I’ve spent my entire life identifying as a cisgender heterosexual. I don’t say this “proudly” or anything like that – I say this because I’m well aware the fact I’ve never grappled with my sexuality or gender identity means I stand very much in the “privileged” camp.

Being straight and cisgender in Australia means I don’t have people calling me a fag or a dyke on a regular basis, I don’t have to deal with people staring at me with disgust when I kiss a guy in public, or worse – yelling abuse at me for expressing that affection. I get to skip out on a lot of shit. And – even before marriage equality – I could get married if I wanted to. That’s never been a question. My relationships – have always been considered valid.

Basically, I don’t know what it feels like to identify as LGBT+. From what my queer mates have said, from what I’ve read, from what I’ve seen – it can be absolute shit. Homophobic Facebook comments. Politicians arguing that your relationships aren’t worthy of legalisation. Randoms screaming abuse at you on public transport. Drunk guys attacking you for no reason on the street.

It’s absolutely fucked. And I don’t just want to just say I support the rights of my queer friends. I want to learn how I can stand beside them and the wider community and do whatever I can to provide support where they need it.

With Mardi Gras celebrations peaking this weekend with the annual Sydney parade, many heterosexual folks like myself will join their LGBT+ friends to party. And that’s fantastic – it’s fantastic that we all come together to celebrate “Queermas”, as my friend Jenna coins it. That we celebrate this vibrant community of people who have long suffered from discrimination just for being who they are. But let’s not forget that the fight isn’t over – our LGBT+ friends need our support. And if you’re just using Mardi Gras as an excuse to wear glitter and get wasted, you’re not doing it right.

I asked my LGBT+ identifying friends what they want to see from their straight mates during Mardi Gras – and beyond. Here’s what they had to say.

Stand up to injustices you see happening in the broader community. When I was 21 I was called a faggot by a drunk stranger on a night out. My immediate response was to pretend to ignore it – lest I provoke a worse kind of attack. My friend (a straight male who was in the army) heard it, went over to the individual and told him I was no different to them and to keep that kind of rubbish to himself. It was the catalyst for my confidence growing and made me realise that I am no different, and should never ignore discrimination towards myself or anyone else. – Jesse Roebuck, 30

Understand that while Mardi Gras is a fun day and celebration, it’s a really important day and not just an excuse for you to get drunk. Learn why this day is important for the community And why you need to listen and care for your queer mates every day of the year. Buy us a drink. It’s our ‘Queermas’ and for some the one day they can really feel like they can be themselves. Listen to us, support us, and don’t speak over us on queer issues. – Jenna Suffern, 25

What I’ve found the most comforting during times of discrimination has actually been the positive and quite surprising amount of vocal support from straight friends. Even if just on social media – it all makes the difference. – Luke Worsfold, 33

I love when heterosexual people don’t just sit there with their popcorn watching dickheads beat down the idea of equality with completely irrelevant arguments on social media or out in the world. I love seeing them get involved in advocating for the LGBTQI community with their voices and words. – Jen, 30

What I want from my straight allies this Mardi Gras is to recognise that while the glitter and the parade and the parties are super fun, it’s also a celebration of love between all sexual identities and almost like a big fat ‘congrats’ now that gay marriage has been legalised. And when the party’s over and the glitter (eventually) comes off, it’d be ace if straight people could continue to respect and honour their queer mates as we do them. – Matty, 26

I hate that we even need allies. Or I guess I hate that we need to refer to our straight friends as allies because there’s still fucking inequality to fight for. It’s 2017 – it should just be a normal thing to be gay. How is it not considered normal yet? My advice to straight allies is to stand up to those who are dicks and don’t believe everyone is equal. Don’t sit back and take the easy way out where you ignore someone’s homophobic Facebook comment or stay silent when someone says bad shit. – Luke Kiernan, 33

Honestly it starts at home, just using the right language and starting conversations can make a difference in the positive perception of the LGBTQIA community. We need this support to spread and knowing that we have our straight friends backing us is an encouraging feeling. – Daniel Burgess, 32

Everyone wants to join in on Gay Christmas (Mardi Gras) which is brilliant, but please be aware that Mardi Gras, alongside all other LGBTQI+ celebrations is a time where those who are part of the community want to feel safest. Check in on what this means for your queer friends, asses your language, understand our boundaries. If you have any plans on bringing heteronormativity to the table, you don’t get a seat. If you don’t know what heteronormativity is, google it. Being a good ally isn’t hard as long as you are checking in with those around you. Also, please don’t make assumptions about your LGBTQI+ friend’s identities, gender and sexuality is such a vast, multifaceted spectrum and we should all be allowed to explore and figure it out on our own accord with the support and respect of our peers. – Ella, 22

A Facebook filter is all well and good, but if you choose to sit quietly when witnessing discrimination IRL – you’re not being an ally. Speak up in the face of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia at every chance you get. If LGBTQIA people are already standing up for themselves, don’t speak over them – stand with them in solidarity. Read as much as you can on the internet, or watch a doco (‘Between a Frock and a Hard Place’ is a good starter doco about local queer history). It’s hard reading, but your LGBTQIA mates are living it – if we can get through it IRL, you can certainly get through learning about it. Be empathetic, and more than anything else: LISTEN. Let them cry or rant, and let them get angry – their anger is valid. Don’t try to relate to their feelings with personal anecdotes – although you might feel as though you understand, what they are feeling is very specific to their sexual/gender identity. Instead, simply remind them that you love them. You are here for them no matter what, and you’ll fight by their side. – Chloe Sargeant, 26

Directly ask your LGBTQIA friends how you can best support them and actively and empathically listen to their response. Our community is not homogenous – different people have different lived experiences and therefore different needs. It’s important to treat each individual and their story with the respect they deserve. The second step would then be to normalise and validate how your friend is feeling, whether that’s angry, frustrated, scared or upset. The third step (and perhaps the most important step) to being a great ally is to recognise your privilege and use it to amplify rather than drown out LGBTQIA voices. As a community we are incredibly strong and brave. We’re also really well versed in talking about issues because they’re actually our lived experiences. If you want to be a great hetero ally, sit down and listen to our community. You’ll be amazed and grateful for how much you can learn when you do – I know I am! Marriage equality was just the tip of the iceberg. I want to see my friends being outraged by the alarming suicide rates of trans youth or the mass incarceration of gender and sexuality diverse indigenous people as well. – Kayla Steele, 24

It would be really awesome if straight people would stop with the rhetoric of being nice to people with ‘other opinions’ and how we have to respect them. Those ‘opinions’ are beliefs that further oppress LGBTQIA folks. Would you want to be nice to someone who doesn’t believe you should be treated equally? Religion, while important to many, has no place in government or education systems. If one of your friends who is LGBTQIA shows frustration or anger, just validate it. It’s normal to feel that way! – Catie Guttierez, 26

I think it needs to be learnt that any sort of a dig is just that, a dig – how often do you see straight men poking fun at other straight men for “eating pussy”? Never. How often do I have my straight friends poke fun at me (seriously or not) for “sucking dick”? Pretty fucking often. At the end of the day – the best piece of advice I’ve ever received in regards to sexuality is to look at it like it’s a star sign. Everyone has one, no one has a choice in what it is, and you sure as hell will never treat someone as lesser-than because they’re a fucking Gemini. – Blake Ingrey, 21

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If you are in a position that can affect change, use it. If you’re a boss, be inclusive in your work space. Make it safe, make it open, and make sure there are consequences to people behaving in a bigoted manner. If you’re a filmmaker or artist, be responsible in your portrayals of the community, make sure the people you’re representing are on board with the way they are being portrayed. Don’t ever make being gay or trans the butt of a joke. It’s Just. Not. Funny. Australia is behind, and we have to catch up.  – Lauren Augarten, 30

I hope like me, you read those messages and felt a deep urge to get your shit together (if you haven’t already) and step up your support.

Image: Instagram / @jensuffern