Active Allyship – Beyond Rainbows and Parades

30 Jun 2023

By Lauren B. Nosanov, MD

A few months ago, I was out to dinner with my family at a local restaurant when my 11 year-old son sighted a classmate sitting nearby. His excited wave was met with a somewhat urgent beckoning from his friend, so he ran over to chat. After a few minutes of intense, furtive discussion, he returned to the table. Unprompted, he explained that his friend was non-binary but was struggling with open communication in their home environment and was concerned about what pronouns my son might use in front of their parent. As he rambled on, I took a moment to reflect on his unwitting soapbox, notable for its simultaneous casualness and passion. His intense need to protect his friend’s right to self-identification, as well as his insistence on educating us, projected a profound respect for otherness and a deep kindness. 

The quest to find your sense of self, develop it, and embrace it is challenging no matter who you are. That said, it is crucial to acknowledge that a cis-heteronormative individual inevitably has a less rocky path ahead of them; to ignore this is to fail to recognize the privilege of majority. Allyship is founded in acknowledging this and seeking to support the LGBTQ+ community by embracing the value of difference. I’d like to believe I’ve always been an engaged ally, but I’ll admit that my son’s recent actions have inspired me to dig deeper into the intentionality of my approach, both in the world of medicine and in a broader community. 

As with any other endeavor, I believe that proactivity is at the heart of efficacy. To truly see, hear, and support our LGBTQ+ friends and colleagues requires us to:

  • Learn – It’s never too late to fill in knowledge gaps, and there’s always more to know. Ask questions. 
  • Be present and visible – By all means, we can all use more parades and rainbows in our lives. But since allyship isn’t just for special occasions or the month of June, it is crucial to find ways to be engaged 24/7/365. Consider joining AOSA for a start!
  • Speak up – Don’t be a silent onlooker. Call out microaggressions, correct pronoun usage, and be a champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion. 
  • Teach – We were all raised up in a “see one, do one, teach one” culture. To be a truly effective ally means educating those around us (including our children) as to how they too can rise up and be a part of the solution. 

Allyship must be active. It cannot simply consist of being a cheerleader at the sidelines. In Surgery, this means starting with an acknowledgement of the inequities in representation in our field. It demands sharpening our cross-mentoring skills, initiating challenging discussions, and digging into DEI initiatives locally and nationally. As a woman in Surgery it means appreciating that the lessons we have learned and the advances we have made in efforts toward gender equity have value and applicability to the LGBTQ+ community. 

My sentiment is best captured by the famous E.E. Cummings line: 

“To be nobody but yourself in a world
which is doing its best day and night to make you like
everybody else means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight and never stop fighting”

As allies, the goal must be to see and hear others for who they are, and to join in the fight to defend each individual’s right to be themselves – not from the sidelines of a parade, but together on the battlefield. 


Lauren B. Nosanov, MD is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Wisconsin, specializing in the surgical and critical care management of burn and traumatic injuries. After graduating from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California she completed General Surgery residency at MedStar Health – Georgetown / Washington Hospital Center, and fellowships in Burn Surgery and Surgical Critical Care at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. She is a proud ally and advocate. 

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