Anyone you meet, be they old or young, in person or online, male, female and everything in between, likely has a fear of something. Even you reading this article right now can quickly think of something that terrifies you, from arachnophobia to zoophobia, buttons and clowns to holes and even perhaps peaches. However, many could argue that there is a clear outlier when it comes to phobias: the ones directed at people’s sexuality.
Homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and so forth are just some of the examples I’m talking about, but these are general terms commonly used for the negative stigma that a hateful person has in regards to someone who identifies under the LGBTQIA+ acronym. It may be easy to disregard this as just another misnomer, a mistake from the long process that is language development. Despite this, I assert that all of these specific phobias are indeed stemmed from fears, but of a different kind than the ones outlined above.
Scholars and researchers claim that true fear is stemmed from what we cannot see or understand, or evolutionary traits that have been learnt so that we can better protect ourselves against dangers (e.g: poisonous animals). With the prevalence of LGBTQIA+ tropes and people both in the media and in many communities around the world, it would be hard for someone to say that their presence is not visible. So why is there so much adversity and hate about, even in 2021? Well, another element of fear is what people don’t understand. A lack of understanding brings confusion, and with enough confusion you get fear.
Too much of the world’s lack of understanding results in sad tales of children being forced out of their home by their parents after coming out to them. These apparent role models and trusted adults are actively refusing to understand the plight of their children in favour of pushing them out onto the streets, unless they conform to their biased view of what is ‘normal’. This is just one example of many where LGBTQIA+ people are having their rights invalidated or attacked just for their desire to live freely. But what is the alternative? What can be done to counter the hate and make the world a more loving and understanding place?
Education is the key. Speaking from experience as someone brought up in a very conservative and religious household, being continually told the ‘sins’ of being anything other than cisgender and heterosexual impacted my young mind severely. I was made to believe that seeing something as simple as two girls kissing or holding hands was inherently a sexual act, and therefore wrong. This close-mindedness rubbed off onto me, viewing any non-heterosexual couple as beings from another planet, something I couldn’t relate to or empathise with.
All that changed when I reached secondary school, a place full of other children and teenagers developing just like me. On a standard day like any other, one of my friends whom I’d known for several years came out as gay. It was a source of confusion at the time for young sheltered me, since my thought process was “My friend is gay? But they’re a good person, and I like spending time with them… Is it possible that gay people are humans just like me?” But, when I later witnessed bullies choosing to insult my friend because of it, I realised that verbally abusing and judging someone was far far worse than any matter of identity, in the same way that bullying someone for their ethnicity is equally unjustifiable.
This experience was a real mind opener, primarily because it meant I was now learning to decide things for myself and make an effort to understand somebody’s differences rather than immediately marginalising them as I had shamefully done before.
If I had been educated earlier, or been told something along the lines of “LGBTQIA+ people are just people”, then those notions of oppression and judgement would have disappeared a lot sooner, for the betterment of those around me.
Reading over my own experience, it is likely you may think I’m blaming religion for my actions. Let me be the first to say I am not; religion can be a powerful guiding force in the lives of people who need something to believe in, and more often than not a devoted religious individual is told to be respectful and kind to others regardless of who they are. My blame is focused on the lack of education and teaching I received while growing up, having to learn things first-hand and being unprepared to do so. And today, despite living in the most advanced time period of acceptance and love, there is still so much to be done.
Allies, your time is now. If you wish to make the world a better place for the people whom you support, then sometimes the best place to start is yourself. For example:
- Do you know what the LGBTQIA+ acronym fully stands for, and what each label means?
- Do you know how to stand up to adversity when you see hate being promoted in your community?
- Are you a supportive enough person that somebody could talk to you in confidence about their feelings if need be?
These are just some examples that you should ask if you are in the awkward position of wanting to help but not feeling capable enough. It can be difficult, but the more support you can offer, the better it will be for you and those around you regardless of your sexuality and gender identity. This is because bigots and hateful groups tend to not be focused on one thing, but rather a pushback on lots of civil rights in general.
Someone campaigning to remove trans rights is also more likely to be trying to subsequently remove/erase the rest of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, or even further restrictions that put all of us at risk of being marginalized.
By promoting yourself as an ally, you can do so much more than occasionally sharing a hashtag or liking a post on Instagram. Everybody is different; you don’t have to start a march or start your own LGBTQIA+ charity to take a stand against hatred. Small things are the best way to start. If you know an LGBTQIA+ person who takes commission for things like art, animation, music etc. then supporting them financially and/or socially is a great way to boost inspiration and education for those who may be confused. Another way is to do the inverse: refusing to support businesses and other media that don’t support human rights in that regard. A little research can go a long way, especially when considering most big businesses are only affected by their financial gain more than any online campaign. Do your bit, educate yourself and others where possible, and be the change you want to see.
As a caveat, it should be noted there is a difference between those who are uneducated and those who are ignorant. The former are often more receptive to learning more, as they simply do not yet understand what LGBTQIA+ people are like. The latter is notably more difficult to educate, as they are wilfully ignorant to learning more or changing their mind on the matter. Sometimes, especially online, you have to simply stop replying to these people, as their headstrong nature means your efforts are likely to fall on deaf ears. Remember, the block button exists for a reason, and your time is better spent on being educational rather than argumentative.
To help you get started if you consider yourself a complete novice but are eager to learn, begin with the acronym itself. While there are other versions of this acronym, a good one to stick to is “LGBTQIA+”. This stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual and the plus symbol represents the other smaller denominations of the spectrum. These can be defined as:
- Lesbian – Women loving women
- Gay – Men loving men
- Bisexual – People attracted to more than one gender
- Transgender – People whose gender identity is different to their birth sex
- Queer – An umbrella term for people who are not cis/het
- Questioning – People who are not currently sure of their sexuality/gender
- Intersex – People whose sex organs do not fit into the male/female binary
- Asexual – People who do not experience sexual attraction
Plus – Other denominations, including (but not limited to) pansexual, non-binary, demisexual, aromantic
Please note that a lot of these labels are umbrella terms, which are not always representative of every single person in the spectrum. One instance is non-binary people (sometimes called enbies or enby), who do not wholly identify as male or female. An enby who is in a relationship with a woman may therefore choose to call themselves a lesbian, or bisexual, or another term which isn’t on the acronym. This is where respect and understanding are needed, so do not try to force people into ‘boxes’. We are all beautiful, unique, valid and deserving of love (so long as we are not perpetuating hate or bigotry).
In case you are still wondering about any of these definitions, please take the time to learn and find out this information for yourself. There are many available sources to look at, from a quick online search to specific tags on social media such as Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok and YouTube. Ask yourself: ‘Am I doing all that I can to show my support as an ally?’ If you are, then excellent! Don’t give up, your efforts are greatly appreciated and help us to change the world for the better. If not, think about the actions you can take to get there.
As a closing sentiment to this article, I feel it right to mention that despite my first internal conflicts in regards to the LGBTQIA+ community, my friend and I are still on good terms and still equally supportive of one another’s sexuality and gender identity. If it required a sudden first-hand experience for me to change my views on the matter then I’m glad, because it means I can show my support along with many others and keep on raising awareness for the acronym that still needs representation. And if you’re still in doubt about getting started, don’t be. Never underestimate the power that a single person can have for making things better. After all, you’ve read all the way to the end of this article, one of many that can educate people around the world, even though I am just one trans woman.