LGBT+ History Month has been in full swing for the past few weeks, with campus full of banners and flyers publicising the campaign. Although UEA hosts events for LGBT+ students throughout the year through the society and peer support group Pride, there is no doubt that February has seen an increased amount of events aimed at both providing support for LGBT+ students and for raising awareness of LGBT+ issues.
There have been stalls in the Hive throughout February providing information on LGBT+ issues and encouraging LGBT+ students and allies to raise awareness through a blackboard campaign explaining why History Month is so important. This involved leaflets designed to help understand why certain words for LGBT+ people are not acceptable to use due to their history of oppression. There have also been bake sales to raise money for charities such as Action for Trans Health that tend not to get as much publicity but which help groups that need support. Other events have included the Scholars Bar Poetry Night and the upcoming LGBT+ club night at the LCR, Colours, which is open to all and which will take place on Thursday 25th February.
On 15th, UEA Pride and Amnesty hosted a panel discussion on intersectionality in to LGBT+ community, which looked at the links between sexuality, race and faith. LGBT+ movements often come under scrutiny for not being inclusive enough toward minorities within the community – people of colour, people of faith, people with disabilities, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, aromantic, transgender and non-binary people, and the plethora of other identities that do not garner the same visibility and understanding as does the mainstream narrative of cisgender white gay people.
Intersectionality and inclusivity need to be put at the forefront of the LGBT+ movement. The term, coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, describes the interconnected nature of social identities such as race, sexuality, gender and class, and the impact that each of these has on one another. Having an intersectional identity can make someone feel as if they doesn’t entirely belong in one group or another; they can face difficulties from either side for not being “enough” of that identity to truly belong.
The LGBT+ community tends to pride itself on being non-discriminatory and welcoming of all. While this can be true in certain places, at other times the difficulties that come from being a minority within a minority are often disregarded by members of the LGBT+ community who hold the most privilege, and who tend to dominate queer spaces.
It is essential that we are inclusive of intersectional identities rather than excluding or erasing them. Often, issues that arise from being of a particular race are ignored – for example, when mainstream LGBT+ campaigns do not include people of colour in their media, or when they fail to acknowledge the differing backgrounds that LGBT+ people come from and they ways in which their situations and struggles can differ from those portrayed.
Additionally, racist attitudes and the fetishisation of minorities continues to be prevalent in the LGBT+ scene. For example, Black culture and African-American vernacular English are often appropriated by white gay men to create the caricature of the “sassy, independent black woman” in the white imagination. Meanwhile, people of colour are often excluded from LGBT+ movements or fetishised for their bodies. In other cases, their historical role in the movement has been erased, such as the black and latin transgender activists, Marsha Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the leaders of the Stonewall Riots who are often excluded from Western memory, as was the case with the 2015 film Stonewall.
On a deeper level, this exclusion and erasure of intersectional identities leads to a lack of good provision of health care for LGBT+ people from minority backgrounds. This happens in attempting to seek physical and sexual help from doctors whilst having their sexualities ignored or questioned due to the eurocentric, able-bodied projection of what a gay person looks like.
This is also true of access to mental health care. Mental heath issues are known to affect a large proportion of LGBT+ people, and it is known that people from ethnic minorities have significantly less ease of access to therapies and mental health care and face a far more serious cultural stigma surrounding these issues. Combining these two factors contributes to an increasingly more complex and difficult situation when it comes to the societal and medical treatment of LGBT+ people of colour. This affects how welcome people in both LGBT+ and cultural communities, which are already less welcoming and understanding of LGBT+ people of colour.
With the official theme of LGBT+ History Month this year being religion, belief and philosophy, it is important to also consider the issues presented for people who are both LGBT+ and of faith. These identities are commonly entirely erased, with those who have not come from such a background doubting how someone could be LGBT+ and religious at the same time. This fails to understand that being LGBT+ and of faith is a valid and real identity, and that both of these factors are equally important parts of a person’s identity and do not necessarily contradict each other.
UEA has grown increasingly inclusive, with Pride having organised screenings of films Paris is Burning and Girlhood, which provide representation of issues faced by LGBT+ people of colour as well as educating people about their history. Pride also hosts sober socials such as a games night on the 18th, which provide a more welcoming space for those who may not feel comfortable in club or drinking-heavy environments because of their religious beliefs or disabilities, or for other personal reasons.
Other groups which, up until recently, have been underrepresented such as the asexual and aromantic communities have seen more awareness-based events on campus. This has included campaigns such UEA Is Ace, which held awareness stalls, videos and discussions; and events during LGBT+ History Month such as Ace Space which provided a space for asexual and aromantic students to meet and talk about their experiences.
Although we are making progress with being more inclusive toward LGBT+ people with identities that do not fit into the mainstream, the process is not by any means finished. Being inclusive in the LGBT+ movement and community should not be a matter of ticking boxes and tokenising experiences. It should be something we aim toward all year long, and not just for the sake of LGBT+ History Month. Marginalised identities still exist outside of when they are represented through one-off events, and it is when they are under-represented that they struggle most.
Listen to and don’t devalue the experiences of LGBT+ people of colour, of faith, with disabilities, or are of sexualities or genders that have been less well represented. Whilst everyone has their struggles, it is important to be aware of the privileges you hold and how others may have had vastly different struggles. We should continue to work toward being more aware of and more inclusive toward the under-represented marginalised identities.