. It’s embarrassing and stressful to call someone out. More often than not, the offender is a nice person, an old lady, a cute dog, etc. But it is SO important to just say something. There are also so many great shelters and organizations that need help. Whether its dropping off food and clothes or volunteering to restock the toilet paper, you can help.

What is your hope for The Ally Coalition moving forward?

My hope for TAC is that we can expand, become a self sustaining organization and mostly, I hope that very, very soon, we will be rendered obsolete.

Featured image via The Ally Coalition

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  1. “It is the responsibility of the non-oppressed party to stand up and say, this is unacceptable. WE do not accept this.”

    Yes! In my own efforts to become an ally this has been a major lesson. In the beginning I spoke up because it seemed like the right thing to do, it jived with my beliefs, I was angry! Those motivations are still in place but today I understand that I truly have a responsibility in speaking up and calling out. It’s interesting when I get feedback from my peers, feedback along the lines of, “I don’t know/think it is my place to say anything”. Sometimes I think they’re scared to say the wrong thing and offend someone, and sometimes they just don’t feel any duty to speak up on the behalf of something they don’t identify with. At the same time, so many of these same people get upset when the actual oppressed person speaks up about what has happened to them. So . . . you’re not going to speak up about it, you think it’s silly that I am, and you don’t want to hear about it from those who are being actively oppressed. Got it.

    Regarding good/bad allies . . . I think I understand Rachel’s point, but I do think examining and calling out “bad” ally behavior is important. Maybe that person wants to be an ally, is failing in some respects and would be open to feedback and guidance. Or maybe they consider themselves a full-fledged ally already and don’t want to hear any criticisms . . . in any case, a person claiming to be an ally but not really living up to the standards of ally work can do harm. I consider ally work and the status of being an ally to live on a spectrum, or timeline. I’ve certainly been, or maybe still am at the early end of that spectrum and I would hope that even though I was coming off as a “bad” ally, or not an ally at all, that someone would help me see where something I’m doing is problematic. I think that what I’m trying to get at here is that I hope that if someone who thinks they’re an ally is identified as actually a “bad” ally or “not an ally”, that they would be grouped in with those who still need to learn, and not just written off as lost causes. Maybe that’s assumed or implied and I’m just being semantical. That’s a word because I said so, shut up.

    Love, love, love the wingtips. Those + slouchy socks, hammer pants, paisley button up and Debbie Gibson hat w/the top cut out: MY FAVORITE SIXTH GRADE OUTFIT EVER.

    • When I was 12 I confronted my friend’s father after he made an offensive comment about a lesbian couple crossing the street in front of us. It was the first time that I can remember speaking up like that, but then I think as I got older and cared more what my peers thought about me, it became something that I was less likely to do. It’s less of an issue for me now – it came full circle, I guess – but I do totally understand people who are afraid to speak up. But you (and Rachel) are so right that it’s a necessary part of being an ally. I also think it’s so important for allies to speak up because they’re more privy to offensive or derogatory things being said. Someone is more likely to make a comment like that if they know (or think) that they’re not in the presence of that oppressed group.

      And I’m with you on the bad allies. I’m sure that there are a number of people who consider themselves allies, but continue to say or do problematic things that are absolutely harmful to the cause, like you said. And it is a learning process. You can consider yourself a good ally, then do/say something problematic. But you can come back from that if you’re willing to shut up and listen when people come for you, and take steps to remedy that behavior.

      And those teal/clear wingtips tho, right?

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