It’s no secret that the LGBT community faces many challenges of erasure, oppression, and hate. People of genders and sexualities that differ from the cisgender (someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth) and heterosexual ‘norm’ have struggled to find acceptance throughout history, and even more notably in the past century as people and instances that diverge from this ‘norm’ have begun to be acknowledged.
Since the LGBT civil rights movement began, powerful images of the lesbian and gay poster children of our community have pushed the fight for civil rights forward and have helped us win many arduous battles. Although we’ve come a long way from ordeals like segregation in the military, prosecution against homosexual acts, and being barred from same sex marriage, there are still many challenges that countless members of the LGBT community continue to face.
Towards the end of the 2014-2015 school year here at M-A, our own Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) decided to put up educational posters all over campus that provided information about many different known sexual orientations and gender identities. The goal of these posters was to integrate more of the uncommon or less widely accepted terms and identities of the LGBT community with the M-A student body.
In my experience, the posters were a wonderful educational and enlightening tool, and I was thrilled to be able to explain to several of my friends the difference between being polysexual and pansexual, and that there are more than two genders. Watching open-minded potential allies to our community so easily accept and so readily want to understand the new and different terms presented to them was exciting and filled me with relief and joy.
However, I soon learned that individual students, overheard in classrooms, in the hallways, and around campus, had been laughing off and discrediting terms that they deemed too “unusual” and “odd” for their standards of reality. It’s a given that very few students at M-A would debate the authenticity of the “homosexual” poster, but the reality is that terms such as pansexuality, asexuality, nonbinary, genderfluid, and many more evoke a feeling of uncertainty in the heterosexual and cisgender community that causes many people to ignore a large portion of LGBT identities. It is unfair and unacceptable that people who proudly proclaim themselves as allies to the LGBT community would pick and choose which members of the community to believe in and support. Sexuality and gender identity lie on a spectrum; enlisting the use of terms in order to better understand one’s location on this spectrum is a part of discovering one’s identity, and that should be encouraged.
Even more detrimental to the acceptance of the less well-known gender identities and sexual orientations is the surprisingly substantial negative stigma within the LGBT community as well; accusations of “not being ‘queer’ enough,” or “making up ‘fake’ genders,” are far too common in a community as accustomed to oppression and invalidation as this one. Even in the ever so iconic “LGBT” acronym, the bisexual and transgender components are underrepresented and often disregarded in LGBT culture. People like to forget that the iconic Stonewall riots that ignited the LGBT civil rights movement were led by transgender women of color and the transgender community continues to be one of the most marginalized groups of the LGBT community today. The huge portion of the LGBT community that is neither lesbian nor gay would like to be recognized and accepted.
It needs to be understood that there is more to the LGBT community than can be simplified into a four-letter acronym; the LGBT community encompasses countless genders, sexualities, and ways of expressing them.
It’s not a phase. It’s not fake. It’s who we are.