Challenging Racism in the LGBTQ+ community

Article by Sharmila Kar, Director of Workforce and Organisational Development MHCC

This Race Equality Week and LGBT+ History Month, Sharmila Kar – Director of Workforce and Organisational Development for MHCC discusses the challenges of racism in the LGBTQ+ community.

All communities struggle in some way with race, and the LGBTQ+ community is no different.

Racism has always played a role in relationships between white and queer people of colour. But while the LGBTQ+ movement looks forward to a world without homophobia and transphobia, it too often fails to look inside itself at the racial biases that people of colour face in the cis-straight world.

Racism is rampant in the LGBTQ+ community and when we fail to address and confront that racism, we fail the most vulnerable amongst us.

The most common mistake that people make when talking about racism is to think of it as a problem of personal prejudices and individual acts of discrimination. They do not see that it is a system. A web of interlocking and reinforcing institutions: political, economic, social, cultural, legal, educational – all of our institutions. As a system, racism affects every aspect of life in a country. By not understanding that racism is systemic, we guarantee that it will continue.

As we reflect on Race Equality Week and LGBT history month it is important that we take an intersectional lens to equity. This requires us to engage in a reflective process, recognising the ways in which different social identities (including our own) produce intersecting systems of privilege or oppression and how these systems create different lived experiences within our social context.

Research undertaken by Stonewall, a leading LGBT charity, investigated the experiences of LGBT people of colour and found that:

  • Half of Black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT people 51% face discrimination within the LGBT community
  • A third of bi people 32% can’t be open with anyone in their family

Stonewall’s research showed the depth of racism that exists. The report also revealed a high percentage of LGBT people who are still not able to be open with friends and family.

Half of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) LGBT people (51%) said they’ve faced discrimination or poor treatment from the wider LGBT community.

The situation is particularly acute for black LGBT people: three in five 61% have experienced discrimination from other LGBT people, according to the study. The research, based on YouGov polling of over 5,000 LGBT people, exposed the extent to which LGBT people of colour face discrimination based on both their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and their race.

The abuse LGBT people of colour face from the community includes feeling excluded from LGBT specific spaces and hurtful comments. Racist language and behaviour leaves already marginalised members of the LGBT community feeling shut out and isolated. Acceptance from family and friends was found to still be a problem for many LGBT people.

Only half of lesbian, gay and bi people 46% and trans people 47% feel able to be open about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to their whole family. A third of bi people 32% say they cannot be open about their sexual orientation with anyone in their family.

The research also found that trans people, LGBT disabled people and those of faith were at significant risk of exclusion from other LGBT people. More than a third of trans people 36%, one in four 26% LGBT disabled people whose activities are limited a lot, and one in five LGBT people of non-Christian faith 21% say they’ve experienced discrimination from within the community.

The report made several recommendations and these were developed with groups and individuals from the communities featured in the research. Ensuring more diversity in decision-making structures, commissioning anti-discrimination training, building links and partnership work with communities of colour and disability groups, as well as listening to and giving a platform to others, are some of the key steps that organisations should take.

The research is a worrying insight into just how serious a problem prejudice is within the LBGT+ community and we need to talk about it. Users of dating apps will be familiar with phrases like ‘No blacks, no Asians’ and ‘No chocolate, no curry, no rice, no spice’ becoming the modern-day versions of ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Gypsies’.

Both online and in their daily lives, LGBT people of colour are excluded and face stereotyping from their white peers. This leaves LGBT people of colour feeling unwelcome within the wider community. This is unacceptable and it causes damage and mistrust.

If real change for LGBT people is to occur, we as a community need to hold a mirror to ourselves and have open conversations about how to change. This means learning to recognise our own privileges and to be active allies to each other. It is only by working together that we can create a world where all LGBTQ+ people and people of colour are accepted without exception.