Justin Timberlake’s Queer ‘allyship’ strips ally of its meaning

Timberlake’s comments show a lack of understanding of what it means to be an ally

Ally’ is more than a throw-away term.
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Apparently, Justin Timberlake is a Queer ally—who knew?

Last week, during an interview for his upcoming film Palmer, Timberlake was asked why it’s important for him to be an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQIA2S+ community, to which he replied: “Thank you for saying that. I very much enjoy being an ally, and it’s a true honour anytime someone addresses me that way.”

Parts of the Queer community, on the other hand, feel differently about Timberlake’s apparent status as a Queer ally.

After the quote began picking up traction online, my Twitter timeline was flooded with Tweets balancing humour with genuine frustration over Timberlake’s comment. The general consensus seemed to be sincere confusion: since when is Justin an ally?

This isn’t the first time Timberlake has made headlines related to being an LGBTQIA2S+ ally; in 2015, he and his wife, Jessica Biel, were the recipients of the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) Inspiration Award for their commitment to Queer advocacy.

But the fact that so many exasperated Queer people on Twitter hadn’t heard of this advocacy speaks volumes about the consistency and tenacity of his allyship—it’s sporadic and sometimes seemingly non-existent. Aside from a six-year-old recognition he shares with his wife, Timberlake doesn’t have much in the way of LGBTQIA2S+ activism to justify the ‘ally’ label he’s awarded himself.

Even the justification for his GLSEN award is somewhat unclear. A 2015 MTV article about the recognition lists five examples of Timberlake’s Queer allyship, including performing at a wedding between a same-sex couple, speaking about having gay male friends in a promotional interview for Friends with Benefits, and reportedly employing a pair of gay nannies.

Having Queer friends or being willing to employ LGBTQIA2S+ people isn’t Queer allyship. It’s just not actively harmful. The fact that many celebrities—particularly straight, white, cisgender men—feel entitled to the label ‘ally’ for barely scraping above the bare minimum of basic equity is really frustrating. Tolerating Queer existence and standing off to the side, instead of in the way, of progress for Queer people is not something we need to be celebrating or rewarding—it’s embarrassingly complacent.

Aside from a vague Tweet here and an interview comment there, my impression of Justin Timberlake is that he’s hardly a Queer activist, and almost certainly not deserving of the title ‘ally.’

My frustration isn’t targeted at Timberlake specifically—not most of it, anyway—but the larger understanding of allyship, particularly as it applies to influential figures like celebrities. There are connotations around ‘ally’ that invoke images of straight, white, cis people who aren’t actively hateful and post the occasional infographic on their Instagram story, people engaging in unsubstantial performative activism to reap the social rewards associated with ‘being woke.’ But as marginalized communities across the board have said over and over again, true allyship requires action.

It’s not enough to sit by and do almost nothing. To be an ally to Queer people, you need to be taking meaningful action to advocate for Queer interests and needs. You should be seeking opportunities to challenge the heteronormative and cisnormative status quo and amplifying Queer voices in your day-to-day life.

Call out a friend’s homophobic comment. Encourage your cis peers to participate in pronoun sharing. Make the Queer people around you feel safe.

Celebrities aren’t exempt from these expectations just because we like their work or find their Tweets funny. If anything, they should be held to a higher standard. If they want to be considered an ally, they should be consistently using their platform and their privilege to participate in and bolster substantial advocacy. ‘Ally’ is a title earned, not an empty symbol of virtue signalling to toss around in interviews.

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