Stand In Solidarity

Illustration by Erin Fung

By Lok Yiu Cheng
Published on December 12th, 2020

“No pride for some of us until liberation for all of us.” --Micah Bazant

Social movements arose as in resistance to the discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the late 1960s. Gatherings, public displays of affection, solicitation of homosexuals and deviant behaviour from gender roles were criminalized by the law or custom such as the United States and the UK. As a result, LGBTQ+ members created their own safe space and support systems through organizations and gay bars.

However, these safe havens were constantly raided and shut down by authorities. Stonewall Inn located in Greenwich Village, New York City was one of the only gay bars that allowed dancing and welcomed drag queens, and served as an overnight place for homeless and runaway people. However, in 1969, a series of violent demonstrations led by black, trans woman Marsha P. Johnson took place in New York after police raided the bar without prior warning, where they harassed and arrested individuals. These uprisings were the birth of modern LGBTQ+ movements that drove people to take a proactive stand to fight for liberation and equality.

Half a decade of resistance later, the LGBTQ+ community has seen massive achievements. Homosexuality was decriminalized, same-sex marriage is now legal in 26 countries, the World Health Organization declassified trans identities as a mental illness, and LGBTQ+ individuals are protected by law in Taiwan, parts of Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

In modern times, pride parades are held annually in the month of June to celebrate self acceptance, achievements and liberations; queer youth take comfort in LGBTQ+ movies and songs and through celebrities, politicians and musicians. Activists continue to shed light on discrimination. People no longer feel like outcasts in safe spaces on the internet or organizations where they can seek refuge and support. And most importantly of all, there has been a surge in LGBTQ+ allies, who have become educated and accepting of their LGBTQ+ friends and family.

It can seem as though the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is over.

No, the fight is far from over.

The recent media coverage and representation of the LGBTQ+ has brought new challenges, and new demands have been raised in order to accurately represent everyone. A few harmful side effects as a result of media coverage include fetishization and stereotyping.

Individuals of the LGBTQ+ have been struggling to break stereotypes that have been enforced on them by mass media or the general public. For gay men, they are labelled as flamboyant who enjoy shopping and fashion; however, the stereotype that gay men are predators or pedophiles has contributed to the discrimination towards gay teachers.

As for those attracted to more than one sex, the media portrays them as indecisive or promiscuous. Bisexuality, for example, is seen to be a experimental phase for homosexuality, which erases the sexuality entirely. Promiscuity suggests that these individuals are unloyal or incapable of monogamy-- hence causing stigma towards these sexualities. In addition, some heterosexuals act defensive around those who are attracted to the same or more than one sex out of ‘fear’ that they would be hit on by them, the reason being homophobia.

Lastly, and perhaps the most harmful, are stereotypes about transsexual people. ‘Transgender’ is an umbrella term for those who do not define with the gender they were assigned with at birth. As a result, they make physical or hormonal changes to reflect the person they are inside. There are many incredibly inimical myths, for instance, that trans people are trying to trick people or mentally ill, and that they will expose others to assault in gender specific bathrooms which feed into the discrimination trans people face and make them feel ostracized from their cisgender peers.

Discrimination and stereotypes can further be broken down into sex and race, for example, bisexual Asian women being seen as erotic, black gay men being seen as more dominant, and certain cultures placing heavy emphasis on masculinity.

So-called “positive stereotypes” are not as positive as it seems. A common one being gay men give good fashion advice or having a gay best friend. These labels put pressure on the individuals to live up to that standard and constrains someone in that stereotype.

This leads to the next issue -- fetishization.

Gay men have been painted to be theatrical and effeminate by media. In movies and television, gay characters are usually there to be merely the gay character. They are sassy, dramatic, funny and nothing more. Times where gay characters are featured, they are rarely the main character or fully fleshed out as a character with plot significance and a storyline.

And as a result, many straight women who see this now wish to have a ‘gay best friend’. This, explained in simple terms, is a friend that women can gossip with, go shopping with, and go to for dating advice with a man. The ‘gay best friend’ is also desired as men would not have ulterior motives to get with women. A majority of platonic relationships between straight woman and gay men are not problematic.

However, the term ‘gay best friend’ objectifies gay men to be nothing but their sexuality. The message it sends to the public is that gay men are only useful in that context. Teen Vogue even named it as a “must-have” on their blog in 2010. An article published in the Cosmopolitan in 2020 recounts Daniel Harding’s experience being the gay best friend in a friend group. Harding talks about how he felt like the odd one out in a friend group of girls and being introduced to everyone as the GBF. In his words, “... As someone who struggled with being gay for so long, having it constantly highlighted was hard. All I craved was to be ‘normal’ and to fit in. But all I did was stand out.”

Harding’s experience is one of many. Gay men may feel isolated from their other friends on the sole basis of their sexuality. Some could believe that they are nothing but the ‘gay best friend’ label.

Queer women are not spared from fetishization either. A lot of the so-called ‘representation’ is objectification and sexualization of relationships between two women. The media is pornographic, usually for the sexual enjoyment of men. Movies covering wlw relationships never focus on healthy character developments. Some straight men believe that they had the power to ‘convert’ lesbians because they haven’t had a good experience yet, or that women-loving women only dated women as a result of a bad past with men. None of this is true. Queer women are attracted to women, simply because they are attracted to women.

There is a genre of fictional media in Japan known as Yaoi or Yuri, which features homoerotic relationships. These include all forms of media such as mangas, artwork and anime focusing on an overly sexualized and heavily fetishized relationships between people of the same sex. These forms of media are usually endorsed by women. The couples usually have a more masculine and feminine character to mirror heteronormative relationships, and are not written to accurately depict healthy same-sex realtionships -- they are written for people’s guilty pleasures.

Some people rationalize these actions by claiming to be allies, and supporting LGBTQ+ works.

Sure, you can argue that the fetishization is unintentional, or that the author only saw the problem after public outroar, and that it is still representation, but the destruction caused by bad representation has already been discussed.

But what if you weren’t represented at all? What if your identity was erased?

When you hear the LGBTQ+ community, the first people that come to your mind are probably homosexuals or transgender people, given that they are in the acronym. However, the fact that many allies or LGBTQ+ people refuse to educate themselves on labels such as pansexuality, the non-binary spectrum, genderfluid and asexuality, they are being taken out of the equation. There is a lack of representation for these individuals in the media, and a lack of acceptance in the community, which erases their identities. Ruby Rose and activist Jeffrey Marsh have been working to make strides in genderqueer representation and allow genderqueer people to recieve mainstream media attention.

All of this shows that society has not completely progressed past LGBTQ-phobia.

The LGBTQ+ community is a place where oppressed LGBTQ+ people from all walks of life can come together. People who felt alone in the world for being ‘different’ are now assured that they are not, with a new found family. The close-knit community works to lift each other up and support one another. No one should feel ostracized in a place of comfort, so it is important for the community to address issues, misrepresentation and fight for all of our rights.

And as for our allies, you must recognize the power your voice holds. Use your privilege to amplify our demands, acknowledge and call out mistakes. There is power in numbers. Until we all come together, the LGBTQ+ community will continue to stand in solitary.

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