Discrimination within gay community is a problem, too

Those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community often face discrimination from outside groups, but what many don’t see is the exclusion that occurs within the community.

The pattern of marginality follows the rest of U.S. society in marking ethnic minorities, those with disabilities and the poor, according to Ruth Hackford-Peer, coordinator of the U’s LGBT Resource Center.

“Our individual pain can be so important that we fight for things that benefit ‘me’ instead of ‘us,’ and that isn’t always inclusive, and we don’t keep all of that in mind,” Hackford-Peer said.

But some in the LGBT community also push bisexuals and transgendereds to the periphery, she said.

She said she believes that the public at large targets gays and lesbians because they don’t fit the mold of how a man or woman should express his or her gender. But, to some extent, the gay and lesbian community does try to conform by rejecting bisexuality and those who are transgendered.

“Some in the gay community will continue to try to ‘be that man or that woman’ that society expects them to be by rejecting anything outside of a binary system of gender,” she said. “Often when transgendered people are targeted by LGB people, LGB people have internalized their own oppression.”

Hackford-Peer also stressed the difference between sexual orientation, which she defines as who a person is attracted to, and sexual expression, defined as how a person behaves in a gender role.

Barbara Nash, a transgendered professor of geology and geophysics at the U, agrees with Hackford-Peer’s definitions.

“People aren’t attacked because of their behavior in the bedroom, but rather because of the way they express their gender and sexuality,” she said.

While those in the gay and lesbian community don’t discriminate on that basis, as everyone in the LGBT community faces it, they can persecute on other grounds.

“Many people aren’t OK with people like myself because I represent a destabilizing view of sexuality,” she said.

It is that nonacceptance that Nash said keeps many of those who are transgendered “deep within the closet.”

“I don’t know of very many overt cases on campus or in the community…they just aren’t visible,” she said.

Part of that invisibility may come from the fact that there is little protection for the transgendered community. She recognizes that the U’s discrimination policy includes sexual orientation, but not gender identity or sexual expression.

“There’s a very grass-roots effort to get that changed,” she said.

Gender expression is not something that affects just those who are transgendered, she said, but rather every LGBT person who doesn’t fit the preconceived notion of male or female. But discrimination policies still don’t stop the LGBT community from expressing some of its tendencies to push those who are ethnic minorities, disabled and poor to the edges of an already edged out portion of society. When a person has an intersection of marginality, such as being both gay and poor, rarely do both issues get addressed.

“When you look at the growing population of homeless gay youth, they really aren’t worried about gay marriage because they have more pressing concerns,” Hackford Peer said.

Evan Done, an intern at the LGBT Resource Center, agrees.

“When you are in a lower socioeconomic class, and you work in a job without benefits, then you really don’t care about the fight for benefits,” he said. Being located on the third floor of the Union doesn’t help matters, either.

“It’s not just racism and classism we’re dealing with. Up here on the third floor, there’s no easy access for disabled people, and we wonder why we don’t have any students with disabilities coming up to the center,” she said.

Nash is hopeful that the situation will get better.

“The creation of the LGBT Resource Center on campus has made a tangible change in the in the atmosphere on campus. People are much more willing to engage in conversations and activities, and I think that will continue to get better,” Nash said.

Hackford-Peer is also optimistic.

“There are lots of voices missing from the fight for LGBT rights, but as more people come out of the closet, I think those voices will be heard,” Hackford-Peer said.

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