The society in the United States of America is built upon the idea that in order for our society to function someone needs to be the ‘other‘. This means that the most special and unique people in our society often end up at the end of discrimination, often fearing for their lives. This type of othering technique is why the LBGTQIA+ community coined the phrase “We’re here! We’re Queerl Get used to it!” (Queer Nation). However, even within the seemingly accepting space of an umbrella discourse community there are still marginalized groups that act as completely distinct discourse communities. The discourse community that consists solely of queer students of color (QSOC) is a minority within a minority where those within it face the discrimination and mistreatment that comes with homophobia, and the more deeply rooted American tradition of good ol’ fashioned racismi.
Due to the large amount of discrimination that QSOC I chose them as the discourse community that I would do ethnographic research on As a QSOC myself, and I am familiar with the discrimination the community faces and though this research I hoped to learn more about the intersection of queerness and race and how other QSOC like myself not only perceive the world around them, but what that world actually is and how they survive it It’s important to establish the fact that even if you do not believe in the legitimacy of what some would describe as a ‘lifestyle choice‘ there is one thing that both Queer/LBGTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual +) and homophobes alike can agree on; being Queer in our society makes you a target. A multitude of studies have focused on the effect of being a part of the minority that is the Queer community but these studies tend to focus on what Allen Berube describes as the “generic gay community” which is the upper»class white gay male (Berube).
Due to this, People of Color (POC) who also identify as queer are often pushed to the side and ignored despite often facing larger persecution due to being a part of two minority groups. Multiple studies have found that the most at risk group of QPOC are those who are also students on college campuses This is due to the culture shock that many college students experience upon their path to higher education. These studies and personal narratives often suggest that there is a relative disconnect between how white students and students of color perceive the racial climate within their universities and whether this is improving or remaining stagnant. Despite the significant lack of research on this specific subsection of a minority within a minority there is a need to further study these individuals to improving the collegiate learning experience at larger.
The Queer community has always presented itself as a fully inclusive environment that does not discriminate based on sexual identity, gender, or race. However, there is often a distinct disconnect between how white-passing queer college students and QSOC see the social climate of their colleges in terms of equality. A study done by Susan R. Rankin and Robert Dean Reason, “Differing Perceptions: How Student of Color and White Students Perceive Campus Climate for Underrepresented Groups” found that on average students of color viewed their college environments as significantly more racist than how their white peers saw them (Reason 8) Specifically, only 18.3% of white students viewed their campuses as racist, while 32.3% of college students of color viewed their campuses as racist On the other hand only 32.9% of students of color viewed their campuses as non-racist, while 48.4% of white students viewed their campus in the same way.
This brings up the question of why do white students on average view their campuses in such a positive and racially inclusive light? When this inherent racist climate is added on to the already present queer identities of QPOC there begin to begins to be an othering affect due to the notion that “white LBGT[QIA+] deny racism is a problem in the community” (Balsam). There is this the ever present idea that being queer automatically makes you accepting of everyone, which appears to be inaccurate The studies then seek to determine why QPOC feel like the other within what should be safe spaces, but rather are hotbeds for ignored racist ideologies. In a cross between a personal narrative and observational study Allen Berube, in “How Gay Stays White and What Kind of White It Stays”, surmises that this is because of the larger equality groups‘ methods for receiving acceptance by heterosexual and cisgender majority, meaning that one accepts the gender they were assigned at birth.
They often achieve this by continually putting forth the idea of the “generic gay community” which goes coincides with the ‘gay people are no different from you’ line of thought (Berube). This mainstream ideology described as “whitening practices” by Berube pushes QPOC into the shadows and causes them to “[feel] unwelcome at LBGT[QIA+] groups or events” due to them often experiencing racism within this safe spaces due to the events being lead and frequented by a white majority (Berube 6; Balsam 24). Due to the white majority’s desire to keep up the guise of acceptance and equality, racism specifically within the queer community tends to be subtle. It often appears on personal dating websites and apps like Grindr and Jack’d through profile descriptions that blatantly declare “white people only” or “no blacks, fats, fems, or asians”. On those same venues QPOC are viewed as a “sexual object by other LBGT[QIA+J people because of [their] race/ethnicity”.
This constant feeling of still not being accepted by those similar to you often results in mental health issues within this oppressed group that is often attributed to the high stress levels these individuals are constantly subjected to (Balsam) Unfortunately these difficulties are not limited to QPOC’s interactions within the queer community. As found in a study by Susan R. Rankin, “Campus Climate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People”, when interacting with people simply within their racial communities QPOC often reported that they felt similarly out of place, just as they did within predominantly white queer settings, One participant of Chicana decent even went as far as to say that QPOC often have to give up “feeling a sense of community [since they] are a member of two minority groups” (Rankin). It was also found that on average “queer people of color were more likely than white queer people to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid harassment”.
Not only do QPOC have to deal with concealing their queer identities they have to deal with racial friction from white individuals as wellt In a way QPOC walk around feeling like they “have two (or more) strikes against [them] because [they] are an LBGT[QIA+] [individual] and a person of color” (Balsam). In order to examine the unique phenomenon that is QSOC discourse community I first had to figure out how I was going to research the queer community. Examining the queer community can be an especially difficult task for an outsider due the reluctant nature that surrounds it when it comes to sharing any information with strangers due to the social stigma, also known as homophobia, which still surrounds queernesst Luckily as a member and a familiar face within the discourse community I was able to examine the community with little push back, For the first part of my research I chose to examine the University of Cincinnati‘s student-run gay-straight alliance called UC Alliance.
In order to get an understanding of how the group‘s members perceive the social climate not only within their group but on the UC campus as a whole I created a thorough ten question survey with questions catered directly to the discourse community like “Do you think racism is a problem in the LGBTQIA+ [community]?”. Initially I expected only a few responses to the survey seeing as I posted it only in the UC Alliance Facebook group, but was overwhelmed at the response which I was able to analyze and draw several complex conclusions from, In addition to this survey, I wanted to observe not only how the discourse community perceived itself, but how those within the community acted in a social environment that seemingly has no repercussions for their actions, Gay male dating apps like Grindr, Scruff, and Jack’d tend to be these types of communities that are a breeding ground for racism, misogyny, and overall problematic behavior.
In order to accurately examine this type of behavior I created two profiles on the dating app Grindrt In order two limit the amount of variation that comes with each individual’s perception of attraction neither profile had a profile image As a base each profile shared the description of “22 years old, 5’7”, 140 lbs, Muscular, and Single”, which tends to be the most frequently seen description within the app, While each profile shared the same base description, one listed its ethnicity as Black, and the other as White. I did so to observe how real gay and Trans* identified men within a 3 mile radius would treat and interact with the profiles within their first hour of creation. The most exciting part of this entire process was being able to finally see the results and compare them with my previous research. The most telling of the research in terms of racial inequalities was the work I did inside of the social media app, Grindrt The research I did on Grindr confirmed a lot what I already knew unofficially, as a queer-identified black male, from my own use on the app.
Within the first hour of their creation, the two account profiles received radically different responses both in number and in content of the responses received. The profile listed as ‘white’ received over 45 responses within only the first hourt The responses from things as innocent as a greeting, to explicit requests for sexual acts. This completely contrasts the responses received on the ‘black‘ profile. This profile received a less than half of the white profile’s, at 19 responses, The content of the responses was also radically different as well. The black profile received more explicit responses than the white profile, with many of them asking about the size of the profile’s penis both in length and girth. This is completely in line with my earlier research that citied the sexualizing of QPOC that is currently rampant within the queer community, This type of sexualizing harkens back to the deeply rooted history of slavery that resonates throughout the African-American discourse community as a whole which adds an extra level to the QPOC experience.
After seeing this trend throughout the majority of messages that the black profile received 1 wondered why individuals on a college campus felt so comfortable sexualizing the profiles, even when they didn’t have pictures, and why one was sexualized so much more than the other, especially when the University of Cincinnati’s campus social climate claims to be so open and accepting due to the presence of the LBGTQ Center, the African American Resource Center and groups like UC Alliance, Looking at the survey that i conducted within UC Alliance, 78,13% of those surveyed believed that racism is a problem within the community, however only 6.67% of the group claimed that they had ever ”experienced discrimination or harassment in the LBGTQIA+ community based on [their] race” (Survey Monkey).
All of the individuals that claimed that they had never felt racial discrimination self-identified themselves as “white‘K These statistics are strange because according to the University of Cincinnati‘s Office of the Provost‘s official student fact sheet from autumn of 2014, UC Alliance members does not accurately represent the diversity of UC’s campus. While only 567% of UC Alliances member had ever felt racial discrimination due to their identification as QPOC, 264% of the population of UC identifies as a POC (Office of Institutional Research), This disconnect between the UC population and the members of UC Alliance is linked not to a lack of diversity on the campus but to the generic gay community described by Berube and the constant placement of white queer individuals as the model when asking and demanding acceptance from our homophobic society.
As I found out earlier on in my research, QPOC often feel out of place in designated queer spaces like UC Alliance due to the overwhelming white population that often frequents them due to this phenomenon. What this results in is QPOC feeling “unwelcome at LBGT groups [and] events” causing them to feel like the ‘other‘ even in what should be a welcoming and accepting environment (Balsam 30) Diving further into the research, I began to question the queer community’s degree of acceptance not only in regards to POC, but also when it comes to queer identities other than the basic identities of gay and lesbian The UC Alliance survey confirmed the validity of this questioning as a staggering 51,61% of those surveyed in UC Alliance claimed that they felt “uncomfortable in the LBGTQIA+ community because of [their] sexual or gender identity“ (Survey Monkey) It seems impossible that QPOC could hope to ever be accepted within the community if white queer people cannot even accept each other yet. This explains why QPOC are more likely to hide their sexual and gender identities than white queer people (Rankin).
When you combine this lack of acceptance in the queer community and the individual racial communities, which often do not accept QPOC due to religious beliefs, they have few places where they can go to feel accepted which contributes to their higher rates of not only mental health issues but suicide as well (Balsam) However, through all of this I was surprised at how aware the surveyed members of UC Alliance when it comes to racial issues despite the lack of diversity within the group It‘s also striking that the group, like many of its kind in the queer community, while openly aware of the issue have made little to no effort to try and fix it Through analyzing a small segment of the various intersecting issues that affect queer people of color on a daily basis I‘ve become more aware of how and why I, a QPOC myself, feel so out of place not only in queer spaces but in racial environments as well despite how accepting everyone in them claims to be due to their own experiences with discrimination.
At the beginning of this research expedition I had a breadth of knowledge in regards to issues that affect African- Americans and queer people separately, but I was unaware of any previous research that sought to study QPOC in order to understand how the people at the crossroads of these communities survive I was, however aware of a few studies on Grindr and the racism that often appears within it After finding previous research on QPOC issues, and conducting my own, I was astounded to find out that non-POC queer people actually acknowledge that racism is an issue within the community, but do little to fix it I had originally assumed that the racism in the community was due to the main focus being on queer issues and to a collective ignorance of racial issues in general.
Knowing now that even non-POC queer people often subscribe to idea that racism isn’t significant enough to be an issue to fight or be an ally for the destruction of and are constantly pushing the ‘generic gay community‘ as a way to be accepted, despite the queer community having been historically discriminated against in extremely violent ways, is troubling and makes me feel even more out of place within UC Alliance, and what I thought was my own community I plan on doing further research on these issues and will be actively trying to find a way to fix both of the communities I belong to.