September 26, 2013

Examining Oppression: Layers of Identity

This is the third in a series of GLSEN Blog posts examining the impact of oppression in our schools and communities. Read the previous piece here.

At GLSEN we envision a world in which all students thrive and we’ve been working for more than 20 years to make that vision a reality. And there is much more work to be done. Too many LGBT students are victimized because of who they are. Too few have the supportive educators, inclusive curriculum, GSAs and comprehensive policies that GLSEN research shows help create respectful, healthful and safe learning environments.

Many LGBT students of color experience additional layers of victimization, invisibility and discrimination based on their race and/or ethnicity. Ximena, a student from New Jersey, recalls an incident with a fellow classmate. She says,

“He was calling me ‘Latino lesbian’ because...I stand out. There’s not a lot of gay people in my school and there’s not a lot of Hispanic people in my school, so he took the two things that I stand out as and put them into one and he was using it as if it were funny. And I am Latina and I am a lesbian, but when you say it offensively or as if that’s a bad thing, it bothers me because it’s not supposed to be an offensive thing. It’s what I am.”

Not only has Ximena been targeted for “standing out” and being different, but the underlying racism and heterosexism is palpable.

Sabrina, a student from Michigan, goes further. She describes how oppression based on her intersecting identities, coupled with teachers who don’t seem to understand the resulting impact, limits her ability to really thrive at school. She writes,

“For me personally, as a queer student of color, I have experienced prejudice on the basis of my East Asian ethnicity on top of my queer identity. I, along with so many others, have struggled to communicate with teachers and peers in efforts to find safe spaces and cultivate empowerment in the midst of communities dominated by heteronormative whiteness, or any other basis for privilege.

Unfortunately, not enough teachers realize how difficult it is to thrive in an environment where your voice is constantly invalidated just for being different. Through high school, [it has been hard] to get by under the expectation to be a “model minority”, which incidentally was dismissed as soon as I had come out as queer. The intersection of my identities has definitely promoted my growth as an individual, but it would be a blatant lie to say people's misconceptions regarding my identities have never negatively impacted my social well-being or grades. I would like teachers to know that my race or my queer identity should not detract from who I am. I would like teachers to make efforts to help validate our voices instead.”

Sabrina, like many LGBT students of color, has developed incredible resilience in the face of adversity. She also calls for educators to validate her identities, experiences and voice. Today, her voice is loud and clear, telling us all to do more work and create more change.

All students have unique and complex identities and all students deserve safe, respectful and affirming school environments. GLSEN is working hard to empower students like Sabrina and support educators to do the same.

CALL TO ACTION:

Learn more about the realities for students like Ximena and Sabrina with GLSEN’s research report, Shared Differences: The Experiences of LGBT Students of Color in Our Nation’s Schools.__

Read (and share) GLSEN and the Hetrick-Martin Institute’s Considerations When Working with LGBT Students of Color to be a better ally and advocate.

Jenny Betz

About Jenny Betz

Jenny Betz is the Professional Development Program Manager at GLSEN -- the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

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