Assumed norms perpetuate GLBT discrimination

In his final QChat column, Josh Fernandez talks about discriminatory assumptions and norms.

In his final QChat column, Josh Fernandez talks about discriminatory assumptions and  norms.

The late black lesbian writer and former Temple professor Audre Lorde once said, “I have come to believe, over and over again, that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

More than a year ago, I was given the amazing opportunity to talk about GLBT issues in this column. It’s been a great rollercoaster of a ride to say the least, and many times, I found myself blankly staring at my Macbook screen trying to articulate anything and everything I wanted readers to know about being a member of the GLBT population on Main Campus.joshua fernandez

Despite the few times my words – my perspective – have been “bruised or misunderstood,” I cannot help but appreciate the chance this column has given me to address a range of issues that affect queers on Main Campus, in this city and even across the U.S.

A new writer will take over this GLBT column, and I’m confident in his ability to keep the dialogue about contemporary GLBT experiences going with a new style and perspective.

Before he begins, I would like to address feedback indirectly given to The Temple News last semester, particularly around the time the hate-mongering members of Westboro Baptist Church were supposed to make their appearance.

Many people noticed around that time that the paper was covering a lot of GLBT-related news. From what I understand, some presented it as a question, and others presented it in a way that might as well have shouted, “Dilemma!”

I hope readers would feel comfortable approaching the paper about a lack of coverage of other Main Campus groups, and I feel sad that someone would see this coverage as a bad thing.

The majority of content in papers, magazines and other media – not just The Temple News – perpetuate something called “heterosexism.”

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, heterosexism is defined as “discrimination or prejudice by heterosexuals against homosexuals.”

The word, which was first used in 1972, according to Merriam-Webster, is much more complicated to describe. Margaux Cowden, the director of the LGBT studies minor, said heterosexism is a “systematic form of oppression that assumes, privileges and works to reproduce heterosexuality as the ‘norm.’”

“Because it is systematic, meaning that it operates through institutions and power structures, it is ‘bigger’ than individuals and individual actions,” Cowden said. “This means that even LGBTQIA people can perpetuate heterosexism.”

She said queer and heterosexual individuals perpetuate this meaning by participating in things like the assumption that people are straight unless they “‘look’ queer.” It goes beyond that in the assumption that news, studies or anything pertaining to the GLBT population is not relevant.

Presuming the young woman sitting across the aisle in class had a gentleman caller just because she didn’t dress in typical queer woman fashion? Heterosexism.

Wondering about the relevancy of the extensive “don’t ask, don’t tell” coverage in major media outlets? Say it with me, folks: heterosexism.

Another aspect Cowden pointed out is that heterosexism is not “homophobia,” and that it takes place on an individual level. Homophobia, the word’s root being “phobia,” indicates fear toward GLBT people.

“Heterosexism permits homophobia to flourish, but – and this is important – bringing an end to homophobia does not necessarily bring an end to heterosexism,” Cowden said.

Examples of heterosexism are more or less obvious. The legal and economic privilege given to the institution of marriage is a perfect example. Even routine doctor visits, during which doctors will likely assume heterosexuality unless they are made aware, can reek of heterosexism, not to mention make queer patients so uncomfortable that they feel uneasy asking or answering questions pertaining to their health.

Heterosexism at the university level presents itself in many forms. If a university assumes most of its students are straight, many facets of resources and accommodations won’t meet the needs of GLBT students.

This includes Temple. It can include the absence of gender-neutral bathrooms, a lack of queer- and trans-friendly health care on campus, a lack of sensitivity toward residence hall accommodations and, as Cowden said, “a dearth of academic classes on sexuality and LGBTQIA history.”

“Temple has more classes on sexuality than many other universities and colleges, which in some cases, don’t have the benefit of a distinct LGBT studies curriculum,” she added.

I am not a grounded authority on the state of many of these areas as they pertain to Temple, but there is always room for improvement.

Heterosexism also intersects with and helps support various forms of structural oppressions, including its cousins, ableism, ageism, racism and sexism.

“Each of these ‘isms’ operates by reproducing a set of assumptions about what is ‘normal’ and, in doing so, demanding that those of us who fall outside of that presumed norm work very hard to get our everyday needs – both social and practical – met,” Cowden said. “This is why it’s so important that we build multi-issue social justice movements that are bigger than any single identity. If we all show up for each other’s battles, we can chip away at the bigger logic behind such structural injustice.”

In keeping with current events, The Temple News has expanded GLBT coverage in the last year. I hope the coverage continues so that one day, heterosexism won’t be as prevalent.

But we also need to acknowledge other groups’ voices to work against these oppressions, so I implore people from these groups to contact The Temple News or write a column. The catharsis worked for me and many other readers.

Josh Fernandez can be reached at

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