The “LGBT Community” is a Helpful Idea, but Can Be Misleading – Erasing 76 Crimes
The difficulties faced by LGBT people in Lebanon and Palestine show how activists are using the
The term “LGBT community” can be misleading, according to Rasha Younes, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. Here is his essay, published by The Nation and HRW:
The problem with the “LGBT community”
When I met a former independent Lebanese parliamentarian, she asked me: “How can we mobilize the LGBT vote in Lebanon? She wanted to understand why the Lebanese “LGBT community” did not vote en bloc in the 2018 legislative elections to oppose sectarian political parties.
His question was based on a common, but mistaken, assumption that one aspect of identity trumps all other factors, including class and sectarian allegiances, patriarchal domination, and social inequality. In Lebanon, for example, a poor homosexual woman will most likely vote according to her more immediate best economic interests. This can mean choosing your sect leader, as patronage networks often involve using your sect for basic services. You can’t expect her to choose her homosexuality over her livelihood.
The parliamentarian’s question raises a larger problem: the problem with the expression “LGBT community”. The term implies a cohesive group identity, based solely on a shared sexual orientation or gender identity. It suggests a homogeneity that does not exist.
This is particularly evident in regions of the world where there are strong economic and power disparities, notably in the Middle East and North Africa. Ask, for example, a transgender woman in Egypt, who has struggled her whole life to find a job because of her gender expression, if she “identifies” with a wealthy gay Egyptian who has the resources to lead a career. comfortable life. Their lives rarely intersect.
While imaginary communities serve a purpose, including as a political tool, the claim that people with a shared sexual orientation or gender identity form a relatively uniform community is depoliticizing. This risks overshadowing other intersecting factors that lead to stratification even within the “LGBT community”. Obviously, there are issues that affect people based on who they are, such as discriminatory laws and policies. But other factors must be taken into account when considering the relative impact of discrimination — almost invariably, those who are socially and economically marginalized are most affected.
Yet shorthand is necessary, and “LGBT” helps discuss access to the international human rights framework. To obtain asylum, for example, a queer or transgender person must prove that the basis for their claim is an experience of violence or discrimination because of their LGBT identity.
The term “LGBT community” has militant origins indicating political solidarity. But it has also become a practical acronym in a neoliberal economy where the “LGBT community” has become an indispensable niche market, whether it is for selling rainbow flags or a political candidate. This creates a false dichotomy between the “in” and “out” groups.
This may have the unintended effect of alienating some people who do not emphasize sexual or gender identity. This can make them feel that by rejecting the category, they are betraying “their people”, and by default, their supposedly essential identity. A disproportionate focus on identity as a fixed category invariably minimizes structural barriers and political context.
A vivid example of the limits of an identity approach is Palestine, where queer activists emphasize their shared experience as Palestinians, beyond solidarity as queer people. Gay and transgender Palestinians with varied backgrounds live under a discriminatory Israeli regime designed to privilege Jewish Israelis. Apartheid and the parallel persecution have become a reality for millions of Palestinians, queer or not.
To speak of the Palestinian “experience of the LGBT community” is to isolate one aspect of reality from the larger context, which risks erasing a historical and cyclical violence that dominates the daily lives of Palestinians.
Although identities are constructed, they are important to individuals and have tangible consequences. Discrimination and violence based on perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity are human rights violations. In the Middle East and North Africa, widespread policing of non-normativity of all kinds is the product of coordinated political strategies that governments deploy to maintain a status quo that serves the economic and political interests of the most powerful. These conditions give rise to a shared experience, shaping coalitions and communities. But these trajectories must be approached as contextual, situational, functional and strategic. Our political movements do not aim to name or claim identities for the sake of being recognized or visible to a dominant gaze. They are above all a fight for bodily autonomy, reproductive justice, access to socio-economic power and free mobility. Whether we are a community or not, we are the actors and the people affected.