The experiences of LGBTQ people of colour can often be misunderstood, and based on assumptions and prejudices. They can seem fully erased from LGBTQ stories.
This Black History Month, some of Stonewall’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic members of staff want to tackle a number of common myths and misconceptions, and clarify the questions constantly asked of QTIPOC (queer, trans and/or intersex people of colour). To ensure that we're moving towards LGBTQ equality, it's so important we listen to the voices of the people who've historically been excluded from our communities.
Whether you’re white or not, LGBTQ or not, this blog is a good way to find out how to be a better ally to QTIPOC.
We hope this helps.
Here are some key acronyms that we will be using throughout this blog.
BAME – Black, Asian and minority ethnic
PoC– People of Colour
LGBTQ – Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer
QTIPOC– Queer, Trans, Intersex People of Colour. Other abbreviations include QTIBPOC, Queer Trans Intersex Black People & People of Colour
- Racism within the LGBTQ community
- Why you might be guilty of white fragility
- The importance of QTIPOC specific spaces
- Using the terms BAME and PoC
- Cultural appropriation and why it can be so damaging
- The impact of tokenisation
- The impact of microaggressions
- What its really like for QTIPOC in relationships
- The experiences of Muslim and LGBTQ people
- The experiences of QTIPOC in the workplace
- The experiences of QTIPOC navigating health services
- What does intersectionality actually mean?
- The difference between racism and institutional racism
- The difference between racism and colourism
- Three things you can do to be an ally to the QTIPOC community
1. Racism within the LGBTQ community
In 2018 Stonewall revealed that 51 per cent of BAME LGBT people reported having experienced racism in the LGBT community. This number rises to 61 per cent for black LGBT people.
Racism of all kinds is always despicable but experiencing it from within the LGBTQ community can have a particularly negative impact on QTIPOC. In a world still often not accepting of LGBTQ people, QTIPOC also have to deal with discrimination in the community that should be there to support them. This can lead to isolation, loneliness, and poor mental health, on top of the direct impact of the racism, discrimination and violence they may experience. This is why it's so key that white people are more vocal about challenging racist behaviour within the LGBTQ community, even when QTIPOC aren’t around and when they do not feel able or safe to challenge it themselves.
Often, when QTIPOC speak up about their experiences, they are met with doubts, challenges and defensiveness. It cannot always be the responsibility of QTIPOC to educate others, so it’s important that allies educate themselves, by doing research and listening to QTIPOC voices whenever possible. When someone tries to explain why something is racist, it’s crucial not to become defensive – own your mistakes, biases and privileges, and believe us when we say that it impacts us.
2. Why you might be guilty of white fragility
If you've ever said or heard someone say ‘I don’t see colour’ then you or someone you know may be guilty of white fragility. This concept is the idea that, if you experience any small amount of racial discourse, it will prompt a defensive attitude sparking reactions like fear and guilt. This occurs not only when racism is witnessed but also when someone cannot reconcile their own privilege.
Privilege is the reality that society is set up to benefit some people more than others. White privilege simply means that white people are inherently advantaged by how society is structured, despite their own efforts, income or background. People of colour, however, are disadvantaged because of societal conventions and background, including racism, classism and income. By indulging white fragility, white people continue to benefit from their dominance in society. In some cases, people of colour will not even want to talk about discrimination when they see it for fear of extreme reactions and may even begin to convince themselves that instances of racism aren’t racist.
It can be very difficult and uncomfortable to talk about racism or to acknowledge your privilege when our lives aren’t always easy or without struggle. Just because you have a marginalised identity, such as being LGBTQ does not mean you understand the experience of racism for QTIPOC. Moreover, being thought of as the 'angry person of colour' who ruins the mood or 'the person who always brings up race' further minimises and invalidates our experience.
It's not enough that your QTIPOC friends are calling this out, allies need to speak up as well. Acknowledge your privilege and you will be able to use your privilege to centre and amplify the experiences of others who may not be afforded the same advantages as you.
3. The importance of QTIPOC specific spaces
UK Black Pride, and similar community organisations around the UK specifically for QTIPOC, was not created to undermine other groups but rather to show solidarity and to talk openly about the issues affecting QTIPOC. Most Prides are majority white and QTIPOC can suffer acute discrimination while attending them. Events like UK Black Pride recognise this reality and remedy the lack of visibility for QTIPOC. The alienation and isolation of seeing insufficient QTIPOC representation in performances, speakers and attendees at Pride events makes it feel like a space that isn’t open to them.
For many, UK Black Pride is a space to come and begin to heal. Similar events have also been introduced such as Glitter Cymru’s first Pride event in Wales for QTIPOC. To learn more about why we need a UK Black Pride read Lady Phyll’s article.
In 2017 in Philadelphia, Amber Hikes introduced a new Pride flag, adding black and brown stripes to the original rainbow. In recent years, it's been adopted by more and more organisations, and in 2019 Manchester Pride officially adopted it as their Pride flag. The flag was created in direct response to the racial discrimination QTIPOC were facing in LGBTQ bars in Philadelphia, which meant many of their staff had to take anti-racism training.
Stonewall reported that BAME LGBT people are about twice as likely to attend LGBT-specific venues or events as white LGBT people, 45 per cent compared to 22 per cent. This highlights that, while QTIPOC face these challenges, they clearly still seek out LGBT spaces, and so it's even more vital that they're actually safe spaces. Events like UK Black Pride and messages like the Philadelphia Pride flag are the first step to ensuring all members of the LGBTQ community can feel accepted and celebrated.
4. Using the terms BAME and PoC
No one label can be universally accepted by a broad group of people representing the majority of the world’s population. The 1970s anti-racist movement in the UK saw the start of a conversation trying to find an empowering term for non-white people in order to collectively fight against the racism and discrimination they experienced.
Over the years, many terms have become popular, BAME and PoC being some of the most commonly used today. However, many feel uncomfortable being described with those terms. Some find them reducing, as they encompass a wide multitude of cultures and experiences without appropriately representing their diversity. Others dislike the language of ‘minority ethnicities’ in the BAME acronym, seeing as non-white people are the global majority.
Taking this into consideration, it’s important to be mindful of how you refer to people. If you find yourself needing to describe an individual’s race or ethnicity, and you know that they describe themselves as Black, Latinx or Brown – to name but a few – always use those terms rather than contentious umbrella terms.
5. Cultural appropriation and why it can be so damaging
Cultural appropriation is when someone adopts aspects of a culture that isn't their own. Sometimes it can reflect a power structure where members of a more dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who've been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.
There is a fine line between what is OK and what isn’t, as every situation is unique. The line is usually passed when you begin to disrespect the culture or appropriate the culture without giving it due credit. Being careless with culture in this way is extremely harmful. It trivialises violent historical oppression by making light of it; makes things trendy for white people but too ethnic for people of colour. e.g. wearing dreadlocks; and it can perpetuate racist stereotypes, e.g. wearing 'ghetto' outfits.
6. The impact of tokenisation
Tokenism is when you make a symbolic effort to include an underrepresented group, but rather than supporting individuals, you create racialised props. Common examples in everyday life include phrases such as “I’m not racist, my best friend is black”, i.e. assuming you're immune to racism because you have friends of colour; recruiting a person of colour in the workplace into a leadership position but retaining the authority; or asking a person of colour to speak on a decision around a contentious race issue, to excuse an organisation’s racist and discriminatory behaviour.
The tokenism of people of colour is a form of racism. It allows people in power to seem inclusive and that they're ensuring diversity, while still maintaining their power and privilege by keeping people from marginalised groups in a marginalised position. If you're a QTIPOC tokenised for your ethnicity, gender identity and/or orientation, it can be hugely invalidating to realise your value is merely based on underrepresented parts of your identity.
7. The impact of microaggressions
Microaggressions are the subtle everyday brief acts of discrimination that communicate hostile negative racial slights and usually rely on negative stereotypes. QTIPOC are subject to not only microaggressions linked to racism but also linked to heterosexism. QTIPOC can often experience microaggressions multiple times a day and this can leave them with feelings of isolation and frustration. This is especially difficult if you're not able to talk freely with your perpetrators about how it made you feel, and why it was so wrong.
Common examples of microaggressions QTIPOC face include:
- “Are you actually queer?”
- “So your family must be really homophobic/biphobic/transphobic right?”
- “You don’t act like a normal QTIPOC”
- “You speak so articulately!”
- “So what are you?”
8. What it’s really like for QTIPOC in relationships
If you're on dating apps like Grindr, you'll be familiar with phrases such as 'no Blacks, no Asians', 'no chocolate, no curry, no rice, no spice'. Phil Samba said that seeing these racist statements makes him “feel like there’s something wrong with you because of your race!” For many QTIPOC, especially the young, the online world can be their first safe introduction to LGBTQ dating, especially when they don’t feel safe to be themselves in real social spaces.
The fetishisation of QTIPOC as racialised offensive stereotypes also dominates LGBTQ dating culture. Common examples are phrases such as “I have a thing for black men,” or assuming a black partner will be aggressive and/or dominant. This can disproportionately affect women and non-binary people of colour, particularly plus-sized and bi people, who are often hypersexualised. This is a horrible form of objectification as QTIPOC are treated as lacking any humanity but simply desired because of inaccurate racist stereotypes. This can also leave QTIPOC in unsafe environments if their sexual partner expects them to act in a certain way.
QTIPOC are also affected by domestic and sexual abuse from their partners. Stonewall reported that BAME LGBTQ people are more likely than white LGBTQ people to experience domestic abuse from a partner.
9. The experiences of Muslim and LGBTQ people
Stonewall reported that a third of LGBT people of faith are not open with anyone in their community about their sexual orientation, and one in four for trans people of faith are not open about their gender identity.
People of faith can face a lot of stigma, and are often assumed to be homophobic, biphobic and transphobic by default. For Muslims, this is particularly heightened. Current Islamophobic tropes have given rise to the idea that being a Muslim and being LGBTQ is impossible. This makes coming out for Muslim LGBTQ people extremely difficult; often, people are told to choose one or the other. LGBTQ people exist across all faiths, and there are leaders in all faiths who are vocal advocates of LGBT equality. Unfortunately, there's also a vocal minority – from both within faith communities, and, increasingly, from the far right – who weaponise faith against LGBTQ people and use it to whip up division. As a result, many LGBTQ Muslims are erased and face hostility.
It can be difficult for Muslim LGBTQ people to find accessible and safe spaces within the LGBTQ community. Discrimination is common at Pride events: there have been overt incidences of Islamophobia with placards reading 'F*** Islam'. Muslim LGBTQ people face damaging stereotypes from other members of the LGBTQ community, such as that they and their family have to be homophobic, biphobic or transphobic.
Abstaining from alcohol isn’t always about religious observance, and our community – and our social scene (listen up LGBTQ venues) – could do with an overhaul on its attitude to alcohol. Not every LGBTQ person wants to drink, and no one should face questions about why they aren’t drinking. Similarly, you shouldn’t police someone’s behaviour because you think it contradicts their faith. If someone’s not drinking, and it makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s on you.
LGBTQ Muslims – as with LGBTQ people of other faiths - can face isolation, the prospect of losing their family and friends, and attempts to ‘fix’ them. And while a Muslim LGBTQ person will undoubtedly have different experiences from LGBTQ people from other faiths, we must remember that Muslims aren’t a homogenous group. They might have a faith in common, but the way they practice it, their race, their gender, their orientation, their class and many other factors are at play.
10. The experiences of QTIPOC in the workplace
Being a person of colour means the discrimination faced from being out at work is compounded by racial discrimination. Recruitment, retention and progression practices are affected by racial bias. In 2018 Stonewall reported that in the past year, 12 per cent of BAME LGBT employees had lost a job because of being LGBT, compared to three per cent of LGBT staff. QTIPOC can experience racial harassment from colleagues in the form of racist and abusive language, framed as 'banter' and exclusion from workplace conversations or activities.
QTIPOC are constantly code-switching within the workplace. They must essentially tone down the way they speak, act and express themselves in order to fit in professionally. Examples include toning down an accent or dialect when talking to white people in the office, or not bringing up one’s orientation or gender identity to avoid uncomfortable conversations in the office. This can take a significant toll on someone’s mental health if they constantly have to edit themselves in different scenarios.
Stonewall reported in 2018 that there was a high level of hostility and unfair treatment faced by LGBT people when accessing healthcare services. One in five BAME LGBT people have experienced unequal treatment from healthcare staff because they are LGBT, compared to one in eight LGBT people. When accessing services, QTIPOC can suffer from inappropriate curiosity about their orientation, gender identity, and even cultural background.
Appropriate therapy is also difficult to find. This is particularly worrying when LGBT people are at a higher risk of experiencing common mental health problems than the general population. For instance, 52 per cent of LGBT people experienced depression in the last year, increasing to 62 per cent of BAME LGBT people. QTIPOC experience a lack of support from the predominantly white staff of health professionals, who aren't only guilty of racist and heteronormative microaggressions, but simply fail to understand or be sensitive to the specific needs of QTIPOC.
12. What does intersectionality actually mean?
Intersectionality is often incorrectly used to mean ensuring diversity.
The theory of intersectionality was introduced by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to explain how different aspects of social and political identity can intersect and compound discrimination. Crenshaw’s initial example was using race and gender and how it affected black women when they intersected. During the feminist and anti-racist movements, black women were forced to choose a type of discrimination when making workplace discrimination complaints as sexism was associated with white women and racism with black men.
By ignoring these intersections, Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw says ‘‘significant numbers of people in our communities aren’t being served by social justice frames because they don’t address the particular ways that they’re experiencing discrimination.”
13. The difference between racism and institutional racism
Racism is prejudice or discrimination directed toward someone of a different race, based on the belief that racial differences produce an inherent superiority in a particular race. Institutional racism focuses on the systematic nature of racism in society which sustains the policies, procedures and culture of public and private institutions which reinforce this prejudice or discrimination.
An example of overt individual racism would be a health professional refusing to treat someone because of their race. Institutional racism would reflect the disparities in healthcare services for white people compared to people of colour. It would occur if this same person were unable to access certain health services due to conditions of poverty and discrimination that disproportionally disadvantage people of colour.
Despite your organisation or groups’ attempts to ensure your practices and processes are anti-racist, institutional racism is not something you can immediately avoid. It's inherent in all aspects of society and if you cannot see it, it's probably a symptom of institutional racism.
14. The difference between racism and colourism
While racism is about race, colourism is about skin colour. Colourism is the prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a darker skin tone. It can happen to people within the same ethnic group. The most obvious historical examples stem from slavery in the United States with slave owners usually preferring light-skinned slaves to be house slaves. while the dark-skinned slaves were tasked with the harder manual labour outside.
Examples of modern-day colourism include being told to use skin-lightening creams because being light-skinned is the beauty standard or the reality in, for example, the entertainment industry or the political arena, in which light-skinned people are more likely to be successful than those who are dark-skinned.
Light skin preference is common in the South-Asian community due to a toxic mix of the historic caste system and the British colonial legacy. Those with lighter skin are praised by their families as lucky, whereas those with darker skin are “degraded and shamed, made out to be some kind of 'curse'".
15. Three things you can you do to be an ally to the QTIPOC community
We want this article to be the beginning of a wider discussion within the LGBTQ community. Listen to QTIPOC with openness and a willingness to feel uncomfortable about the realities of your power and privilege.
Find ways this month to support QTIPOC, from facilitating a discussion in your workplace about being QTIPOC to simply donating to QTIPOC-focused charities and initiatives.
Don’t underestimate the importance of role models in all areas of life such as the workplace, media and government. It's important that, wherever possible, QTIPOC role models are given an appropriate platform and are meaningfully celebrated.