LGBTQ students of color discuss intersecting identities, self-discovery

Being a person of color can influence the way LGBTQ people of color understand their identity and how they express it.


Abe Lee knew they were queer since they were young but didn’t come out as nonbinary until last year. Coming out gave Lee the ability to accept themself as mixed-race without worrying about fitting neatly into a box, they said. 

“Coming out as nonbinary just helped me accept that I don’t have to be a label and that especially being mixed race I don’t really have to look like an Asian person or a white person and just in the same way I don’t have to look like a boy or a girl,” said Lee, a fourth-year global studies major who is Chinese, Filipino and white. 

This pride month, LGBTQ students of color are reflecting on how their identities often combine to create a unique experience at Temple University and what these identities mean to them, even though they are usually thought of as separate things.

“Like, it’s not like a queer person who just happens to be a person of color or for a person of color who happens to be queer, the two identities definitely are holding hands,” said Ashia Burns, a 2021 psychology alumna.

Being a Black bisexual woman shapes Burns’ personal life because her race, gender and sexuality simultaneously influence her worldview, she said.

“In my experience, something that’s often forgotten about in queer circles is that white queer people still have white privilege and they are still looking at the world through that lens,” Burns said. “Whereas, with queer people of color, you sort of understand more about how race and ethnicity function within the intersection of identity.” 

White LGBTQ people’s ignorance about race and ethnicity can manifest as taking ownership of a culture that isn’t theirs without understanding the culture they are using, said Jackie Liss, the gender and sexuality inclusion extern at the office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership. 

LGBTQ people of color often receive more microaggressions which alienate them and experience cultural appropriation, which misrepresents, stereotypes and trivializes their cultural backgrounds, according to Stonewall Scotland, an LGBTQ rights organization.  

Another part of the white LGBTQ lens is assuming that nonbinary people are all white and look androgynous all the time, Lee said. The assumption that LGBTQ people are white is part of a larger trend of erasing people of color from the LGBTQ community, the New York Times reported.

As a gender and sexuality inclusion extern for the office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership, Liss hosts monthly discussions about LGBTQ issues, often with an intersectional angle. As part of the Queer Lunch Dialogue series during Hispanic Heritage Month in 2020, Liss discussed how the term “Latinx” was invented by LGBTQ people who were not native Spanish speakers and as a result, the ‘x’ did not make grammatical sense, she said.

The ‘x’ replaces the ‘o’ or ‘a’ that denotes gender at the end of Spanish words. In order to make the language gender-neutral, all the words would have to be changed but in doing so, would become unpronounceable, the LA Times reported

“This culture was co-opted in a way to be more inclusive with good intentions, but then we had this discussion like is it really a good thing that these non-native Spanish speakers went and messed with a historical language,” Liss said. 

Another issue is that many white LGBTQ people are uncomfortable talking and learning about racism, Liss said. 

As part of IDEAL’s Safe Zone Certification program, Liss sent out an anonymous survey to gather feedback on how the safe zone trainings were being run and was “astounded” to find that respondents thought the training focused too much on race, she said.

“That inherently says that they felt that race and queerness are two separate things, whereas for a lot of BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ individuals it’s all part of the same holistic experience,” Liss added. “That, at least, said to me that there’s a lot of progress that could be made in understanding that people are simultaneously dealing with both oppression from both sides.”

Lee has been crossdressing and cosplaying, the act of dressing up like a fictional character, since they were 12 years old and that fluidity of gender expression served as an introduction to LGBTQ spaces, they said. 

“That the spaces, that I especially was in when it came to cosplay since everybody was cross-dressing everyone naturally had an affinity for being queer,” Lee said 

Cosplay also served as a way to “try out” being nonbinary and experiment with gender presentation, Lee added. 

Lee also studied how the qipao, a traditional one-piece Chinese dress with a slit down the side often worn by women, came from a traditionally male outfit and became popular with women as a form of empowerment. Studying why outfits like the qipao went from masculine to feminine was part of how Lee came to terms with their own gender, they said. 

Burns is currently experimenting with her own fashion sense and trying out a more feminine style and exploring what it means to be feminine in a cisgender and heterosexual society, she said. 

“It’s definitely been interesting in which you are assumed to be straight and assumed to be cis because you present as femme,” Burns said.

Burns also expresses her intersecting identities through her creative writing, blending aspects of her own life and real-world issues with science fiction and fantasy, two things that like her identities, might seem separate at first, she said.

“I love merging sort of supernatural things with these sort of identity politics,” Burns said. 

While coming out has helped Lee accept themself in new ways, there have also been challenges, they said. 

Lee uses they/them pronouns and used to include their pronouns in their Zoom name but felt that having their pronouns in the name made them a target, Lee added. 

“I found that if I didn’t keep my pronouns in my name nobody would ever use they/them but like I said, I felt like I was just like constantly bothering people with having my pronouns in my name because nobody else had them there,” Lee said. 

Lee also changed their Zoom profile picture to be a cat to make it harder for people to guess their gender based on appearance, they added. 

Students experiencing discrimination can file a complaint with Temple Title IX officer or seek mediation with the offenders through IDEAL, Liss said.

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