Since 2005, 17 May has been dedicated as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHO). It marks the day in 1990 when “homosexuality” was removed from the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases. That this only happened less than 30 years ago beggars belief, but it’s also a sobering reminder of how much progress still needs to be made.
To onlookers, it can sometimes appear that the rainbow family is one of mutual support, unity, glitter-filled parties and fun. Sadly, the reality is far from this. Prejudice, discrimination and hate exist within our communities – an unhappy surprise for the many who come seeking community and solidarity.
In a recent piece for The Spectator, Julie Bindel – who has become notorious for her trans-exclusionary position – accused those identifying as queer as “attention seeking” arguing that they’re not prepared to “suffer” for their sexuality, despite the thousands upon thousands who identify this way suffering in manifold ways.
In response to the inclusion of bisexual and trans people under the rainbow banner, Bindel previously wrote in the Guardian that she didn’t want to be “lumped in with an ever-increasing list of folk defined by ‘odd’ sexual habits or characteristics. Shall we just start with A and work our way through the alphabet? A, androgynous, b, bisexual, c, cat-fancying, d, devil worshipping. Where will it ever end?”
Throughout history – and even today – those of us who are not heterosexual or deviate from gender norms are still categorised by many as having “odd sexual habits”. Bindel herself wrote about how a heterosexual friend said that she no longer wanted her to look after her daughter upon discovering she was a lesbian, and how female friends shy away from a hug for fear they’re being “perved on”.
So many LGBTQ+ people have had similar experiences and sharing these reminds us that we’re not alone, that we’re united and that we have value in a culture that often diminishes, ignores or attacks us. Bindel’s experiences and history have such potential value for many in the queer community, yet rather than embracing us into the fold, she chooses to reject those who don’t fall into the easy categories of “gay”, “lesbian” or “cisgender” (a word whose very existence she would reject). It does us all a disservice.
Racism continues to be a prevalent issue throughout society, so why should the LGBTQ+ community be an exception? Much has been written about how the majority of queer spaces are dominated by white, cisgender gay men, spaces that are not always as welcoming to BAME people as one might hope.
A 2015 study by the gay men’s charity GMFA revealed that 80 per cent of black gay men say they have experienced racism in the gay community. This is further reinforced by the hook up app Grindr, users of which routinely state in their bios, “No blacks, no Asians, no Hispanics.” The performance by a white woman in blackface at Durham Pride in 2017 led to more than 100 LGBTQ+ supporters signing a letter urging Gay Pride festivals to stop booking acts who perform in blackface. These are not symbols of a progressive and inclusive movement.
Supporting victims of LGBTQ+ hate crime for a charity gave me a troubling insight into the multiple challenges many trans and gender non-conforming individuals face every day of their lives. For many such people, simply leaving the house leaves them open to abuse, harassment and violence. Securing employment, appropriate healthcare and navigating familial, work and romantic relationships is an upward struggle for many trans people. Yet the existence of a militant group of people who argue that trans people exist purely to diminish, silence or abuse other women is misguided, at best.
While a handful of any group in society may have sinister intentions, the vast majority of trans people are simply trying to live their lives as peacefully as everyone else. Making judgements on an entire group based on the actions of a damaging minority is wrong, plain and simple. For some of this vitriol to come from within the lesbian and gay communities is sad and devastating for those seeking comfort, especially when misinformation about trans people is so widespread.
Trans people are facing the prejudice and discrimination that gay and lesbian people faced fifty years ago. Instead of working together to challenge and dismantle this, a significant proportion of these attacks are coming from inside the LGBTQ+ communities. While there’s a lot of pain and anger on both sides of this argument, we’re in deadlock, with no obvious route out. And, it’s dividing our communities.
Femme-phobia – the disdain for feminine-presenting folks of all and no genders – continues to be a problem in some sections of the gay community. The scrutiny with which femme-presenting people are judged on their appearance or voice is depressing at best. Ribbing like a judge from RuPaul’s Netflix hit Drag Race too often translates into bullying, dehumanising language that no one should be subjected to. And, while many men in LGBTQ+ communities are open about the importance of women in their lives, misogynistic language remains rife and unchallenged in many queer spaces.
We must do better. We need to look beyond labels and appearance and recognise each other’s humanity. We need to call out prejudice and hateful language when we hear it. Even from our friends and family – especially from our friends and family.
Yes, we’ve been hated and continue to be hated because of who we are - but let’s not reproduce that hate. Minority groups who have been subject to hate tend to have a greater insight and understanding of the damage this can do. While many argue that it’s not the responsibility of marginalised groups to educate other people, we urgently need to develop more compassion for each other. We have shared experiences that unite us and differences that enable us to learn from each other and grow.
This idea that some of us are more valid than others sounds suspiciously like “two legs good, four legs bad” thinking to me – and we’re better than that. Let’s not let “suffering” be the benchmark by which we measure our difference. Instead, let’s work together, acknowledging our differences and commonalities, towards a place where no one has to “suffer” because of who they are.
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