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Home  »   LGBT+Member Voice   »   “Why are some voices louder than others?” A reflection on ‘acceptable’ LGBT+ identity

“Why are some voices louder than others?” A reflection on ‘acceptable’ LGBT+ identity

In our latest member voice, senior clinical lead at LVNDR Health and co-opted member of the PDA LGBT+ Network, Josh Wells (he/him) reflects on ‘acceptable’ LGBT+ identity and meaningful representation in the LGBT+ community.

Sun 27th November 2022 The PDA

Often, people will ask me as an openly queer person “Do you ever receive abuse for being gay?” The answer is simply, yes. Yes, I hear the hushed tones of people that stare and gossip behind my back, I see the awkward reaction on someone’s face when they find out I live with a guy and we’re planning to have kids, and I feel the slow sense of worry creep into conversations when people panic they’re going to say the wrong thing around me. But in truth, despite these experiences, I live a wonderful life, free from physical and verbal abuse, with access to my own home that I own and a job where my identity is celebrated. I can say confidently that these juxtapositions of experiencing affirmation and rejection, joy and fear, inclusion, and isolation, are a part of daily life for many of my queer friends, peers, and members of the LGBT+ community.

Our struggle to tip the scales in our favour, to educate, raise awareness, and create a safe space for us to exist is something that we continue to strive for every day. Yet, when I read the PinkNews article that describes the racism experienced by Black, Asian and Latinx members of the community in openly LGBT+ venues ahead of Manchester Pride in August, it served as a poignant reminder of the discrimination and abuse faced by minorities even within a minority. This report also serves as a reminder of my own privilege. I’m white, cisgender, and “not too gay”, a phrase that’s often perceived to be complementary, but in fact means quite the opposite to many proud LGBT+ people. These traits alone do not make me immune to abuse, but without any doubt they allow me to navigate my life more easily than those without these privileges.

“But you’ve got Pride!”

There are many within the community who seldom experience a day without prejudice because of who they are and what they represent, be it queer women, LGBT+ people of colour, gays without the ‘perfect body’, gender nonconforming and trans people as well as those proudly living their lives with HIV or a disability, the list really does go on. “But you’ve got Pride!” I read on repeat as I scroll through Twitter and the disgruntled comments section on posts from Stonewall and other LGBT+ organisations lobbying the government to action the ban on conversion therapy, which in fact we’re still waiting on after many delays and seemingly false promises. We’ve got Pride, but lesbians and bisexual women still have fewer invitations to screening for cervical cancer than heterosexual women*. We’ve got Pride, but 1 in 5 trans individuals and Black, Asian, and other ethnic LGBT+ people will not access healthcare for fear of discrimination. We’ve got Pride, but 70% of disabled people still don’t feel welcome at LGBT+ events, including Pride!

Meaningful representation

The LGBT+ community at its core should represent and welcome diversity but let this serve as a lesson that proximity to diversity does not an ally make, even within one’s own community. Without meaningful representation and space for the voices of those most disproportionately affected by these inequalities, we will undoubtedly fall short on any commitment we make to change, particularly if we fail to educate ourselves and people outside of the LGBT+ community simultaneously. But what does meaningful representation look like? The musician, Harry Styles, has recently been featured in the press for his role in the upcoming film, My Policeman, where he will play a gay character. He described his vision of gay sex in films as “two guys going at it”, which he felt removed the ‘tenderness’.

I celebrate Styles’ ongoing commitment to recognising the LGBT+ community and support his decision to neither confirm nor deny his sexuality, as I do for everyone, however, I do wonder whether the voice of a millionaire superstar with an ambiguous sexuality is the best voice to speak on the perception of queer intimacy in a time where the press is rife with anti-trans rhetoric and increasing anti-LGBT+ stigma as a result of monkeypox.

Misinformation and misrepresentation risk aggravating existing negative misperceptions of LGBT+ and minority identities, which trickle down through society and even into the LGBT+ community itself. This is also particularly true in the current socio-political climate that feels so incredibly hostile towards those of us who don’t look, sound, or act within the predefined societal boundaries of what is deemed to be acceptably LGBT+, in other words, just a little but not too much, and maybe not at all soon enough if we look at the US as just one recent case study of rolling back LGBT+ rights all together.

This article does nothing to shed light on the incredibly colourful and diverse global history of the LGBT+ community, nor does it do justice to some of the incredible LGBT+ role models and voices that champion diversity and fight to platform minorities within the LGBT+ community. However, I hope it can emphasise that we are a community of many communities whose voices all deserved to be heard and respected.

*Kerker BD, Mostashari F, Thorpe L: Health care access and utilization among women who have sex with women: Sexual behavior and identity. J Urban Health 2006;83:970–979. Crossref, Medline, Google Scholar

By senior clinical lead at LVNDR Health and co-opted member of the PDA LGBT+ Network, Josh Wells (he/him)

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