Dear white gays, we need to talk.
Philadelphia made national headlines this month by unveiling a newly designed pride flag. In addition to the original rainbow, a black bar and a brown bar were added to the top of the flag in order to “highlight black and brown” LGBTQ members. As a gay man, I thought the community would praise the decision to be more inclusive, but I was wrong. Almost as soon as the flag was announced, a schism within the LGBTQ community was laid bare as white gays took to social media to lambaste the new flag, with one inquiring on Twitter, “Where’s the white stripe?” and another questioning its relevance since “Race is not important.” Ironically, these and similar comments bemoaning the addition of black and brown to the pride flag showcase the importance of their inclusion.
To put it frankly, the LGBTQ community has a problem. Despite the demands for equal rights professed by many queer individuals, it appears that this rallying cry has often fallen on deaf ears within our own community. Although we like to believe that we champion equal rights and fight for inclusion, the fact of the matter is that as soon as marriage equality became the law of the land, many of us put down our picket signs and declared that the fight for equality was over. In the process, we have left queer people of color and transgender people behind by perpetuating discrimination against them. This must change.
Although these issues are prevalent within the national LGBTQ community, they are all too common within the GW LGBTQ community as well.Despite what many cisgender white gay men at GW may believe, we have done an insufficient job ensuring that our community represents all the colors of the rainbow. A fact that was made even more explicit — almost pointedly so — with the reveal of the new Philadelphia pride flag.
Though we may like to think of ourselves as inclusive, diverse and progressive, the truth of the matter is that these thoughts, while comforting, are nothing more than a delusion. In reality, the LGBTQ community at GW is dominated by cisgender white gay men – such as myself – and caters almost exclusively to our needs. The narrative revolves around us and far too often writes off bisexual and transgender people, queer women and people of color. As if that wasn’t enough, there are those within our community who – knowingly or not – actively and passively discriminate against segments of the community.
While at GW, there have been countless times that I have seen and heard LGBTQ students – almost always white cis gay men – denigrate and show prejudice against queer people of color, bisexual individuals and transgender persons. I have witnessed a gay student brazenly state that, on Tinder, he always swipes left on black guys and, on more than one occasion, I have heard queer individuals question whether being transgender is a choice – a rather ironic inquiry given that not too long ago, many people wondered, as some still do, the same thing about gays and lesbians.
In talking to various current and former LGBTQ GW students, some common themes repeatedly popped up, most notably, the domination of LGBTQ narratives by white men, and a lack of spaces for queer people of color and queer women. Some students commented that just because most people on campus are accepting of LGBTQ students, does not mean that queer people of color, who face their own unique difficulties in gaining acceptance, feel just as welcome. Dani Roomes, a former GW student, cited the “lack of space for queer people of color” as one of the reasons influencing their decision to transfer out of GW. Recalling their first queer party at GW, Roomes remembered “feeling lost and awkward.” “I didn’t see a single person who looked like me. I had gone to the party to feel accepted and I left feeling even more alone,” they said. This lack of space for these members of our community has caused a sense of isolation and invisibility for those who do not fit within the parameters of the community’s majority.
Dear white gays, this is unacceptable.
And so, it is time that we listen to the rest of our community. We must make a concerted effort to be radically inclusive. We must be more accepting. We need to demand more spaces for queer people of color, queer women and transgender individuals. We have to recognize that bisexual people are just as much a part of the community as we are and their sexuality is just as valid as yours. We should be fighting to ensure that all LGBTQ people feel safe, accepted and loved at GW.
It is imperative that both administrators and student organizations on campus, such as Allied in Pride, take concrete steps to accomplish this. Such actions could include sponsoring social events and town halls for specific groups within the LGBTQ community, and even actively recruiting more LGBTQ students – particularly queer people of color and transgender students.
Despite what some of us may have thought, the day the decision in Obergefell was announced was not the day the fight for LGBTQ rights was over. It has barely begun. Yes, it is true that our community has made large strides in recent years, but far too many LGBTQ individuals are still struggling with acceptance and inequality. To those of you who believe that LGBTQ people are finally equal, I have a message for you: equality for some is not equality. And so, as we wrap up this pride season, I implore all of you to keep this in mind: love is not love until we all have equality. Love is not love unless black lives matter. Love is not love, nor will it be, until the LGBTQ community represents and provides space for all colors of the rainbow.
Stefan Sultan, a junior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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