June 23, 2016
By Rianna Lee
In just the past few years, America has seen monumental steps toward equality for LGBTQIA++ folks. Considering that only sixty years ago, people were routinely beaten and even killed if there was so much as speculation that they were gay or trans, I would say I’m proud of where we are as a society in terms of LGBTQIA++ rights. But, we still have a long, long way to go.
Despite the progression of social justice regarding women’s and LGBTQIA++ rights in the past few years, our society is still largely patriarchal. Men’s voices, actions, and accomplishments are just generally deemed more valuable than everyone else’s. Now, with homosexuality becoming more widely accepted and tolerated, we are starting to see a new kind of harmful social structure: homonormativity.
Before we can understand homonormativity, we have to understand its opposite: heteronormativity. Heteronormativity is the assumption that you are “straight until proven gay.” Think about it – when was the last time you ever heard of someone coming out as straight? Probably never. Our society as a whole is heteronormative; unless someone has this huge, life-changing epiphany about their sexuality, they are considered to be straight, which is deeply troubling and problematic in and of itself. But as LGBTQIA++ rights continue to grow and evolve, we are starting to see this phenomenon of homonormativity within the queer community, and it’s significantly harming the movement.
Take a minute and think about your favorite TV show(s). At some point, the producers probably decided to throw in a gay character to diversify the cast and keep ratings up as the LGBTQIA++ movement slowly progresses. More often than not, that character will be a white, cisgender gay man. This isn’t a coincidence; it all stems from our society’s deeply rooted values of patriarchy, capitalism, sexism, and transmisogyny. Sure, we have occasional representation of lesbians in the media, such as Santana and Brittany in Glee, and Ellen DeGeneres, our favorite, lovable, lesbian talk-show host. Every other blue moon, we have a powerful trans TV personality, such as Laverne Cox. But in the grand scheme of things, the LGBTQIA++ community at large is represented by white, cis gay men.
This is problematic for many reasons. First, the problems of white, cis gay men are not representative of the entire LGBTQIA++ community. After all, G is only one letter in that long acronym! The struggles of lesbian, trans, bisexual, asexual, questioning, and queer people are largely invisible and unconsidered by much of society. That doesn’t even take into account the unique struggles faced by double minorities – members of the LGBTQIA++ community who are also people of color. When these people are marginalized in a community that is supposed to accept them, they are silenced and their struggles are ignored. And that is absolutely not what the LGBTQIA++ community is about.
With June being Pride month, it’s important that this new kind of privilege is acknowledged and discussed, because everyone in this community deserves and has a right to have their voice heard. As we progress in our movement toward total equality for all marginalized people, we must be mindful that our culture is still largely heteronormative and patriarchal, and that culture and society at large doesn’t change overnight. However, once we acknowledge new privileges, like homonormativity in the LGBTQIA++ community, and begin to accept people that fit outside of these definitions, learn their stories, and listen to their struggles, our movement toward equality will open doors wider for so many more people.
Read more about homonormativity here.
Rianna is a summer intern for the Thomas Merton Center and a senior at Duquesne University, studying international relations and sociology. She is interested in law and public policy surrounding gender and women’s rights.