The LGBTQIA+ community - What do you need to know and how can you offer support?


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Happy Pride Month! Every year in June, people of the LGBTQIA+ community come together and celebrate diversity in society, while also drawing attention to injustices. Unfortunately, the freedom to be oneself is not a given in every situation and in every place. That’s why Pride Month is a time to be conscious regarding this lack of freedom and to fight for one's rights. It takes place in June to commemorate the protests at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. Christopher Street Day is named after the street where the inn is located and where the protests happened.
During Pride Month, we remember those who have lost their lives fighting for their rights and call for peaceful coexistence among all people. The LGBTQIA+ community also uses this month to organise events within the community, to celebrate and to give stage to tolerance and diversity. In light of this, we have prepared a few of the most important terms for you today, as well as useful tips for Allies. In this article, you will learn what each letter that makes up the LGBTQIA+ community stand for, the terms you should understand to participate in dialogue and how you can support queer people as a straight Ally.

What the letters LGBTQIA+ stand for

Admittedly, even as part of the community, it is sometimes difficult to use the right terms or even to remember them all. However, we are all still encouraged to learn them. By understanding more terms, you create more inclusion or even discover that other terms are more suitable for yourself regarding your identity and preferences. Through education we can all take a step in the right direction and work towards understanding and better integrating people with all kinds of identities and normalising what we call queer. So what do all the letters and symbols stand for? In the following, I will explain the individual elements of the abbreviation LGBTQIA+. Nevertheless, there are an enormous number of identities and sexualities, just as there are people who can be defined by one, several or none of the terms. These terms are predominantly self-designations.
  • L = Lesbian. A person who identifies as a woman and is attracted to women.
  • G = Gay. A person who identifies as a man and is attracted to men. Additionally, the word is often used as a generic term for homosexual people.
  • B = Bisexual. A person who is attracted to both men and women. Pansexual would then be an extension of this, because pansexual people are attracted to other people regardless of gender. This would then also include trans* or non-binary* people.
  • T = Trans*. A person who does not identify with the gender role assigned to them based on their biological characteristics. Some seek gender reassignment, others do not. Trans* is the inclusive umbrella term for many binary and non-binary* gender identities. The terms "transgender" and "transsexual" can also fall under this umbrella, although many trans* persons reject the term transsexual, because they do not feel that their gender identity is necessarily related to their sexuality.
  • Q = Queer/Questioning. Queer used to be considered an insult for the otherness and unconventional lifestyles of LGBTQIA+ people. Eventually, it was reclaimed as a positive self-designation and is now used as a collective term. Queer includes all gender identities and sexual orientations that deviate from hetero- and cisnormativity and thus symbolises the great diversity of people. In short, diverse members of the LGTBQIA+ community describe themselves as queer. Questioning are people who question their sexual or romantic orientation and/or their gender identity. As a rule, they do not (yet) feel they belong to any term.
  • I = Intersex. Intersexual individuals are people whose bodies have both male and female sexual characteristics. Consequently, they cannot be clearly categorised in a binary gender system. Other terms are intersex or inter*.
  • A = Asexual. A person who may have romantic feelings and form appropriate relationships but has no sexual desire. The person may desire closeness, but not of a sexual nature. The term "ace" is also common for an asexual person or as a generic term.
  • The + stands for all people who do not feel they belong to any of the terms or to more than one. Identity and preference represent a huge spectrum, which is why the acronym would be very long if all the letters of all the technical terms were included. It is also difficult to learn all the identities and preferences, as everyone is unique and feels differently about the reality of their life. Nevertheless, these terms are a good start to grasp the concept of diversity, and in the following paragraphs I will define more terms that will help you to understand the discourse.

Safe Spaces, Gender, Allies and more - here are some of the most important definitions of the terms.

  • Safe Spaces: The term safe space refers to places that are meant to be free of bias, criticism, conflict or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations. The purpose of these spaces is for LGBTQIA+ members to feel comfortable to express themselves and be themselves without hostility. In the context of like-minded people and people who share similar problems due to their way of life, one can feel safe and free in safe spaces.
  • Gender: The socio-cultural identity of a person's gender or gender role. This does not mean a person’s biological sex. One’s gender identity is only determined by oneself. Although it is the goal of many people to have their gender role reflected their body and/or physical appearance, this does not necessarily have to be the case. There are also trans* people who do not undergo gender reassignment procedures.
  • Cis(gender): Cisgender people are individuals whose gender identity matches the sex assigned at birth. For example, a person with female sexual characteristics who also perceives herself as a woman.
  • Non-binary*: Collective term for all gender identities that are not directly male or female. However, heteronormative ideas in our society make it particularly difficult to understand this. Non-binary* or genderqueer people can feel equally male and female or not fit into either identity at all. For genderfluid people, gender identity changes temporarily, agender people do not feel they belong to any gender, and people who are pan- or polygender see themselves as belonging to many or all genders. All these labels are subordinated to the term non-binary*, because everything that is binary runs according to a "two-part" system, i.e. either man or woman. If your gender identity goes beyond these two options, you are non-binary*. The asterisk is included so that people whose identity does not fit into any specific category also feel as if they belong.
  • CSD: Short for Christopher Street Day. As mentioned at the beginning, the CSD goes back to the events in New York, where LGTBQIA+ members defended themselves against violent police raids. In the spirit of this resistance, various demonstrations, celebrations, and parades take place, which are organised by the community. The term Christopher Street Day is more common in Germany, and partly also in Austria and Switzerland; in other countries such events are called "Pride" or "Gay Pride" events.
  • Homophobia: An expression of rejection progressing up to discrimination and violence towards homosexual individuals. The technical term has less to do with fear and more with hostility towards people who are gay or lesbian or who have another sexual orientation. There is also biphobia, which is directed against bisexual people, or transphobia, which is directed against trans* people. The basis for homophobia is usually prejudice and stereotypes that result from a heteronormative worldview. It can also happen that "gay" is used as an insult for both heterosexual and queer people, if they do not conform to what is considered the norm. Causes for homophobia can also lie in sexism or religion, in addition to binary views regarding gender.
  • Transition: Transition is often a long process. First, a person recognises that they are trans*, at a later point in time the outing usually follows and depending on their personal views, further steps are taken to express one's own gender identity. This can mean that social, physical, and legal changes are made regarding one’s gender. This then includes hormone replacement therapy, gender reassignment surgery and legal changes of one’s name and civil status. However, this is not always the case. There may also be trans* people who feel they need fewer or none of these steps in their transition. Ultimately, it is up to each person to decide when they feel comfortable with their gender role and can express their identity.
  • Multiple discrimination: As the name already suggests, multiple discrimination is the fact that people belong to several marginalised groups and can be or are discriminated against in everyday life for more than one reason. This can be trans* people who are also homosexual or bisexual, but also queer people who are additionally marginalised because of their origin, skin colour or language. Here, too, it is important to create safe spaces, because for queer BIPoC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour), for example, multiple discrimination is unfortunately part of everyday life, as they encounter both homophobia and racism.
  • Rainbow family: These are mostly families with a lesbian or gay couple as parents. However, it can also mean trans* parents or families in which there are more than two parents. A rainbow family can therefore be any kind of unconventional family constellation in which there is not only a cis hetero mother and father.
  • Hetero-normativity: The widespread worldview that our biological and socio-cultural gender correspond to one another and that we should be classified according to a binary system: males and females. In this worldview, heterosexuality is also seen as "normal" and placed above other sexual orientations. Clothes, toilets, rooms on school trips and other things one encounters in everyday life are sorted according to men and women. Deviating realities of life are repressed, discriminated against and even persecuted. In many cases, masculinity is also hierarchically placed above femininity.
  • Ally/Straight Ally: Allies are heterosexual and cisgender allies or supporters of marginalised groups. They do not experience discrimination on the basis of their identity and preferences, but actively support LGTBQIA+ people, educate and advocate for equality.

6 Tips for Allies - How you can support queer people

You don't identify yourself as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, but you want to speak out against discrimination and support the community? Then you too are an Ally. Even if you do not personally relate to the issues queer people are confronted with, you can still recognise their seriousness and use your own voice to make a difference. So here are 6 everyday tips for Allies:
  1. Listening instead of talking. When people around you talk about their experiences as LGBTQIA+ people, listen to them and take them seriously. Let them share their story without interrupting or trying to relate.
  2. Recognise privileges. As a cisgender and heterosexual person, you are naturally more privileged than marginalised groups of people. If you recognise this for yourself, you can also use your privileged position to advocate for the concerns, problems and rights of discriminated people.
  3. Keep educating yourself. "Knowledge is power" is a fitting motto. The more you know about social injustices, different orientations, and identities, the better you can help others. Through a lack of awareness, incorrect information or your own socialisation and upbringing, it is possible to develop internalised biases against different groups of people. If you inform yourself in more detail about topics concerning the LGBTQIA+ community, you can overcome those prejudices and close gaps in your knowledge. In addition, the more informed you are, the more actively you can participate in the discourse. Always be open to guidance and feedback from queer friends.
  4. Learn from mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes or, as already mentioned, may lack education. So admit your prejudices and try to overcome them. In a tolerant, open-minded society, it is not helpful to condemn people for their earlier opinions, but to encourage yourself and others to develop and have more open world views.
  5. Get active. Help victims when they experience discrimination or bullying. It can help to remove the victim from homophobic, bisexual or transphobic situations and to create safe places. Cyberbullying and hostility towards queer people can also occur online. Report such behaviour, offensive posts and comments when you see them.
  1. Everyday advocating. It is important to actively position yourself against discrimination in everyday life, as well as to intervene and correct others. Even if there is no queer person in the room or involved. Many are probably familiar with situations in which someone makes queer-hostile jokes or statements. Often you are caught off guard and don't know how to react quickly. However, especially as an Ally, it is important to speak up and not accept these remarks. Explain to people that certain jokes are not funny, intervene in bullying when possible, and correct friends and colleagues when they use the wrong pronouns for queer people. Even if you are a heterosexual cisgender person, including pronouns in profiles and signatures helps to normalise the use of pronouns.
In addition, there are other tips that are easy to implement in support of LGBTQIA+ people in everyday life:
  • Don't ask strangers questions about their private lives, especially regarding gender identity or sexual preferences. Talking about "former" names (so-called deadnaming) or coming out are extremely intimate topics.
  • Ask yourself how you would feel about being asked about sexual preferences or private details. Especially as a heterosexual person, you might not be familiar with having to explain yourself regarding your sexuality, yet you can certainly imagine it being uncomfortable.
  • Recognise that queer people do not have to explain the reality of their lives to you. If you do want to ask them about their experiences, you can ask if they are comfortable talking about it first.
  • If you have friends, colleagues or acquaintances who you know are queer, never out them to others without their consent.
  • Do not assume heterosexuality when you meet new people, as this is a sign of heteronormativity. Ask people directly what you can do for them and how you can help them. They will certainly be happy to tell you what they need from you.
Translated and edited by Tatiana Chernyshova

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