Sexual and gender diverse (SGD) populations are composed of multiple communities and groups of people with intersecting identities, experiences, and oppressions. The cultural and social contexts that define these groups ultimately shape possibilities for civic and political engagement—what we call sociopolitical involvement—of SGD people (Harris, Battle, and Pastrana, 2018). Communities are composed of and influenced by a variety of actors: the social-ecological context explains the individual, interpersonal, community, and societal factors that affect and shape the conditions in which those actors exist.
Beginning more than a half century ago, SGD community organizations emerged and began to provide spaces for people not only to name and recognize their identities but also to establish venues and strategies for collective action toward visibility and, ultimately, social recognition and legal rights. These spaces, whether physical, virtual, or institutional, have been instrumental in providing the resources and the physical ability to convene for SGD communities. This chapter considers what community is while examining the ways that SGD communities claim, integrate, and negotiate spaces. It also includes a discussion of the effects that community and mobilization have on the lives and histories of SGD populations and explores how space is used as a tool for community building and mobilization.
For SGD populations, community has long been an important way to mobilize a range of people with disparate experiences around a set of issues
and problems. As discussed throughout this report, SGD people in the United States face forms of oppression, discrimination, and violence because aspects of their gender identities, sexual identities, and expression do not conform to societal conventions and sexualities (Rubin, 1993; Spade, 2011; Warner, 2000). They often struggle with racial, gender, and class divisions, hierarchies, and exclusions. Communities serve as a means through which SGD people survive, withstand, and, in some cases, overcome these conditions.
The word “community” has been used so pervasively to describe numerous groups and sectors of people throughout the country that some scholars believe the value of its meaning has eroded (Joseph, 2007). “Community” is often invoked to describe sociopolitical movements across spectrums of race and ethnic, social, cultural, gender, and sexual identities and experiences. Yet communities are diverse and are forged around a myriad of experiences and consensus issues, rather than solely shared identities (Cohen, 1997, 1999).
SGD communities are made up of people from a variety of racial and ethnic, socioeconomic, cultural, political, regional, age, and ability groups (Joseph, 2007). Some communities with cross-cutting concerns come together and forge strategic connections to meet particular needs and address certain problems. These communities can be active for the long or short term, and they can experience cohesion and conflict, inclusion and exclusion, and affirmation and degradation all at the same time. Defining and understanding the role of community for SGD populations is complex and multidimensional. As other chapters in this report discuss, many SGD people experience socioeconomic deprivation: homelessness and housing instability, under- and unemployment, and institutional violence and discrimination. In this context, community becomes an important means of emotional, social, moral, and political support. In general, the role of community can be examined as three interconnected points: a form of public culture, a site of internal and external contests, and a key source of social and political support. Thus, community is both a site and a source of struggle, hierarchy, and liberation for SGD populations. Community serves as a source of belonging, value, affirmation, and collectivity, all of which are values and feelings associated with well-being.
Community psychologists emphasize the importance that community has on individuals’ sense of well-being and their need for relationships and relationship building (Coulombe and Krzesni, 2019). In fact, well-being has been defined as “a positive state of affairs, brought about by the simultaneous and balanced satisfaction of diverse objectives and subjective needs of individuals, relationships, organizations, and communities” (Prilleltensky, Prilleltensky, and Voorhees, 2016, p. 1; Coulombe and Krzesni, 2019). Scholars emphasize that social needs are satisfied by feelings of community, thus contributing not just to well-being but also to happiness (Davidson
and Cotter, 1991). For marginalized groups, communities not only contribute to their overall well-being, but also serve as a way to resist and survive the daily forms of oppression they face and a way to withstand and overcome rejection from families and communities of origin.
Communities may form around social and cultural identities, particularly if these identities are marginalized and contested, as is the case with SGD populations. The oppression that they experience—including housing and job discrimination, lack of access to health and medical care, and homophobic and transphobic violence by police (Arredondo and Suárez, 2019)—encourage community formation and mobilization. And even as communities have been a site of refuge, affirmation, and safety, they have also been targets of violence throughout history, as well as targets for surveillance and violence from people who are hostile to sexual and gender diversity.
Often, community and culture overlap or, at least, have notable intersections for many SGD people. According to cultural theorist George Yudice (2007), culture can be a way of life for people, a group, or humanity in general. Many scholars have described SGD communities as subcultures and have referred to larger sexual and gender diverse communities as cultural formations (Bailey, 2013; D’Emilio, 1983). Culture also overlaps with community in the creation of spaces and occasions for political, intellectual, creative, and artistic activities (Yudice, 2007) that celebrate, affirm, and enhance the lives of sexual and gender diverse people. There is a long history of creative endeavors among sexual and gender diverse populations, such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis—mid-20th century organizations that promoted visibility and acceptance for gay men and lesbian women, respectively (D’Emilio, 1983). These organizations produced publications that highlighted cultural works within these communities (D’Emilio, 1983; Gutterman, 2012). Another example is the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black lesbian feminists who in 1970 crafted the celebrated Combahee River Collective Statement that helped to shape contemporary Black feminist and queer studies, activism, and politics (Combahee River Collective, 1983).
Central to community formations for SGD people is access to public space. Contemporary understandings of what “public” includes are increasingly expanding to include everything from physical spaces to community online engagement, as well as all spaces of social and cultural convening in a given location. Public cultural events are also opportunities for meeting people for romantic, intimate, and sexual relations. Thus, public culture for SGD populations can be understood as occasions, spaces, and domains that enable people to come together to socialize, connect, engage, and, in some cases, create, affirm, and promote, either implicitly or explicitly, shared social identities, experiences, and locations.
Two of the most notable and celebrated moments of public culture and catalysts for the contemporary lesbian and gay liberation movement were the Compton Cafeteria riots in the Tenderloin district in San Francisco in 1966 (Stryker and Silverman, 2005) and the Stonewall rebellion in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village in New York City (D’Emilio, 1983; Jagose, 1996). Both of these events were led by Black and Latinx transgender women, although their efforts were overshadowed by the white, cisgender gay men who participated (Snorton, 2018). Two very prominent figures in the liberation movement sparked by the Stonewall Riots were transgender and drag queen militants Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who cofounded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) (Johnson and Rivera-Servera, 2016). The two activists started this organization to help young homeless drag queens find housing and other services. Though the actual diversity of the contemporary lesbian and gay liberation movement—across racial, sexual orientation, and gender axes—is often excluded from the popular narrative, the Compton and Stonewall uprisings are but two of the many examples of the work of SGD communities in fighting against inequalities and oppression. It is important to note that these exclusions from SGD histories coincide with race, gender, and class hierarchies that still affect SGD communities.
“We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it” was often chanted at LGBTQ festivals, events, and rallies in the 1980s and 1990s, not only as a message to heterosexual and cisgender populations but also as a message to SGD individuals to reaffirm their rights to be themselves, form communities, and take up space. In this context, space can be described as the means through which marginalized communities, particularly SGD populations, reimagine and remap spatial landscapes, domains, and “spheres that are livable under often unlivable conditions” (Bailey and Shabazz, 2014, p. 450). Space can be created both physically—through the construction of brick and mortar buildings and designated areas—and socially, through the mechanisms of social production. Space is a site of engagement, community formation, and mobilization (Shabazz, 2014). An individual’s engagement in multiple communities not only contributes greatly to social change but also helps foster feelings of belonging and connectedness. Such feelings of belonging are particularly important for marginalized groups and, in particular, those facing multiple forms of marginalization (Harris, Battle, and Pastrana, 2018).
Twentieth century queer activists believed “sexuality was constitutional to one’s identity, and that subscribing members were a discriminated minor-
ity” group in need of resources and support (Martos, Wilson, and Meyer, 2017). This idea helped shift the focus from discussions of sex and sexuality to broader notions of identity. The Daughters of Bilitis and the Mattachine Society are good historical examples because these organizations provided support, resources, and a sense of community for sexual and gender diverse people who sought increased visibility and acceptance after WWII (D’Emilio, 1983). In addition, the Daughters of Bilitis also provided physical space for lesbian women and other women with same-sex attractions to meet outside of bars, which were then frequently raided by law enforcement officials. Transvestia, the nation’s first transgender-specific magazine, first published in 1960, provided educational resources while also pushing for both the recognition of transgender identity and the decriminalization of non-binary dress. In part influenced by the social movements of the 1950s and 1960s, these community movements were motivated by the need for SGD groups to take up space and be seen. In this context, pivotal moments in the effort to combat SGD oppression, like the Compton riot and the Stonewall uprising, can be seen as violent responses by authorities and others to prevent SGD people from convening and taking up space.
Activism and political mobilization in SGD communities continued throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s, and it contributed to the rise in HIV/AIDS activism in LGBTQ+ communities. As the decades progressed, other struggles included the fight for equal employment opportunities and housing, the opportunity to serve openly in the military, the striking down of anti-sodomy laws, the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, and the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision that confirmed LGBT protections from employment discrimination in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Although landmark achievements have been made, groups continue to fight for explicit comprehensive nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. In addition, activism is a more directly intersectional approach to promoting social justice around issues of race, disability, social class, immigration, and aging.
Neighborhoods with large concentrations of SGD people, and businesses therein that cater to them as residents and consumers, are informally known as gayborhoods or gay villages—areas and communities that are considered to be safe spaces for SGD people (Hanhardt, 2013). Gayborhoods are often found in urban communities and are often the center of SGD communities and nightlife. Gay urban enclaves began to emerge shortly after WWII, when queer women and men were discharged from the armed services and sought out areas that were generally considered more
Gayborhoods provide an important space not only for those who live there but also for those who use them as a refuge from the homophobia they may experience in their daily lives and communities (Gray, 2009). Convening places for SGD populations, such as bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, clubs, and bathhouses, have been a defining feature of gayborhoods. Each of these spaces has been especially popular during particular historical moments. For example, gay bathhouses were popular in the 1970s but declined in popularity when they were banned due to fears of HIV in the 1980s. Gay clubs also declined in popularity in the early 1980s, only to regain popularity in the 1990s and to again decrease in popularity in the late-2000s due, in large part, to the rise in social media and online dating. Spaces for public convening and culture for social and sexual activities for SGD people, such as lesbian and gay clubs, have continued to diminish (Oswin, 2008). Even queer-friendly vacation spaces, or “gaycation” communities, have seen a decline (Nash, 2005, 2006; Oswin, 2008). Nonetheless, these gayborhoods have provided space for queer communities—at home and even on vacation—where they have not only had a sense of safety and protection but also a real sense of community. As a result of COVID-19, there is a further decline in gay spaces, especially clubs and restaurants, many of which may never reopen (Barreira, 2020). In fact, the pandemic forced queer spaces to again reinvent themselves in an era of social distancing, moving online and even having virtual clubs and DJed Zoom sessions (Kornhaber, 2020).
In addition to bars, clubs, restaurants, and bookshops, an important feature of gayborhoods, many of which face high rental costs and operating expenses, are LGBTQ+ community centers. Such centers have been a staple in SGD communities for decades, originally serving as a space for social gathering and to provide welcome space for people of all ages. Most major cities and urban and many suburban areas have LGBTQ+ community centers (Conradson, 2003), which typically provide a variety of resources that include health services and HIV testing; workshops on the home buying process; and support groups and programs geared toward small communities and different stages of the life course. In addition to community centers, SGD groups also hold gatherings in spaces that are not necessarily LGBTQ+ focused, such as churches and schools.
1 Examples include the Castro in San Francisco; West Hollywood in Los Angeles; Chelsea in New York City; Boystown in Chicago; Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.; the Short North in Columbus, Ohio; Midtown in Atlanta; and the Melrose District in Phoenix. There are comparatively fewer lesbian districts in urban centers, such as Park Slope in Brooklyn and Jamaica Plain in Boston.
The diminishment of public spaces for SGD people noted above is partly the result of restructuring and gentrification of neighborhoods in many cities (McGlotton, 2013). As urban communities have become increasingly gentrified, rental and ownership costs and taxes have increased, as have the costs of living in and operating businesses in them. This has forced out many LGTBQ+-owned businesses and individuals (Nero, 2005). Issues of race, class, and gender have prevented many SGD people from accessing the political, social, and economic resources and spaces in gayborhoods (Gieseking, 2013). This has especially been the case for lesbian and queer women, who have seen a sharp decline in public spaces for meeting and convening, such as bookshops, cafes, bars, and clubs (Podmore, 2006).
These changes have had an especially negative impact on queer bars and clubs. Sociologist Greggor Mattson found that between 1997 and 2017, 33 percent of gay bars closed.2 In addition, there has been an increase in the heterosexual appropriation of queer spaces, such as heterosexual women who hold their bridal and bachelorette parties in what are generally gay male spaces (Casey, 2004).3
Although research on gayborhoods and on queer spaces has primarily focused on gay men, studies have documented the complicated history that lesbian women and women in general have had in claiming space in urban areas (Gieseking, 2013). In many instances, women who identified as lesbian and queer did not have access to the political, economic, and social capital enjoyed by their gay male counterparts (Adler and Brenner, 1992; Rothenberg, 1995). Throughout history, there are examples of lesbian women responding to that lack of political control by seeking out separate living environments, often in rural settings such as communes.4 Though the number of these communities is diminishing as their residents age, these spaces have been important in providing opportunity for networking, political mobilization, and socializing (Valentine, 1993). In more urban and suburban communities, particularly among women of color, now that the lesbian and feminist bookstores and other more traditional forms of convening have closed (Liddle, 2005) there has been an increase in these women attending private parties and social gatherings at people’s homes and in rented spaces (Moore, 2011).
There are arguments for the continued need and relevancy of the gayborhood (Ghaziani, 2014), but others suggest that, with increased acceptance of homosexuality, these gay-specific communities are no longer
necessary (Doan and Higgins, 2011). Gayborhoods have been criticized for being exclusionary and even for being heteronormative. Some of the controversies about gayborhoods are complicated by tense racial histories, as many of these neighborhoods were once communities of color that have since been gentrified by white LGBTQ+ people (Rosenberg, 2016). Most gayborhoods are white and predominately gay male spaces that have not historically been welcoming to homeless people, poor women, people of color, transgender people, or gender-nonconforming people who come to these neighborhoods seeking services, support, and a sense of community (Rosenberg, 2016). Rosenberg notes: “In some gay villages, those who challenge and diminish politics of respectable normativity have often been openly and deliberately targeted for expulsion” through the community policing of queer spaces (2016, p. 137). In many of these spaces, such as Christopher Street in the West Village of New York City, the mere congregating of queer and transgender youth of color has been heavily policed by white SGD adults in the community (Daniel-McCarter, 2012; Namaste, 2000).
Many spaces of gay consumption and convening are spaces of bounded exclusions based on race and gender, catering to mostly white gay men with socioeconomic privilege and maintaining prejudices against other sexual minorities (Bell and Binnie, 2004; Phelan, 2001). Because access to space to participate in public culture is influenced by the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and social class, working class and poor SGD people of color have been disproportionately affected by this shift in the spatial politics of cities. And because public spaces for SGD populations are often situated in segregated neighborhoods, SGD communities of color suffer “spatial marginalization” (Sibley, 1995; Wilkins, 2000). Spatial marginalization is a term that describes how SGD people of color are denied access to public spaces due to their race, gender, or sexual identities or the socially transgressive practices in which they engage (Bailey and Shabazz, 2014; Nero, 2005). And as noted above, many SGD communities of color experience race and gender exclusion within the larger SGD community.
Festivals and group celebrations are an important part of LGBTQ+ culture (Morris, 2005). Lesbian and feminist festivals date back to the mid-1970s and include large annual gatherings, such as the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, also known as MichFest (1976–2015); Lilith Fair, a traveling musical festival featuring all women-identified performers (1997–1999); and Dinah Shore, the Palm Springs, California, party surrounding a tennis tournament of the same name that started in 1991 and continues to attract lesbian women from around the nation and around the world.
The most well-known annual LGBTQ+ celebrations that take place in most large cities are LGBTQ+ pride events; see Box 7-1. In looking at these celebrations, however, it is important to note that most of the cultural, political, and scholarly emphasis on SGD populations has been about upper- and middle-class white SGD people living in urban centers. As one of the most conspicuous sites of SGD expression, affirmation, and advocacy, LGBTQ+ pride celebrations in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago are widely known and well attended (McFarland Bruce, 2016), but there are now LGBTQ+ pride events in every major city throughout the United States, and they usually draw thousands of people to parades and multiday events throughout the year.
Although there is notably less research on the topic, discrimination and self-segregation are common within queer spaces, as many of these spaces explicitly and implicitly exclude transgender and gender diverse populations, people of color, immigrants (Epstein and Carillo, 2014), and those at their intersections. For example, although they reject the notion that they are transphobic, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival was the object of intense backlash and a boycott from activists and community members after it actively excluded transgender women. The festival founder, Lisa Vogel, argued for a “womyn-born womyn” space, stating, “I believe in the integrity of autonomous space used to gather and celebrate for any group, whether that autonomous space is defined by age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, gender, class, or any other identity.”5
Similarly, many LGBTQ+ pride events are racially self-segregated. White SGD people garner far more popular attention, sociopolitical influence, and financial resources (i.e., corporate sponsorship) than other groups (Battle et al., 2002; McFarland Bruce, 2016). In many ways, the social privilege afforded to white SGD people in various domains is brought to bear at majority white LGBTQ+ pride celebrations. In some cases, LGBTQ+ pride event leadership and planning committees struggle to be racial and ethnically inclusive, and SGD people of color have challenged these planning committees to include people of color. Some SGD people stage protests at LGBTQ+ pride events to underscore the exclusion. At the 2017 Phoenix, Arizona, LGBTQ+ pride celebration, Trans Queer Pueblo, a community-based migrant and LGBTQ+ organization, carried a banner that prominently displayed the words “No Justice, No Pride” (Cashman, 2019).
There are several LGBTQ+ pride events in most major U.S. cities for other SGD subgroups, including youth, Latinx, Asian, and Native American and Indigenous groups. These and other unique LGBTQ+ events provide space to convene for many SGD people who have been excluded from or
marginalized within mainstream SGD communities. Phoenix is said to hold the largest Latinx LGBTQ+ pride event in the country, and there are also events in Dallas and other cities with large Latinx SGD populations.
Another SGD cultural phenomenon is the ballroom culture. Sometimes referred to as the house/ball community, contemporary ballroom culture
involves Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ people, as well as straight people (Arnold and Bailey, 2009; Bailey, 2011, 2013). Three inextricable dimensions constitute the social world of ballroom culture: the gender system, houses, and balls. Although these are three separate facets of the ballroom culture, they are strongly interconnected; there are no houses without balls and no balls without houses.
First popularized by Jennie Livingstone’s documentary film Paris is Burning (1990), ballroom culture has expanded throughout the globe in both presence and popularity. Although dimensions of ballroom culture date back to the early 20th century, the contemporary ballroom scene started in the 1960s in Harlem, New York. One of the first houses was the legendary House of LeBeija in Harlem, founded in 1970. The award-winning FX Network TV television series “Pose” is based on the ballroom community.
The gender system is a collection of six gender and sexual identities that include butch queens (gay men), femme queens (transgender women), butches (transgender men), butch queens up in drag (gay men who perform as women), and cisgender men and women. The gender system organizes the gender and sexual relations in houses and the familial (kinship) structures (Bailey, 2011). Houses consist of mothers, fathers, children, and, in many cases, an entire lineage of members who are socially connected with the ballroom community. In ballroom culture, parent-child relationships are not based on chronological age or actual blood relationships; rather, members become (or are appointed) parents of houses based on their success at walking balls (winning trophies and cash prizes) and their experience and prestige in the ballroom scene. Parents of ballroom houses provide social support, guidance, and nurturing for their house members, as well as others in the larger ballroom community. It is well known in ballroom culture that, with few exceptions, there are no houses without balls and no balls without houses. Another important role that parents play is that they train their house members (children) to compete successfully at balls.
Balls are the ritualized events that houses produce, and they draw participants from throughout North America. Although the number and kinds of categories of competition abound, most categories are based on performative gender and sexual categories, vogue and theatrical performance, and the effective presentation of fashion and physical attributes (Bailey, 2011, 2013). People participate and compete on behalf of their house or as free agents known as “007s.”
For the most part, the ballroom culture has been a community consisting of working class and poor SGD people of color who have been ostracized from or marginalized within their families and communities of origin because of their non-normative genders and sexualities. For SGD populations of color, ballroom culture has been a space and practice of
social support, service, love, and critique (Bailey, 2013). In other places throughout the world in which ballroom practices have been adopted, it has been by people and communities who are marginalized in their societies. It is important to note that ballroom is a separate autonomous community formation that is highly stigmatized in the larger Black LGBT community; this situation highlights the complexity and multidimensionality of Black LGBT communities.
The issues that are significant in the physical world can also be relevant in virtual worlds. Online communities can provide safe spaces for people to explore their identities and express themselves authentically, often with others who share their experiences. This type of safe space can be especially important for people who feel alienated or alone in their local communities or do not have access to in-person resources because of geographic barriers, such as those living in rural communities (Hardy, 2019). SGD youth report using online communities primarily to find peer support, and they are more likely than their non-LGBT peers to be friends with people they initially met online (Ybarra et al., 2015). SGD adults use online communities primarily to find sexual and romantic partners (Baams et al., 2011). Lesbian women and gay men are more likely to meet their partners online than are their heterosexual counterparts (Rosenfeld and Thomas, 2012).
Online communities sometimes emerge out of needs for information, connection, and support among less-visible and marginalized SGD groups. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network6 provides information on and support around asexuality (Robbins, Low, and Query, 2016), and the InterACT website maintains a list of intersex community and advocacy organization sites in multiple countries.7 There are also online communities for supporting LGBTQ+ people’s interactions with medical professionals, including for family planning, HIV, and cancer support (Holland, 2019; Lee et al., 2019; Peterson, 2009). In addition, many SGD people create their own online communities so they can participate safely in activities that have traditionally excluded minority populations, such as Black SGD women creating communities on the online video gaming platform Xbox One (Gray, 2018).
Intersex people have relied on the internet to connect with each other for both support and social change since the 1990s. Although the practice of nondisclosure of medical information about intersex traits was intended to protect children from stigma and gender uncertainty, a consequence was
to isolate people with intersex traits from each other. When people were informed about their medical history, they were typically told “that their anatomical differences were extremely rare and that they were unlikely to ever meet another person with a similar anatomical trait” (Davis and Preves, 2017, p. 27).
When Bo Laurent, then writing under the name of Cheryl Chase, founded the Intersex Society of North America,8 the organization became the first important hub for intersex communities, providing sociohistorical and health resources to advance the cause of changing medical practice. Around the same time, organizations like the Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group (now InterConnect) and Bodies Like Ours coalesced with the help of the internet to provide support to people with intersex traits. Through chat rooms, email circles, and message boards, intersex people found an antidote to secrecy and isolation, sharing stories with each other and finding validation and community. Some of these groups, like InterConnect, hosted and continue to host annual in-person meetings, in addition to maintaining online connection throughout the year. The second generation of online communities sprang up with the advent of social media, especially Facebook, where virtually every intersex advocacy and support organization has a presence (Davis and Preves, 2017). Social media has also been a crucial means of raising intersex visibility, with platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram bringing millions of views to videos like “What it Means to Be Intersex” (Valentine, Spade, and Trautner, 2020).9
While SGD populations derive many benefits from online communities, negative interactions like online bullying, harassment, and discrimination also occur. Despite an overall sense of greater social safety in online communities than in real-world interactions, almost one-half of LGBTQ+ youth report being bullied online (Kosciw et al., 2017). Occasionally, SGD groups discriminate against one another by spreading exclusionary and racist rhetoric about less-prominent SGD populations (Crowley, 2010). The accessibility of the internet has also caused alarm over privacy concerns. Gay and bisexual men are more likely than heterosexual women and men to be victims of revenge porn (i.e., the nonconsensual sharing of nude or seminude photographs) (Waldman, 2019). Additionally, there have been numerous reports of violent predators using social media dating to lure SGD individuals into unsafe or potentially fatal situations.10
10 See https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/michigan-man-charged-grindr-slaying-n1109596 and https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/dallas-men-charged-hate-crimes-kidnappingand-conspiracy-after-targeting-gay-men-violent.
SGD populations can also be stigmatized online because of the design of certain websites. For instance, recent reports show that YouTube has been demonetizing videos from some SGD users because of an algorithm that appears to flag words like “gay” or “transgender” as adult content, thereby decreasing advertisement opportunities.11 There are also reports of advertisements from anti-LGBTQ groups being added to videos with LGBTQ content.12 Tumblr, a popular website previously known for its openness and inclusivity, banned all adult content in 2018, which disproportionately affected LGBTQ people, especially transgender and non-binary people. The site’s efforts to flag and remove adult content removed blogs maintained by transgender and non-binary individuals who documented their transitions and other personal, social, and medical experiences meant to be informative to their peers (Haimson et al., 2019).
Understanding the interactions between online and real-world communities can help to maximize the benefits that SGD populations can gain from online communities while minimizing the negative outcomes. There is also a need for the technology industry to understand the needs of SGD populations in order to avoid creating technology that can lead to discrimination, harassment, and violence. Thus, although online communities are frequently charged with helping to destroy the bars, bookstores, clubs, and other spaces that have been a mainstay of SGD communities, these online communities have helped to redefine the meaning and the uses of space for SGD people. They provide a safe space in which SGD people are able to increase their social networks and access information and resources relevant to their issues, concerns, and identities.
Space in Institutions
Social institutions and systems present particular challenges for SGD populations, whose identities and presentations may clash with dominant codes and mores. In this section, we consider the role of community in efforts to make space within or to transform institutions to serve the needs of SGD individuals in religious, health care, educational, and political institutions.
The role that churches play among communities of SGD people is multifaceted and complex. In many ways, the relationship can be a mixture of
affirmation, antagonism, and indifference. This section focuses primarily on Christian religious institutions as the dominant religion in the United States, though a considerable number of SGD people belong to other religions and engage in other spiritual practices.
The central role that religious institutions play in the lives of SGD populations is widely recognized, as is the fact that many of those people have antagonistic experiences in non-affirming religious institutions (Bailey and Richardson, 2019; Wilcox, 2003). Queer-antagonistic and non-open-and-affirming religious institutions often police the boundaries of gender and sexuality within communities (Bailey and Richardson, 2019). Gibbs and Goldbach’s (2015) qualitative study of religious and sexual identity conflict, internalized homophobia, and suicidality among LGBT young adults aged 18–24 found that many of them reported experiencing discrimination and internalized homophobia in non-affirming religious contexts. Despite this, many SGD people belong to queer-antagonistic churches (Talvacchia, Pettinger, and Larrimore, 2015). Some of them maintain an ambivalent relationship to religious institutions while continuing to rely on them for spiritual, theological, social, and emotional support. Some SGD people challenge antagonistic and exclusionary religious groups to be open and affirming; others have separated from these religious institutions, or they have started their own SGD-accepting religious institutions.
There are several kinds of mostly Christian churches that are open to or welcome SGD populations. Scheitle, Merino, and Moore (2010) define open and affirming churches as religious denominations, institutions, or programs in which member congregations signal their acceptance of all gender identities and sexual orientations (Scheitle, Merino, and Moore, 2010; Wilcox, 2003). There are churches that have had an official designation and others that function as open on an informal basis. Open and affirming churches allow for SGD people to participate in a radically inclusive theology and, in this way, to obtain social support from clergy and fellow congregants. These churches also allow congregants to reconcile conflicts they may have felt between their theology and their sexual and gender identities and experiences (Campbell, Skovdal, and Gibbs, 2011; McQueeny, 2009).
The United Church of Christ (UCC) was one of the first denominations to openly welcome LGBTQ+ people. In 1985, the general synod of the UCC called on the congregation to adopt a nondiscrimination policy and a covenant of openness and affirmation of people who are LGBTQ+ (Scheitle, Merino, and Moore, 2010; United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns, 2005; Wilcox, 2003). Thus, the UCC churches are known as open and affirming churches. Other denominations are referred to as gay- and lesbian-friendly congregations (Scheitle, Merino, and Moore, 2010; Wilcox, 2003).
SGD people have also created LGBTQ+-designated religious spaces. These churches are preferred by some SGD people because they draw from a theology that emphasizes the lived experiences of SGD people and situates these experiences in their religious and spiritual teachings (Talvacchia, Pettinger, and Larrimore, 2015). The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) is a denomination whose mission is to minister to SGD people (Wilcox, 2003). Troy Perry, the founder of the first UFMCC congregation in Los Angeles in 1968, believed that this church should serve “those seeking and celebrating the integration of their spirituality and sexuality” (Wilcox, 2003, p. 18). In 1982, Carl Bean, a former Motown and gospel singer, met with worshipers at his Los Angeles home and later founded Unity Fellowship Church, the first Black LGBTQ denomination.13 Unity, with churches throughout the country, is not only the first and only Black gay denomination; it also identifies as a social movement working to respond to both the spiritual and emotional needs of congregants and their physical needs (Harris, 2014).
Much of the discussion about SGD people and religion has focused on Christianity, which has led to presumptions that other religions are not as inclusive. At a seminar entitled “Amplifying Visibility and Increasing Capacity for Sexual and Gender Diverse Populations,”14 Khadija Kahn (Muslim Youth Leadership Council at Advocates for Youth) noted that the stereotype that Islam is inherently anti-LGBTQ and anti-woman is dangerous and untrue. LGBT Muslims are often viewed as victims trapped in a religious institution that is antagonistic toward SGD people. However, there is a growing community of LGBT people who are Muslims and who resist the stereotype that LGBT Muslims are oppressed, while also challenging the oppression and exclusion of LGBT people in Islam (al-Haqq Kugle, 2014).
There are several supportive groups in the country that provide safe spaces for SGD Muslims, such as Queer Muslims of Boston, a Facebook group for the Muslim Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversity, and Arabian Nights, a queer Middle Eastern group in Michigan (Opalewski, 2017). Because LGBT Muslims are “a minority within a minority within a minority,” they need to build bridges across gender, sexual, racial, ethnic, and religious and secular differences (al-Haqq Kugle, 2014, p. 156). While working to create inclusion within Islam, LGBT Muslims are also working with other minority communities to provide supportive and safe spaces outside of conventional spaces of Islamic practices.
Since SGD people are coming out at younger ages, they are being exposed to a variety of challenges at earlier ages. Kahn noted at the seminar
that young LGBTQ+ Muslims face a range of challenges related to homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, relationship violence, immigration, the “Muslim ban,” stigma around HIV, and many other issues. She said that LGBTQ+ Muslims between the ages 14 and 24 are pivotal to the Islamic activist movement.
Institutionalized religion is not the only means through which SGD people engage in spirituality. Many of them create religious and spiritual spaces that are more in alignment with their cultural identities and are not institutionalized. Some of these practices allow members to atone for the harm that institutionalized religions have done to their ancestors (e.g., the church’s role in slavery) while also creating a space to affirm SGD identities.
There are a number of Indigenous, Native American, and other cultural spiritual practices that are not formally associated with institutions or traditional denominations in the United States. For example, as discussed in Chapter 1, among some Native American tribes the term “Two Spirit” refers to a gender and sexual identity that emphasizes spirituality and downplays the homosexual persona (Jacobs, Thomas, and Lang, 1997). Within such a cultural context, the spiritual is not only viewed as inseparable from gender and sexuality; it also expands the gender and sexual possibilities that members can take up (Lane, 1997). Thus, Two Spirit identity is viewed as consistent with Native American spirituality, not outside of it. This is a departure from dominant notions of LGBT identity.
Several groups of SGD worshipers throughout the United States draw from and mix traditional African religious practices, such as Candomblé, Santería, and Vodou, shaping the practices to fit their context and conditions (Matory, 2009; Strongman, 2019). These practices recognize that the binarisms that underpin sex, gender, and sexuality categories of identities are a result of settler colonialism and do not reflect traditional African spiritual systems (Jolivette, 2016; Strongman, 2019). These African diasporic religious practices, like Native American spiritual practices, include “the commingling of the human and the divine” to produce identities and experiences in which gender is not dictated by assigned sex at birth (Strongman, 2019, p. 2). This view also speaks to sexual fluidity, wherein heterosexuality is neither the only sexuality nor is it mandatory.
Health Care Institutions
This section examines the role of community in raising awareness around key health issues for SGD populations, such as HIV/AIDS (access to health care is discussed in Chapter 12). Community connectedness has been shown to help SGD people address health disparities by connecting them to important resources. For example, Hussen and colleagues (2018) found that community organizations foster shared understanding and build
social capital among Black gay and bisexual men living with HIV, which can facilitate more positive outcomes at the individual, social, and community levels.
A major impediment to the struggle for health and access to health care for LGBT people, people with intersex traits, and other SGD populations has been the social construction, medicalization, and pathologization of sexual and gender diversity (Martos, Wilson, and Meyer, 2017). Ironically, it was the early medicalization and pathologization of same-sex sexual behavior and gender nonconformity that caused health organizations and agencies to overlook the unique health issues and disparities facing SGD communities, especially those who are among the most marginalized in those communities—people of color, transgender individuals, undocumented immigrants, and those living in poverty—for whom intersecting structural oppressions exacerbate many of the health concerns they face.
Social constructionism (see Chapter 2) argues that societies and cultures inform how people perceive and understand their social world (Lupton, 2000). Just as sexuality, race, and gender identity are socially constructed, so too are understandings of health, illness, and death (Brown, 1995). Medical professionals and institutions shape the ways in which health, illness, and the body are defined, and they also helped define and medicalize same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria as health issues in need of medical intervention.
In the early 1970s, activists focused their efforts on encouraging health care professionals to declassify “homosexuality” as a mental illness. They succeeded in these efforts in 1973; however, Martos, Wilson, and Meyer (2017) describe the split that occurred between LGB and transgender organizations and groups when the diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980. The 1970s also saw an increase in the number of organizations dedicated to providing support, resources, and community to LGBT people, with more than 1,000 LGBT organizations emerging during that time (Martos, Wilson, and Meyer, 2017).
Organizations also began to consider the unique issues facing SGD communities with the publication of a chapter on lesbian health in the second edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1973. Soon, organizations providing resources and support for SGD groups also began to offer alternative access to health information resources, and this later included medical care. With more people coming out and seeking community, LGBT urban enclaves grew, and some health care organizations responded to a shift in local demographics by beginning to offer support for SGD patient populations. For example, Fenway Health, the nation’s oldest LGBT-focused health center, was founded in 1971 in Boston not as an LGBT clinic but as a sexual health clinic that, due to demographic shifts, gained expertise in providing
health care services and treatment to LGBT patients. Like Fenway Health, other urban health centers began to cater more toward SGD patient populations, providing such services as mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and sexual health care in safe and LGBT-affirming environments. By the mid-1980s, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force estimated that there were “over 100 clinics and medical service programs and over 300 counseling and mental health programs, with services ranging from testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infection to counseling and care of substance users, that were openly LGBT friendly and accepting” (Martos, Wilson, and Meyer, 2017).
The increasing number of HIV infections and the high rate of HIV-related deaths among gay and bisexual men and transgender women changed the nature of LGBT community mobilization and activism. Access to health care education, resources, and services became an issue of life or death throughout the 1980s, as LGBT and AIDS activists pressured government, religious, and health care leaders for support and services. These activists and organizations “leveraged the health implications of HIV/AIDS to raise awareness about such issues as domestic partnerships, access to the sick and dying, inheritance, and housing” (Martos, Wilson, and Meyer, 2017). As rates of HIV began to increase, more LGBT community centers and groups began to focus on policies, funding, and programs to provide HIV testing, prevention, and treatment, and this also bolstered efforts to connect LGBT communities with a wide range of health care services. Founded in 1999 by Black gay AIDS activist Phill Wilson, the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles is an example of a community-based organization created to address a health crisis that disproportionately impacted Black people (particularly Black gay men at that time) in a time of inadequate responses by government health agencies (Wilson, 2020).
However, just as transgender and gender-nonconforming people were excluded from much of the LGB activism taking place during the 1980s, cisgender women similarly faced sexism and misogyny among AIDS activists and the larger LGBT movement. For example, some scholars argue that sexism played a decisive role in the eventual decline of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) Movement in the 1990s (Gould, 2009).
The first LGBT community health center to be recognized as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) by the Health Resources and Services Administration Bureau of Primary Health Care was Baltimore’s Chase Brexton in 2002, and several more have since been recognized, including Fenway Health, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, New York City’s Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Philadelphia’s Mazzoni Center, and Washington, D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health. The FQHC designation ensures federal funding and reimbursement for health services provided by these health centers (Martos, Wilson, and Meyer, 2017).
Although these health centers and many more organizations across the country are addressing health and wellness among SGD populations, many LGBTQ people still experience homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in health care settings. And too many LGBTQ people of color continue to experience health disparities and a disproportionate representation in the HIV/AIDS epidemic (Bailey and Bost, 2020). As a result, these communities often seek out support from LGBTQ-specific health care organizations or from support groups in religious organizations, such as HIV/AIDS support groups in some Black churches; breast cancer support groups for LGB women; transgender support groups; and other in-person and online communities dedicated to issues such as domestic violence and mental health. More recently, some studies have noted increased levels of acceptance for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in health care settings (Macapagal, Bhatia, and Green, 2016). Nonetheless, differences in health care access, use, and experiences among LGBTQ populations, particularly LGBTQ people of color, continue to affect patients’ experiences with health care and feelings of acceptance in medical settings (Macapagal, Bhatia, and Green, 2016).
As a direct result of the activism of LGBTQ+ faculty, students, staff, and their allies, colleges and universities have increased services for SGD populations in recent years. Many have developed LGTBQ+ resource centers that offer community for SGD people on campus and provide space for gay-straight alliances to meet. For some SGD students these centers provide emotional, social, and academic support, shaping and improving the quality of their experiences in colleges and universities (see Chapter 9). However, many students, faculty, and staff may have limited access to these opportunities (Duran, Blockett, and Nicolasso, 2020).
Traditional campus social groups and organizations can be cis-normative and heteronormative, and in some cases, like sororities and fraternities, they can exclude SGD people because of explicit and implicit expectations of adherences to traditional gender and sexual norms. In some places, SGD students have responded to these forms of exclusion by creating their own societies, fraternities, and sororities to provide the opportunity for SGD students to experience social support throughout their education and beyond. More broadly, many SGD student populations create “counterspaces” (Blockett, 2017), in which they can come together to create alternatives for themselves when their college or university is either unable or unwilling to create spaces and resources that are inclusive, affirming, and safe for them.
Not all SGD groups feel welcomed and affirmed at LGBTQ+ resource centers. While the stated aims of these centers center around inclusion, they also produce what is experienced as “colorblind” politics for some groups
(Bailey and Richardson, 2019; Blockett, 2017). The centers may not challenge the host institution’s views around racism, homophobia, and transphobia; rather, they do the intellectual and political labor of respectability and normativity at the university by creating an inclusive environment within the larger, less-inclusive environment. As these LGBTQ+ organizations become institutionalized, they often make tradeoffs to be sustained in historically conservative host institutions and so have difficulty creating and sustaining fully inclusive environments and spaces for a diverse range of SGD students and others on campus.
Although most SGD students struggle to find inclusive and safe spaces in colleges and universities, SGD populations of color face greater challenges because of the interconnected oppressions of race, gender, and sexuality. SGD students have to navigate a range of social issues at colleges and universities, and many of them find it difficult to form community around gender and sexuality alone, to the exclusion of their racial and cultural identities (Blockett, 2017). At the same time, many SGD students of color do not feel fully included in their racial and cultural communities of origin. Institutions of higher education have often failed to create and facilitate the conditions under which SGD students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds can feel supported, affirmed, and included in the classroom and, more broadly, in campus life.
Understanding the sociopolitical engagement of SGD populations is important to understanding patterns of resilience among historically stigmatized populations (Bruce, Harper, and Bauermeister, 2015). Engaging in political affairs is one source of resilience for SGD communities. This section considers how SGD groups engage in political and civic affairs, how they create their own space when not invited, and how they transform political spaces.
Under previous presidential administrations, LGBTQ+ rights and protections at the federal level had gained strong support in the public sector, with few exceptions. While progress continues to be made in sectors such as employment, legal rights and protections for SGD people in other domains have been rapidly rolled back. While a more detailed discussion on the legal and political challenges confronting SGD populations is taken up elsewhere in this report, this chapter considers how SGD communities help to mitigate some of the harm they experience from legal setbacks through creation and participation in public culture and their sociopolitical involvement.
There are many ways people may engage in formal political institutions, including donating money to campaigns, electioneering for candidates or issues, and attending rallies or protests. The civic and political
engagement of SGD people is multidimensional and multifaceted, and studies show that lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults tend to be more civically and politically engaged than heterosexual adults (Egan, Edelman, and Sherrill, 2008; Flores, 2019). They have higher rates of discussing politics online, contacting government officials, donating to campaigns, attending protests and rallies, and volunteering on campaigns than non-LGBT people (Flores, 2019). Studies suggest SGD people are slightly more certain that they are registered to vote than cisgender, heterosexual people (Bowers and Whitley, 2020; James et al., 2016; Pew Research Center, 2013).
Data from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey suggest that 76 percent of transgender people are registered to vote, compared with 65 percent of the adult population (James et al., 2016). From probability-based surveys, the Pew Research Center (2013) found that 77 percent of LGBT people are registered to vote, and Mallory (2019) found that about 79 percent of LGBT people are registered to vote; both numbers are less than the 88 percent of the general population that is registered to vote (Goldmacher, 2016). However, information is limited regarding registration rates from nationally representative studies of SGD populations that overcome potential biases of self-reported measures. There are potential barriers for some SGD populations to register to vote. Transgender adults face increased barriers in states that have policies requiring the presentation of identity documents with a photo in order to register (Herman, 2012; Herman and Brown, 2018; O’Neill and Herman, 2020; also see Chapter 12). The problem is encountered both for registration and voting.
Since the early 1990s, the National Election Pool (NEP) has been documenting both sexual orientation and gender identity in its exit poll questionnaire. Over the years, the results of the NEP tend to show that the percentage of voters who identify as LGBT is about 5 percent (Flores, 2019). The LGBT vote may now be a larger portion of the electorate, as Schaffner (2019) shows that about 11 percent of the electorate identified as LGBT in the 2018 midterm election.
In a study of a representative sample of college students, Swank and Fahs (2017) found that sexual minorities participate in political marches at higher rates than heterosexual persons; the primary explanation is their embeddedness and activism in political groups (see also Swank and Fahs, 2019). A field experiment suggested that social esteem—recognizing SGD people who participated in pride rallies by publishing their names and photographs on social media—can be a key driver leading them to participate in politics (McClendon, 2014). Activism, however, can be emotionally stressful and taxing: in one study, 84 percent of a purposive sample of LGBTQ+ activists reported being emotionally taxed by LGBTQ+ activism (Pepin-Neff and Wynter, 2020). Pepin-Neff and Wynter (2020) found that activists described constant pressure to participate in LGBTQ+ pride
marches and other rallies as emotionally taxing, especially for people at the intersections of race, age, and gender identity.
At the 2019 public seminar on amplifying visibility and increasing capacity for SGD populations, Todd Snovel (Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs)15 discussed the broad nature of civic engagement and sociopolitical involvement in what he termed queer communities. He explained that some people equate civic engagement with political engagement, which complicates the concept—especially when political engagement often gets further reduced to partisan engagement. He added: “Any time that someone sees social inequalities or sees areas that could be bettered within a community and raises voice, raises energy, raises resources around improving models for that in a community basis, we would consider all of that under civic engagement.” Mary Anne Adams (Zami NOBLA) added to Snovel’s points at the seminar, saying that many people are involved in some form of civic engagement, even if they do not define or call it that. She said social media is a prime example of a platform informally used as a way to improve communities and the common good, as well as a voice of resistance and social justice for marginalized communities. Her points reinforce the role of online forums as a platform for sociopolitical involvement and activism as a way to build stronger positive identities among SGD populations (Ceglarek and Ward, 2016). In examining motivators for sociopolitical involvement and civic engagement among SGD populations of color, research reveals that individual connectedness to other SGD people (not necessarily people of color) is a strong predictor of sociopolitical involvement (Harris, Battle, and Pastrana, 2018). Early organizing sought to build community and raise awareness of the social, economic, and political problems that lesbian women and gay men encountered (Armstrong, 2002). This focus continued into the 1970s with service organizations, such as Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), led by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, and activist organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance (Ghaziani, Taylor, and Stone, 2016; Shepard, 2013). Community organization and activism played a pivotal role in the 1980 and 1990s during the HIV/AIDS crises (Cohen, 1999), and community and activist organizations remain central to the well-being of SGD people (see Chapter 6).
Historically, some organizations rarely included SGD people of color and were known to be comprised primarily of middle-class white gay men and lesbian women (Armstrong, 2002; Cohen, 1999). As a result, community organizations with an intersectional mindset have emerged in various communities seeking to advance the well-being of SGD people
15 Snovel is now Special Assistant to the President for Strategic Initatives at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.
(Stone, 2012). However, mainstream political organizations tend to prioritize policy and legal changes on topics that may not address the needs of the most vulnerable subgroups (Stone, 2012), though this has also been changing to be more inclusive in recent years. This inclusiveness advances policy and broadens services to further the well-being of SGD people, and it provides agency and political power to them.
SGD communities represent a variety of racial, ethnic, and cultural identities and experiences and both shared and disparate interests and concerns, but they all need access to resources and safe spaces. Over the past several years, spaces for public convening and engagement in social, cultural, and personal activities have diminished substantially for SGD people. Because access to space is linked to participation in public culture, which is also influenced by the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and social class, working class and poor SGD people of color do not always have access to the same spaces as do SGD people of other races and classes.
Festivals and group celebrations are an important part of LGBTQ+ culture. LGBTQ+ pride celebrations in major cities attract thousands of attendees, but many remain self-segregated, leaving ethnically diverse SGD groups to respond by protest or creating their own pride events. Online communities provide and transform spaces in which SGD people can explore their identities and express themselves openly. Online communities are sometimes created out of the need for information, connection, and support among less visible and marginalized SGD groups.
SGD people have sought to carve out niches in religious and educational institutions, as well as in the realm of civic and political engagement. The past several years have seen the insurgence of LGBTQ+-affirming churches and denominations and noninstitutional and Indigenous spiritual practices, as well as gay-straight alliances on college and university campuses. Community connectedness has also been shown to help SGD people address health disparities by connecting them to important resources.
In civic affairs, lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults tend to be more civically and politically engaged than heterosexual adults: they engage government officials, donate to and volunteer in campaigns, and attend protests and rallies at higher rates than non-LGBT people. In addition, transgender people are registered to vote at higher rates than the cisgender population. Connectedness to other SGD people is a strong predictor of sociopolitical involvement. While political involvement is often conflated with civic engagement, experts note that the two are different, and civic engagement can manifest itself through participation in both in-person and virtual activism (i.e., social media and online forums).
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