More than a talking point: Choosing when to speak for your community

Pink Student Life

Image description: A pride flag hangs above a building in Oxford.

Something dawned on me while I was watching the BBC interview with Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price during the recent election. Why, in 2019, was a politician’s sexuality still worthy of discussion? Too often, LGBTQ+ people are viewed more as representatives than as individuals. This is usually well-intentioned, and there are certainly more pressing matters that we face as a community too. However, I take issue with being seen for my sexuality first.

All too often, I am asked for my opinion on issues ‘as a gay man’. At times, it is simply frustrating, as the question bears no relation to my interests or expertise. Some marginalised people strongly resent being treated as ‘human dictionaries’ or as ‘history books for their communities.’ I am not one of those people; nevertheless, I cannot help but feel exasperated when I am constantly asked for a take on the latest piece of topical LGBTQ+ news.

The nature of the discussion is comparable to the conversation about my veganism. I am expected to justify my stance in relation to all scenarios, subjected to emotional arguments from people whose lives I have no desire to influence. Unlike my veganism, my sexuality isn’t a conscious choice. It is inseparable from me as a person. Questions like these often feel like requests for me to justify my own existence. Freedom of speech is important, but so is the freedom not to speak.

The situation is even worse for those who belong to multiple marginalised communities. People from minority ethnic communities who also fall under the queer umbrella are targeted particularly often. This problem is especially visible through the academic lens. I often find myself looking on in discomfort as my BAME peers are specifically called on to discuss topics relating to people of colour.

The spotlight isn’t for everyone and neither is the soap box.

Just as in the discussion of queer issues, I feel that opinions on such topics should always be freely volunteered. Consistently putting marginalised people on the spot in this way implies that they should only contribute to discussions surrounding matters which personally relate to them. This not only puts undue pressure on them to speak on behalf of a group, but also undermines their academic worth.

Naturally, the problem is amplified for those who are BAME and also openly LGBTQ+. Not only are they forced to defend both aspects of their identities, but they are further interrogated on how the different aspects of their identities intersect. The fact that Queer Muslims, for example, might experience unique discrimination from their own communities should prompt us to create more safe spaces for them. Instead, such people are often forced to answer impossible theological questions that, again, seem to challenge them simply for daring to exist.

We should all be able to engage in discourse that does not require us to speak on behalf of our identity unless we choose to do so. It is incredibly important that those who want to engage in discourse of this nature are given the platform to do so – however, this does not mean we should force people onto the stage. The spotlight isn’t for everyone and neither is the soap box.

We must encourage all individuals to stand up for the causes that they feel most passionate about, but engaging with the community is not always about activism. This is something that we have to embrace as well. Ours must be a broad church. We should avoid patronising individuals with the demand that they are defined by the group they belong in. We need to accept people for who they are, something the LGBTQ+ community knows to be important.

The reality is our sexualities and gender identities are just one facet of who we are. They may tell you something of our experiences or our preferences, but they tell you little of our interests, our endeavours or our aspirations. We have a lot more to offer than just our base-level identities. Like everyone else, we are more than just the sum of our parts. I express my LGBTQ+ experience on my own terms and address issues that I have interest or investment in. All I ask is that every LGBTQ+ person be allowed the chance to do the same.

Image Credit: Wei Ai Ng

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