As we enter the second year of Create Space, we’re really excited to continue working with queer activists at the forefront of the movement. As we’ve been broadening our network, we’ve worked to reach out to those who are most marginalized and use Create Space to work with a diverse range of activists within this community.
Our first five featured activists: Lua, Amir, Kayla, Dom and Vincy, represent the global movement for queer liberation. They are fighting to create safe spaces for trans and non-binary people, to end violence against Iraqi LGBTQ+ people, and to provide practical support and housing for those most in need. Create Space is all about grassroots activism and supporting those who are working on the front line.
This is our approach because the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community are multifaceted and intersecting. So what does this mean? Problems facing marginalized groups can get boiled down to single broad issues – think of the terms ‘trans rights’ or ‘gay rights’. This approach can end up leaving out parts of the community, as it can be all too easy to only address the issues faced by the majority.
The term ‘intersectionality’ was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 after she observed multiple cases of black women being ignored by both feminist and anti-racist movements because of their identities. She imagined a road intersecting where a person’s gender and racial identities meet. It’s at this intersection where unique forms of discrimination can occur, either personally, or structurally within institutions.
Intersectionality acknowledges that parts of our identity do not exist independently of each other, i.e. ‘black women’, rather than being only ‘black’ or ‘a woman’. Everyone has intersecting identities across sexual orientation, gender, class, race and more, and how you move through the world will be influenced by the level of privilege your identity affords you. Putting this into an LGBTQ+ context, a cisgender gay man’s experiences in the LGBTQ+ community will almost certainly differ to a transgender gay man’s, and a disabled lesbian will likely face more barriers compared to her non-disabled peers. Only by using an intersectional lens can we ensure that everyone is included in the fight for liberation.
Lack of acknowledgement for minority groups has happened since the beginning of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Sylvia Rivera, a key figure in the gay liberation and transgender rights movements and reportedly at Stonewall, famously jumped on stage at a 1973 NYC pre-Pride rally to lament the fact that despite all of her activism, the majority of gay people ignored the widespread abuse directed at gender non-conforming people, or contributed to this abuse themselves. Speaking to a predominantly gay cisgender audience, she said:
“I have been to jail. I have been raped. And beaten. Many times! By men, heterosexual men that do not belong in the homosexual shelter. But do you do anything for me? No. You tell me to go and hide my tail between my legs.”
Fortunately, today more attention is being paid to the challenges faced by those previously erased by white, cis-centered activism, within activism and in the media. For example, The Black Lives Matter movement has been intersectional from the start. Founded by three women, two being queer, BLM’s centering of black LGBTQ+ experiences has undoubtedly had an impact. In 2020 an estimated 15,000 people turned out for the the Black Trans Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn, or ‘Brooklyn liberation’, one of the largest demonstrations of solidarity towards the transgender community ever seen. However, we must remember that progress is not linear. In many places across the world, including those we consider the most progressive, hard fought for rights remain under threat or being rolled back.
LGBTQ+ activism must always account for those at the fringes of the movement. Weight must be put behind those fighting for trans people of color, disabled LGBTQ+ people who lack access to spaces, and queer immigrants who are being failed by the systems that should be welcoming them with open arms. No one is equal until we are all equal.