Intersectionality: An Overview
Intersectionality is most simply defined as the overlap of minority identities. For example, a woman who is both African American and bisexual would be a part of three different minority groups: gender (as a woman), race (as a woman of color), and sexuality (as a part of the LGBTQ+ community). The combination of different identities drastically increases an individual’s likelihood of discrimination, marginalization, and harassment.
Particularly in the LGBTQ+ community, people of color and individuals who identify as a woman are much more susceptible to oppression than the rest of the community. This is because of the oppression combined with being a part of more than one marginalized demographic.
Not all discrimination against intersectional identities is violent, prolonged, or even purposeful. Microaggressions play a large role in dual minority individuals, as they are quick and can happen on a daily basis and can be completely unintentional. In fact, microaggressions aren’t even necessarily purposefully verbal – they can be conveyed through opinions, attitudes, or actions. Many marginalized identities experience microaggressions at some point. Here are some examples of common microaggressions that are said in regards to race, gender, and sexuality:
- locking car doors or holding onto valuable items when encountering a black man
- saying “You speak English very well” to someone of Asian or Latino descent, even if they were born in the United States or another English-speaking country.
- asking someone “Where are you really from?” when they appear to a person of color but say they are American
- dismissing someone’s struggle as a person of color
- saying things like “You’re so pretty for a black woman,” or “You act so white” as if being articulate or pretty is reserved only for white individuals
- catcalling women on the street
- the general assumption that men who are assertive are good leaders, while women who are assertive are considered rude or bossy
- saying things like “Don’t be such a girl,” or “You throw/act like a girl” as if being a woman is something to be ashamed or embarrassed about
- the incredibly outdated mindset that women should stay at home and cook, clean, and take care of children while men should be the breadwinners
- using “queer”, “gay”, “homo”, and other terms in a negative manner, hinting at the idea that being gay is negative
- telling LGBTQ+ individuals to keep their sexuality “to themselves” or to “not throw it in everyone’s faces”, as if being gay is something to be ashamed of
- telling bisexual individuals that their sexuality is “just a phase”, or that they’re “just experimenting”, instead of recognizing it as an actual sexuality (this phenomenon is often called bisexual erasure)
- saying things like “You’re a lesbian? But you’re so pretty!” or “You don’t look like you’re gay”
- sexualizing bisexual and lesbian women, as if their sexuality is simply for the satisfaction and arousal of men
Race, Gender, and Sexuality Combined
Although all marginalized identities are important, the combination that receives the most hate and discrimination are LGBTQ+ people of color. Statistics have shown that within the LGBTQ+ community, people of color are much more susceptible to harassment, discrimination, stigmas, and other harmful assumptions and attitudes. In particular, the LGBTQ+ youth of color are the most vulnerable to discrimination. In fact, many homeless LGBTQ+ youth are people of color. Dual marginalization like race and sexuality often leave youth with little to no chance of succeeding.
Consequences of Intersectionality
In addition to issues of homelessness and poverty, intersectional identities often lead to mental health and physical problems. LGBTQ+ people of color, especially those who identify as women, are incredibly susceptible to some kind of mental illness or disorder like anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and others. What’s even more unfair is once these disorders develop, many intersectional individuals feel unsafe or uncomfortable approaching counselors or therapists, as they fear that they will be judged, discriminated against, or even turned away by health care professionals.
Another consequence to intersectional microaggressions and harassment is the discouragement of coming out. Many individuals feel the need to hide their identity as an LGBTQ+ individual because they are afraid that they will be even more oppressed or discriminated against than before.