Don’t generalize the LGBTQ community

We need to create a safe atmosphere to talk about sexuality and gender.

Growing up Jewish in the Jersey suburbs, I was encouraged to be curious about other people’s religions and found that strangers were often curious about mine. I was told that questions were OK, but my parents taught me to bristle at any inquiry that would make me the face of my faith. These were questions that started with “Why do your people…” or “Why do Jews…”

This was because I could never answer for a community of millions with a tradition stretching back millennia. I could only answer for my own practice. Similarly, I could never answer for the variety of experiences in the LGBTQ community; I could only ever talk about my own sexuality.

With increased LGBTQ visibility in the media, education, and everyday life, many well-meaning people have trouble determining when and how it’s appropriate to ask someone about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Growing up, I heard the same pointed questions and hesitation about my religion.

It’s important that we don’t shy away from talking to one another, especially from asking each other about our different identities. But it’s also important to keep in mind that just as no Jewish person can speak for their entire religion, similarly no LGBTQ person can speak for their whole community.

To generalize the entire LGBTQ community into one set of experiences is stigmatizing. A genderqueer sophomore today may have a different perspective on current events than a man who marched with ACT UP, an organization formed in 1987 that strives to fight HIV/AIDS, or a family raising a transgender child.

Historically, being able to openly discuss sexuality was essential to the gay liberation movement of the 1960s. From Oscar Wilde to the Mattachine to Stonewall to our current debates about trans military service, the point is naming our desires and our identities.

People have fought to give voice to these questions and to answer them proudly. But knowing how to talk about these questions in a way that reduces the stigma of living in a cis- and heteronormative society is key for both the LGBTQ community and allies alike.

Ericka Borrero, a sophomore psychology major, said it was difficult to come out as bisexual to friends and peers at first.

“Because Temple has this atmosphere, I’m not afraid or timid or anything, but I feel like if I were to come across somebody in a different atmosphere, I might be hesitant,” she said. “It took me a while to be comfortable with [my sexuality] myself, but once I became comfortable, it became easier to share it.”

For LGBTQ people, every new interaction with a professor or peer can feel like repeating the coming out process and not knowing how it will be received.

“Because we live in such a  heteronormative society, just not assuming that everyone is a cis-het person is important,” Borrero said. “Not having the information about people around you can be very closeting. You don’t even think that people could identify different.”

It can be difficult to ask about someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation. These questions should be in no way stigmatizing, but they need to be approached with a modicum of tact. If you’re concerned about someone’s pronouns or how they identify, it’s better just to ask. If the question is of a more personal, intimate nature, you might want to consider whether you would want this same question asked of you, or whether you are treating this LGBTQ person as a tribune or as an individual.

One of the most important ways that the university can provide a supportive environment for the LGBTQ community is to take a look at the policies we practice.

Heath Fogg Davis, a political science professor, the author of the recent book “Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?” and a member of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs,  is transgender. He said while he felt Temple was making progress on trans-inclusive policies, the changes were not enough.

“I don’t think that gender-neutral restrooms go far enough. I’m interested in transforming more bathrooms into gender neutral ones,” he said. “The single user option is an accommodation. The intentions are good, but it doesn’t go far enough.”

Davis added that he thinks faculty and administrators should add their preferred pronouns in their emails. This would be a precursor to Temple adopting the practice of a “pronoun check” on the first day of classes, he said.

The universality of this approach is important in order not to single out those students who would make a request for their preferred pronouns to be respected.

It’s important as an ally or even as a member of the LGBTQ community to consider things from the perspective of those who identify differently than you do. The best way to do that is and always has been talking to people, as a first step towards implementing inclusive policies. Asking the sort of questions that see peers as individuals, with an exclusive perspective on their own identity, is key.

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