Women and the LGBT Community
While pride month is over, it is important we continue discussing LGBT issues, especially those relating to women. This is a perfect time to reflect and become educated on these issues, as the LGBT community continues to fight for inclusion, equality and visibility all year round, not just during pride month.
This year, 2019, has marked 50 years since the Stonewall riots, which was a revolutionary moment in LGBT history. The Stonewall riots served as a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States; it brought with it a new cultural awareness for a community which was largely ostracised and has been referenced to pin point the historical moment wherein “pride began”. In fact, women have been at the centre of the fight for LGBT equality, as Marsha P Johnson, a black trans woman, famously led the stonewall riots. And ironically, 50 years later, black transgender women remain one of the most disadvantaged members of the community, due to combined systemic prejudices stemming from misogyny, racism, and transphobia.
Women in the LGBT community who come from minority ethnic backgrounds continue to be faced with cultural and religious barriers when coming out, and often, coming out comes with life-threatening risks. Many religions and cultures are not open to the idea of homosexuality and being transgender, and instead subscribe to the traditional belief that relationships consist of a man and a woman, who each have different societal roles. Many LGBT people of minority ethnic backgrounds go through their whole lives without being able to openly live as their authentic selves, however, we are making some steps as a society to allow for the liberation of these members through healthy discussions and representation. However, we still have a long way to go to ensure the safety of these members.
Historically, women have been taught that they exist for the pleasure of men, they should upkeep their external appearance for the attention of men, they should focus on developing skills that they will use to cater to men, and so on and so forth. Centuries of this outlook has allowed these beliefs to become ingrained in the foundations of our society, and they are manifested and observed through everything; societal hierarchy, laws, interaction, entertainment, so on and so forth. Therefore, when women express that they are attracted to women, and women only, they are not taken seriously by men, who often feel entitled to them due to the patriarchal system. Lesbian women are seen as a “challenge” for men to “convert”, often using statements such as “you’ve never been with a real man”, “you haven’t met the right man” etc. This demonstrates how women are not seen as people capable of making their own decisions, but as helpless creatures that need to be guided and taught.
Furthermore, in a hyper-sexualised male dominated world, lesbian women are often subjected to increased objectification and fetishization by heterosexual males. The fetishization of lesbians is often a result of lesbian representation in society, coupled with views towards women stemming from the patriarchal system. For example, lesbian couples are frequently portrayed as overly sexual, with all romantic aspects of the relationship omitted; this indicates that this media is created for the consumption of heterosexual men, and not for the inclusion of queer and lesbian women. Not only does this lead to eroticisation, objectification, and fetishization, it also represents lesbian women in an unrealistic way, which influences people’s perceptions of them and alienates lesbian women. This narrative of lesbian women is dangerous, and can lead to violence; for example, recently, a lesbian couple were attacked on the bus on their way home by a group of men for refusing to kiss each other. The behaviour leading to the physical attack signals that the group of men felt entitled to be “entertained” by these women and did not take their sexuality or their relationship as legitimate, or worthy of respect.
Although we have made great strides as a society to respect LGBT people’s rights, create visibility and representation, for example, members of the LGBT community can legally marry, can join political movements and represent their community, and their history becoming a part of the school curriculum, it is important to continue the conversation and highlight issues that still exist. Many of the issues women in the LGBT community face stem from misogyny, which is a by-product of the patriarchal system. As a result, unlearning and unpacking the dynamics of the patriarchal system is key to addressing these issues. Additionally, women from minority ethnic groups face added hurdles due to racism, with black trans women being the most disadvantaged. It is important to understand these issues and allow for healthy discussion, as through this, change can happen.