This is Pride month, and while I want to celebrate, I feel it is more important to discuss injustice and oppression.
With the protests(and occasional rioting) that is going on all over the US, I feel it’s important to discuss the intersectionality of the LGBT community, and how the community has, in large part, erased the contributions of many of the minority identities within the greater community.
While this is a natural subject for me to want to write about, I am also participating in A Chronic Voice’s monthly linkup.
This month’s writing prompts are: Searching, Hoping, Traumatizing, Honoring, and Responding
Honoring those who were part of the movement
The LGBT community is diverse, but everyone should know that the Stonewall Riot had trans and gender non-conforming people of color deeply involved.
Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major, and Stormé DeLaverie are now back in the histories.
While they have been written back in through the efforts of historians and activists, the fact remains that these people were not treated kindly as the movement progressed.
There also were bisexuals in the leadership, including Brenda Howard, who is also somewhat less well-known or less frequently mentioned.
She organized both the protest that occurred shortly after the stonewall riot and the first annual Pride March.
It’s important to recognize that the LGBT movement and identity is, and always has been, one of diversity and intersectionality.
Also, it needs to be understood that while many of the most famous folks are white and lesbian or gay, there have always been bisexual and trans folks, and many people of color of all orientations, actively participating in the community.
For me personally, all of this is a huge plus – as a bi disabled person, I want my full identity to be respected, to be able to celebrate who I am with an understanding and supportive greater community.
Traumatizing members of our own community
Within four years of the stonewall riots, however, the visual was very different. White gay men took on more and more of the positions of power, and the more extreme identities(such as trans folks) were shunted aside, including banning Sylvia Rivera from participating, despite her being a major player initially.
Bi members of the community found themselves often being assumed to be lesbian or gay(depending on gender identity or the apparent gender of their partner). Many trans people also identify as bi, and face multiple types of erasure for that reason.
Over the years, gays and lesbians have gained greater acceptance by society as a whole, but bi and trans folks have had more struggles and faced discrimination even within LGBT spaces.
Disabilities tend to make everything harder, and the LGBT community remains marginalized enough that it may be challenging to get event space that is close to public transportation and designed with accessibility in mind.
However, there also hasn’t seemed to be much effort put into making either LGBT spaces in general or Pride events in particular accessible.
In the meantime, there is actually a lot of disability representation within the LGBT community, with over one-third of members identifying as disabled in some way. The MAP project also shows this.
In short, while the LGBT community has a diverse membership and the potential to be an amazing supportive community, too many groups within the community fall prey to racism, sexism, and ableism in practice.
Searching for acceptance
Does that mean all is terrible or there is no hope? Of course not!
There is a new Pride flag, that acknowledges that trans, black and brown people are an important part of the movement.
With how poorly the larger LGBT community has treated these members, this need should be acknowledged.
Most research is focused on the L and G part of the rainbow, but the studies that do exist show that bi people as a community have relatively high rates of depression and suicide and are out to considerably fewer people than the average lesbian or gay person.
For more information on the relationship between the LGBT community and the disabled community: Disabled world, information gathered by the Reeves Foundation, and another interesting resource guide I found.
For more information on LGBT people of color and their struggles: MAP has a document on the struggles of LGBT POC in rural areas, and here is a report on how people of color face discrimination inside of LGBT spaces, and here is an article from the Daily Beast about how LGBT people of color face discrimination at much higher rates than whites.
Hoping for understanding
The struggle for acceptance is real.
The good news is that these problems are being recognized, and the first step to solving any problem is becoming aware that it exists.
With so many members of the LGBT community being multiply-marginalized, it becomes more and more important to support all of the intersectional identities.
As listed above, work is being done to recognize the issue and to start solving it.
As part of the bisexual community, I’m struggling with the other members of BiRequest’s leadership’s decision not to penalize a member of leadership for his ableism(complicated by the fact that he is also disabled).
This is part of the advocacy for the disabled community that I am currently working on. I want and need the space to also feel safe for members of the disabled community.
While the group has some awareness of ableism, they need to learn more, and it appears to be my job to teach them.
**Update** This struggle led to me leaving birequest to protect my mental health.
While the LGBT community is slowly increasing their understanding(in fits and starts just like so many other communities), people are suffering, and each step towards inclusion and participation feels like it’s happening too slowly and that each step just isn’t quite enough.
Responding: My personal feelings during this time
I am a white, bi, disabled woman. I’m extremely aware of the systemic racism and bias in this country.
I have acknowledged that most, if not all, government systems in the US have racism or bias baked into them, and that black people are more likely to be poorly served by the healthcare system, among others.
I know and understand that this happens, and while I don’t have the power to change these things, I write posts to help put this in context, such as my post on bias in Emergency departments across the country.
I have been a member of BiRequest for close to 15 years(very active for about 10 of those years, though I was MIA while I attended grad school and for a while after as I recovered from a severe symptom increase).
I have found it to be an accepting and truly diverse space – with members of all ages(well, generally over 18), all gender expressions(part of our welcome sequence includes each person stating their pronouns), many races, sometimes additional nationalities, and multiple members that could be described as disabled. The culture is respectful and supportive, and we strive to have all members feel safe.
Through BiRequest, I have gained a better understanding of how the bi community faces discrimination and bias, including how our black members have experienced these issues, and I have had the opportunity to connect with many people who I otherwise simply couldn’t have met – and have formed some amazing friendships and connections as a result, which has again helped open my eyes to the many issues both within the LGBT community and beyond.
I stand with my black siblings who are peacefully protesting the systemic racism in this country, the deaths of untold numbers of black people in the hands of our police force, and the unfair way in which black people have been treated for generations.
I want the history of the LGBT movement to be and remain one that honestly records the contributions of all members, whatever their color, their gender identity, or their sexual orientation. I don’t want people to be removed or their identity redefined.
It hurts me that many disabled activists are forgotten, or have the fact that they are disabled minimized or removed from their history, making it hard to celebrate this aspect of their identity.
I want the LGBT community to support all its members, not just those who control the purse strings.
The LGBT community intersects with communities of color, sex workers, the disabled community, and many others, and should be sure to be inclusive and supportive of all of us, rather than focusing on the needs and desires of white lesbians and gays.
Steps have been taken, but there is a long way to go.
As we go into Pride, I want people to recognize and remember that while this should be a time of celebration, many LGBT people(especially the B’s and T’s and the multiply marginalized) are still facing an uphill battle for our rights.
Pride’s history is steeped in protest marches, and the time for protest is far from over.