Intersectionality: Let's Take Up More Space
By: Irma J. Perez
I am very grateful to have opportunities to bring attention to ignored conversations in the LGBT community. One thing I notice is the lack of acknowledgment of intersectionality.
Intersectionality was first introduced in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw in her research entitled: Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. This buzzword has been around but what does it mean? Intersectionality is the concept that acknowledges the multiple paths of discrimination that may come at intersections to create unique issues for individuals. As Crenshaw explains in her work the “intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated”.
When race is brought up in the LGBT community, I often hear “this isn’t a race space. It’s for LGBT issues only”. The same with immigration, low wages, and religion. “This isn’t the space”.
Let’s play a quick game [not in a SAW kind of way, I promise]. When you think of the Gay Liberation Movement or LGBT leaders in gay rights, who do you think of? Maybe Harvey Milk, maybe Ellen Degeneres. These humans are wonderful, and we do have to thank them for their contributions. Yet what about Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson? Before Harvey Milk there was Jose Sarria who ran for San Francisco city council. The Gay Liberation Movement was started by trans women of color. Stonewall Inn wasn’t just a spot for gathering, it was a place for drag queens, for the poor, for those with HIV, for those who ran away from home to be who they were.
Issues such as these were the focus of the movement, yet it has been glossed over in the community even today. In the U.S. alone, up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBT and up to 60% are youth of color. HIV is rising in communities of color, particularly the African-American and Latinx populations. The lack of financial resources for health insurance, affordable housing, and cultural constrictions on our identities are contributing factors. Nonwhite LGBT members are constantly at risk of higher levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Why are we not talking about these issues?
It can be difficult to know how to address this during conversations in the LGBT community. One might think “it’s an LGBT space, not a race space, a religious space, or a socioeconomic space”. Yet, this is when we start to ignore the many layers of our human existence.
We are not a monolith. I am not just bisexual. I am Latina. I am the daughter of an immigrant. I am an American. I am a student. I am part of a wonderful team called the Pink Elephant [shout out].
Our community has to look at our goals differently. When we discuss HIV/AIDS, why aren’t we discussing how culture influences our sexual behaviors? People are stigmatized for their sexual orientation so why would they get tested? How about those who can’t afford to get tested, or pay for PrEP or PEP because they have a low paying job?
We have to look at this in new ways. How do we do this? Here are some tips:
1. Share your stories. Seriously, write, give talks, heal, breathe. Anything you need to do to make peace, do it!If someone brings up an issue, be heard. This “safe space” we’re constantly bragging about needs to be shown to all issues woven in the LGBT experiences of others. Let’s utilize this and try to understand and take action.
2. Share what you need from your community. It’s not a new concept that what works for you won’t necessarily work for others. There isn’t a one size fits all plan for this gay agenda people are talking about, which really consists of equal rights thank you very much.
3. Don’t feel like you have to educate people. Do not feel expected as a person of color, disabled, low-income, undocumented etc.to teach people all the damn time! It can be exhausting having to constantly describe your experience to others. The questions, the re-traumatization, the emotional labor. Share talks, documentaries, books, open the eyes and heart of someone else and show them where they can find resources where they can see that some in the community may not have the same experience as them. As my good friend Araba “Molly” Maison says: “If there’s emotional labor, fuck you, pay me.”
Representation matters. The issues we tackle have more than one factor to their challenges. We have multiple layers. If we don’t show these multifaceted parts of us, then there will be no real changes to our communities.
I've started my master thesis research which focuses on LGBT people of color, community connection, and resilience factors. Part of my research includes comparing community connections for white vs. nonwhite LGBT people in the U.S. If you are an American (citizen/resident/undocumented) LGBT member, please take my anonymous survey. It takes less than 5 minutes but will help with a lifetime of knowledge.
You can follow Irma Perez on Instagram @irmajeanette