Only the most myopic among us deny that racism and discrimination continue to rear their ugly heads constantly in our society. Indeed, according to an NBC news poll, 64 percent of Americans feel racism remains a major problem in our society. And members of the LGBTQ community in many jurisdictions, including under federal law, still lack the legal recourse available to other marginalized groups due to sexual identity and gender identity not being recognized as protected classes.
This creates unique problems for members of the LGBTQ community who are also people of color. Discrimination in any form causes unique stressors that can impact both mental and physical health. It is imperative that the unique problems faced by members of double minorities be addressed, both by the LGBTQ community and by society at large.
The Alienation of LGBTQ Individuals of Color
Historically, the LGBTQ community has been dominated by white gay men. While the community is ever-growing, many people of color find that they even face discrimination or at the very least feel misunderstood by white members of the LGBTQ community. And because of their sexual and/or gender identity, they also often feel they face discrimination from other members of their same racial group.
Because of this, online support groups specifically targeted toward LGBTQ members of specific racial or cultural heritages have sprung into existence. While these support groups offer invaluable support, they do not necessarily lead to greater inclusivity among the LGBTQ community as a whole.
The Effects of Secondary Marginalization
When marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ community further discriminate against other marginalized members of their own group due to race, this creates what political scientist Cathy Cohen refers to as “secondary marginalization.”
As a whole, members of the LGBTQ community hold far more progressive views toward race than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. However, when LGBTQ individuals do face secondary marginalization, it can lead to intense feelings of isolation. LGBTQ individuals who experience this marginalization may feel as if they have nowhere to truly express their authentic selves, and this can lead to loneliness and eventually lead to anxiety and depression.
Disparity in Justice Issues
One area in which the LGBTQ community fails its people of color is by not addressing the continuing disparities in the area of justice. Whether gay or straight, transgender or cis, people of color still face much longer and harsher sentences, for example, for minor crimes. And due to the additional discrimination they face as marginalized members of two groups, they sometimes lack the means to support and defend themselves when they are accused.
As a result, people of color make up an outsized portion of the U.S. prison population. And once convicted, members of the LGBTQ community face additional threats of violence behind bars. A transgender woman, for example, who has not transitioned, may be sentenced to a men’s correctional facility, making her an immediate target for assault.
The Failure of the LGBTQ Community in Addressing Racial Injustice
The first step the LGBTQ community can take going forward is becoming more vocal in addressing issues of racial inequality. By joining forces, members of both groups can work together to address one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Additionally, members of the LGBTQ community who are white can reach out to their peers of color and ask about the unique struggles they face. By fostering an atmosphere of greater inclusivity where all are safe expressing themselves, issues of racial disparity can be brought out into the open and addressed.
The LGBTQ community has an incredible opportunity to be the change in promoting progress towards true racial equality.
The Effects of Microaggression on Mental and Physical Health
Failing to welcome people of color fully into the LGBTQ community can create devastating effects on both mental and physical health. All marginalized groups are continuously exposed to microaggression — acts of discrimination that can be either intentional or unintentional. Those who are both LGBTQ and of color suffer microaggressions at the hands of both their white and heteronormative peers, creating twice the stress.
This stress has been linked to higher rates of anxiety, depression and substance abuse. In addition, those who are members of not one, but two minority groups often suffer higher rates of physical ailments such as chronic pain disorders.
The LGBTQ community is a beautiful community for sharing pride in who each of us are as individuals. By extending inclusivity to LGBTQ individuals of color, a better opportunity to create greater racial understanding as well as understanding of sexual preferences and gender identity can be born.