Central PA's LGBT News Source

Intersectionality matters

In the LGBTQ+ movement


Audre Lorde famously said: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

In our work within the LGBTQ+ movement, our focus is on advancing the rights of LGBTQ+ communities - as it should be. But the importance of applying an intersectional perspective is recognizing that not only do we have many different LGBTQ+ communities beneath the rainbow umbrella, but some of our communities hold more power and privilege than others.

The term “intersectionality” was first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, when she published a paper articulating how the oppression that Black women face is unique and different from the sexism that white women face and the racism that Black men face. This conclusion was rooted in her analysis of the landmark case DeGraffenreid v. General Motors, in which five Black women sued GM based on both the racialized and gendered segregation of jobs. The court, however, ruled against them - concluding that either racial discrimination OR gender discrimination must be proven, but they could not sue based on both. Since they could not prove that all women or all Black people were being discriminated against, in the eyes of the court they did not have a case.

Fast-forward to 2017, and this compounding of oppressions is the reality that many within our LGBTQ+ communities face. In July the Building Movement Project released a report entitled “Working at the Intersections: LGBTQ Nonprofit Staff and the Racial Leadership Gap”. Based on survey responses from over 4,000 nonprofit organizations, the report found that “when it comes to professional advancement, even within explicitly LGBT-focused organizations, LGBT people of color face more challenges compared to their white counterparts or straight people of color.”

Systemically across the LGBTQ+ movement our leadership, our priorities and our queer spaces are white, cis, gay and male - further marginalizing queer people of color, trans and non-binary people, bi people and women - not to mention queer immigrants and refugees, queer people with disabilities and queer people who are poor. So we have work to do in making our movement reflective of ALL of our LGBTQ+ communities. We must start by asking ourselves some difficult questions.

In terms of representation, who is at the table when we are making decisions and allocating funds - as Board members, as staff, as committee members? Who is at the mic speaking at our events? Who is leading our efforts?

With regard to planning and programming, is intentional engagement with marginalized LGBTQ+ communities written into our strategic plan? Are issues that impact those who are most marginalized the topic of events and programs that we hold? And are we willing to take our programs out in the community if people don’t feel comfortable coming to us?

As for accessibility, how does our physical space welcome or exclude people with disabilities? Can they easily enter and navigate the space, including restrooms? And are our programs inclusive of people with different levels of mental health and neurodiversity?

In terms of language access, who can linguistically access our organizations? Are multi-lingual staff or volunteers readily available to provide services to LGBTQ+ people who speak languages other than English? Are our brochures, flyers and websites available in multiple languages?

Finally, regarding the PR materials that we use, what images are featured on our website, brochures, posters, social media? And how do we employ meaningful symbols - like the #MoreColorMorePride flag with the black and brown stripes - to send a message that we are seeking to be intentionally inclusive?

These are the kinds of questions that we must be willing to ask ourselves if we seek to apply a truly intersectional approach to our work in the LGBTQ+ movement. And we must be willing to take a hard look at ourselves as we seek to answer them. If we don’t have the most marginalized folks at our table, how might the table need to change? How can we widen our table to be more inclusive? How can we flatten our table to be less hierarchical?

It will take intentional effort to put in place strategies to make ourselves more responsive to and representative of our diverse LGBTQ+ communities - but it must not be seen as something extra, but rather something that is embedded in everything that we do. By choosing to center those who are most marginalized, we will be moving towards more authentic and meaningful work within the LGBTQ+ movement.

Recognizing that our liberation is bound up with one another, we can we start to work together towards removing the systemic barriers so that ALL of our LGBTQ+ communities have the same rights, opportunities and outcomes, and are safe, respected and valued in our community.

Amanda Arbour is executive director of the LGBT Center of Central PA, Harrisburg.