Exploring the Kyriarchy: Pride is a Protest
The Stonewall Inn, an LGBTQ club in New York City, was raided by police in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. At the time such bars and clubs were a refuge for LGBTQ people, as non-gender-conforming behavior, including same-sex kissing and dancing, was illegal. Stonewall patrons, frustrated with social discrimination and treatment by police, fought back. Forty nine years later, Pride celebrations across the US and the world over, celebrate the anniversary of these brave patrons. Pride celebrations are protest rallies.
The kyriarchy discriminates and marginalizes LGBTQ people in lots of different ways, and sometimes they overlap. Today, only twenty states and the District of Columbia have employment, housing, and public accommodation protections for LGBTQ people. Utah has protections for employment and housing, but not public accommodations. And Wisconsin has protections for all three, but only for sexual orientation, and not gender identity. Three states - Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee - specifically prohibit local municipalities from passing and implementing LGBTQ protections. Only 13 states and the District of Columbia ban the harmful practice of conversion therapy for minors.
Not only are the remaining states not protecting LGBTQ people, many are actively working against LGBTQ rights. In 2017, at least 129 anti-LGBTQ proposals were introduced in state legislatures. These bills included permitting discrimination in adoption and parental rights, refusal to recognize same-sex relationships, restricting bathroom rights for trans people, and other types of religious refusal by both state employees and private businesses.
The failure of government to enact LGBTQ protections has led to institutional discrimination. A study published in 2015 found that a long history of law enforcement targeting and mistreating LGBTQ people led to distrust of police, which resulted in fewer crimes reported by that community. Reporting in 2018 found that LGBTQ people had experienced discrimination or mistreatment in a hospital, health clinic, or pharmacy. Experiences or the expectation of discrimination resulted in some LGBTQ people delaying or avoiding healthcare. Reporting published in 2016 found that students in US public schools faced widespread discrimination and harassment. A previous study found that over half of US students were distressed by an LGBTQ-hostile environment. Students were subjected to slurs and hate speech, physical harassment and assaults, and discriminatory discipline for public affection. LGBTQ people are also subject to violence because of their identities, which serves to terrorize the entire community.
While many types of anti-LGBTQ oppression affect all members of the community, many are specific to the individual groups encompassed in the acronym. Let’s explore those.
Homophobia is discrimination and disgust toward same-sex attracted people and couples. One recent example is an Uber driver who ejected a lesbian couple for a kiss in his car. The same type of rejection of service is extremely unlikely to happen to a straight couple. In another example, lawyers for a man convicted of murder discovered years later that the jurors had deliberated his sexuality. They are now appealing his death sentence as jurors believed that life in prison would be a reward, that he would enjoy prison because he is a gay man. Another example includes recently surfaced videos of members of a fraternity mocking LGBTQ people. The videos amount to propaganda, which encourages others to think of gay students as “other” and subject to ridicule. Refusals of service, harsher sentences in the criminal justice system, and harassment are examples of marginalization.
Transphobia is discrimination and disgust toward transgender people, those who identify with a different gender than they were assigned at birth.
Recently, a transgender woman in a Washington, DC club was asked for her ID to use the restroom, and told she needed to leave after confronting the employee. In another example, in June 2018, the Ohio legislature began debating a bill that would require school staff to report to parents if their child exhibited behavior inconsistent with their biological sex. The bill clearly is designed to target transgender students, but the wording could be interpreted to include any variation of strict gender norms. Also in June, a Tennessee duo released an album that included transphobic language. Specifically, one of the songs was about negative feelings associated with a man spending time with a woman who looked like a “tranny.” Reporting in 2018 highlighted a trans man’s story about the discrimination he faced in seeking treatment for a number of conditions. From being forced to announce his dead name by reception to his health concerns not being taken seriously, his experience left him anxious about seeking treatment. Reporting in early 2018 highlighted the treatment of trans women in men’s prisons, including misgendering, the use of dead names, strip searches, being forced to shower with men who verbally harassed them, and solitary confinement. From public spaces to schools to health care to prisons to pop culture, transgender people are mocked, denied essential services, and otherwise discriminated against.
While bisexual people - those who are attracted to more than one gender - are the largest group in the LGBTQ community, they face discrimination from both inside and outside the LGBTQ community. Some members of this group choose to identify as fluid (variations in attraction) or pansexual (attraction to all genders). Bisexuality is used here as a term for non-binary attraction, as opposed to monosexuality (attraction to one gender).
Within the community erasure and refusal are common. For example, the term “gold star lesbian” refers to a lesbian woman who has only had sex with women. The term is often a point of pride, which specifically excludes bi women. Some gay men and lesbian women say that they would never date a bisexual person. Others deny bisexuality altogether by describing it as a phase on the way to being “fully out.” Straight cisgender men sometimes fetishize female bisexuality as they search for “unicorns,” a bisexual woman willing to engage in threesomes with couples.
Some stereotypes are applied differently to bi men and women. For example, a bi woman could be perceived as straight but experimenting. She is seen as ultimately straight. Bi men are often seen as gay, but not all the way out. Both of these stereotypes prioritize men and male sexual satisfaction, while erasing bisexuality as a genuine sexual identity. Other stereotypes include a tendency to cheat, a lack of commitment, a lack of emotion, or a lack of sexual discretion. Of course, like any stereotype, applying these ideas to all bisexual people is problematic.
As a result of these stereotypes, bisexual people can face rejection from both lesbian and gay people, as well as straight people. This rejection, or being treated as “other,” can lead to stress and stress-related illnesses, including depression, anxiety, and a greater risk of suicide.
Intersex is a category of the full acronym, LGBTQIA. Intersex people have some variation of both male and female physical characteristics. These characteristics can present in a number of ways. For example, a person could be born with one gender’s characteristics on the inside and another outside, or have some combination of both male and female genitalia. Another example is a person with some cells with XY chromosomes and some with XX chromosomes.
In some cases, the parents of intersex babies may want to correct what they perceive as a problem by subjecting the child to “corrective” surgery in infancy. This can result in a child being raised as a gender with which they do not identify. This can result in shame and feelings of betrayal, which can lead to problems in interpersonal relationships. This kind of marginalization can be prevented, as intersex awareness continues to expand, and parents have the resources to make healthy decisions for their children.
While a trans person does not identify with the gender they were assigned one gender at birth, a non-binary, or genderqueer, person identifies with neither, or some variation of both. The idea that there are only two genders, while common, erases non-binary people. For example, some non-binary people experience discrimination in healthcare. Non-binary is not the same as intersex, but genderqueer people face similar stereotypes in terms of rejection and erasure, which can result in unnecessary stress and stress-related illnesses.
Asexual and Aromantic
Asexual people do not experience sexual attraction, and aromatic people do not experience romantic attraction. A person could be both, or one or the other.
Asexual people are sometimes told that they have a disorder, rather than asexuality being recognized as a legitimate sexual orientation. They can also feel alienated by a culture (advertisements, books, movies, music) that believes that everyone wants or needs sex. Some people believe that asexuality is the result of medication, experiences of abuse, or is a phase. Asexual people also experience institutionalized discrimination in healthcare, marriage rights, housing, employment, and adoption. Asexual people can also be subject to violent attempts of conversion, such as “corrective rape.”
Aromantic people are subject to stereotypes that they are inconsiderate or selfish. They are also sometimes considered emotionally broken. As aromanticism becomes more normalized, society can better respond to aromantic people in ways that don’t marginalize them.
Sexism and racism within the LGBTQ community
The LGBTQ community is not immune to racism. Last year - more than 45 years into the movement - the city of Philadelphia added extra stripes to their Pride flag, indicating that people of color are welcome. The flag was criticized as ugly, divisive, and unnecessary. The community, particularly gay men, is also not immune to sexism. The assumption that gay men can touch women without permission, specifically because they feel no sexual desire toward women, is harmful to women. Sometimes gay men will use sexist terms, and assume that it is benign simply because they are gay. Unchallenged sexism in the LGBTQ community is also a problem. It can be even more harmful, as one would expect that someone in her own community would not oppress another, considering their own experiences of oppression.
The strict gender norms of our patriarchal culture marginalize all LGBTQ people, even if in different ways. Such norms refuse to acknowledge the vast diversity of the human experience, not to mention ignoring biology. These norms often insist that LGBTQ people are unnatural, but there is evidence of homosexual and bisexual behavior in hundreds of species. Others criticize LGBTQ families, suggesting that children need both a mother and a father. However, studies show that children of same-sex parents are as healthy and perform the same or better on tests of social and academic skills. In May 2013, the DSM-5 caught up to trans and genderqueer peoples’ experiences. In the new diagnostic manual, gender identity disorder was replaced with gender dysphoria, which acknowledges the stress related to not identifying with one’s assigned gender and the stress of not being allowed to express their true identity.
Non-conformity with strict patriarchal gender norms is not an illness, but a natural expression of human identity. Building a society that acknowledges that will include dismantling dated ideas of what it means to be human, and will help protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, violence, and marginalization.
Note: The majority of this essay uses the term LGBTQ, rather than the full acronym LGBTQIA, or longer versions. The Q in this acronym stands for queer, which is often used as an all encompassing term for the entire community. An example is Queer Studies in academia. For more information about terms associated with the community, please explore this glossary.