Derived from the protests in New York City’s West Village, LGBTQ Pride was born out of resistance, civil disobedience, and addressing the needs of LGBTQ youth. Originally led by trans women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the Pride movement has become more mainstream, and ironically, less space has been given to the exact disenfranchised LGBTQ communities who began it and who need it the most. Certain types of experiences have begun to dominate the conversation surrounding Pride and homophobia in the U.S. while many marginalized narratives are erased. This leaves vulnerable people within the LGBTQ community to contend with increased levels of violence and a lack of support.
By acknowledging the particular barriers LGBTQ individuals experience, and centering those who are the most disenfranchised in this community, service providers can develop a comprehensive support system for all LGBTQ survivors on campus. It is imperative that those who assist survivors understand how sexual orientation, race, gender expression, ability, and income impact survivors of sexual violence. We must aim to diminish those barriers to provide comprehensive care.
It is important that as we reflect on the origins of Pride, its importance, and building community and networks of support, that as advocates, activists, and allies, we ensure that we are inclusive of all survivors, and all LGBTQ survivors in particular. In order to provide culturally competent services to LGBTQ survivors, we consider the challenges that the most disenfranchised face as barriers to seeking assistance and support, from individuals in their community to institutions such as schools, the labor force, and the criminal justice system.
Stereotypes and Myths About the LGBTQ Community
Negative stereotypes and homophobic beliefs about the LGBTQ community influence many first responders’ reactions to sexual violence against LGBTQ students. Rape myths about LGBTQ people include erasure of same-sex sexual assault, especially violence perpetrated by women against women, and sexual violence against transgender people. Another myth involves transphobic rhetoric suggesting that trans students wanting to use the restroom according of their choice are predators. These beliefs ultimately limit an LGBTQ survivor’s ability to receive support and assistance from their community, administrators, and advocates.
Confidentiality: Risk of Being Outed
Being outed is one of the leading concerns LGBTQ survivors have when seeking assistance after an assault and when reporting. Outing someone could have an immense hardship on an LGBTQ person’s life. They risk facing discrimination that could have a negative impact on their lives. For some disenfranchised LGBTQ youth, being outed in certain communities could cause a person to lose their support system and force them into homelessness. Others could potentially lose their job, or face further violence and harm. Outing someone without their consent is a serious offense. This is why confidential reporting options and resources provided on campuses are beneficial for LGBTQ survivors.
Financial Burden/Large Financial Costs
For many LGBTQ youth, especially LGBTQ youth of color, poverty is an issue. The Huffington Post reported that in a study 21 percent of LGBT employees had claimed to have been discriminated against in hiring, promotions and pay. In the workplace, LGBTQ employees have limited legal protection and experience discrimination in hiring and promotions, feeling unwelcome in a hostile environment where they may feel pressured into be closeted. Lesbian women, trans folks, and LGBTQ undocumented workers experience higher levels of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Employment is fundamental in a person’s ability to provide for themselves and their families, systemically discriminating against LGBTQ people in employment funnels the most vulnerable of this community into low-income and less access to resources. Colleges and universities, therefore, should offer students emergency funds and survivor assistance funds to cover the financial burden for those who may have additional after an assault.
Law enforcement, for decades, has been a violent institution that discriminates against LGBTQ people, particularly LGBTQ people of color. However, many advocates and schools do not acknowledge the systemic problems the police create for marginalized communities; and provide limited and ineffective resources to marginalized survivors. For many LGBTQ survivors, interaction with the police when reporting increases violence and harassment. Trans people in particular face exacerbated difficulty involving law enforcement due to dangerous transphobic beliefs officers may hold. Schools should require campus police to undergo LGBTQ and intersectionality sensitivity training, as well as offer various types of resources outside law enforcement for students.
For LGBTQ people, comprehensive healthcare is difficult to access. For survivors, comprehensive emergency medical care is scarce. To improve medical care for LGBTQ survivors, schools should offer sexual assault exams inclusive of collection exams of male survivors, offering PrEP, integrating LGBTQ specific healthcare into routine medical services, and requiring LGBTQ sensitive training for medical professionals in a university’s health clinic.
Shame and Fear of Isolation
Lastly, similar to many marginalized communities, the LGBTQ community is a close knit population that supports one another. However, in certain circumstances when both the perpetrator and survivor are members of the LGBTQ community, it may be more difficult for the survivor to name their assailant due to fear of being ostracized from the group. In many instances, survivors are not believed when they come forward, and this occurs within different social groups and the LGBTQ community is no different. For LGBTQ survivors this is particularly harmful, especially if they do not have additional outside support because of their identity as LGBTQ. A survivor after coming forward could face homelessness, poverty, and not have a sense of belonging or community support — which could exacerbate or lead to developing mental health issues. For schools, it is important that they offer LGBTQ specific resources for survivors to feel more comfortable coming forward rather than feeling forced into silence.
Solutions and Resources
Ultimately, these barriers to seeking support deny LGBTQ students an equal opportunity to educational programs — a right guaranteed by Title IX. When LGBTQ students do not have access to comprehensive care in the aftermath of an assault, the results could have a greater negative impact on their lives. LGBTQ students are likely to have a decrease in academic performance and to drop out. A community that has disproportionately high rates of poverty and is more likely to struggle with rape related financial burdens — not earning a degree could potentially have harsher repercussions on LGBTQ students. Therefore, developing comprehensive and coordinated care for LGBTQ survivors is a necessity for schools. Colleges should consider offering more confidential and anonymous reporting options for LGBTQ survivors afraid of being outed, reserving a portion of school funds as a survivor’s assistance fund or emergency fund, curating a list of LGBTQ organizations as resources for survivors, and taking comprehensive steps to have a better medical response for LGBTQ survivors. This year for Pride Month we urge that schools, activists, and allies take meaningful steps towards addressing issues LGBTQ survivors face on campus in hopes to alleviate these hardships and ensure that everyone can have a positive educational experience.
CHARDONNAY MADKINS is a womanist and activist serving the Los Angeles area. She received her Bachelor's of Arts degree in Psychology and Urban & Environmental Policy from Occidental College. As one of the few black women leaders on Occidental's campus, Chardonnay Madkins played a prominent role in the institution's Black Student Alliance and also co-founded the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition, where she shed light on issues involving survivors of color and mobilized students and faculty to demand administrators appropriately handle sexual assault cases. She dedicates her time advocating specifically for Black survivors and changing policies around sexual assault. She maintains a passion for knowledge and aspires to continue her education of human rights and womanist politics in order to give voice to the voiceless.
You can reach Chardonnay at firstname.lastname@example.org