Contributions from the Community of Students

The Inconspicuousness of Intersectionality among LGBTQ+ People of Color

While the lives of LGBTQ+ People of Color have drastically improved in the last couple of decades, oppression is still very much prominent in our daily lives, impacting people’s wellbeing.
By Juan Pantoja-Patiño

When I think back to when I made the decision to pursue a career in psychology, I never anticipated how pivotal it would be to both my personal and professional identity. Psychology as a profession has served as a haven where I can cultivate my skills, interests, attitudes and values. Moreover, one of the major reasons I chose counseling psychology specifically was that I appreciated relating to others from diverse backgrounds. This was due to counseling psychology’s professional values (e.g., social justice/advocacy, multiculturalism, mutual empathy, cultural humility, intersectional growth). My studies have provided me with the space to critically examine multicultural perspectives, narratives and worldviews to construct my epistemology as a scientist-practitioner-advocate.

Nonetheless, it is this same counseling psychology lens that magnifies (i.e., allows me to see) the colorblindness, microaggressions and social inequity many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) People of Color endure. There have been countless times when I have wished I did not have the awareness to perceive the subtle forms of oppression I have directly experienced myself or those of others that I have witnessed. Sometimes the old proverb “ignorance is bliss” sounds like a better alternative than knowing the truth of being a marginalized Person of Color and queer in the United States.

Albeit the lives of LGBTQ+ People of Color have drastically improved in the last couple of decades, oppression is still very much prominent in our daily lives, impacting people’s wellbeing. One of the reasons why society fails to see racism and heterosexism is because it has become a common, everyday experience that it is often taken for granted (Lopez, 2003). Many popular beliefs (e.g., colorblindness, equal opportunity, meritocracy), which aim to be inclusive and treat individuals as equally as possible without regard to race, culture and ethnicity only serve to drive racism and heterosexism underground, making it extremely difficult for LGBTQ+ People of Color to name their reality (Dempsey, Ching, & Page, 2016).

These beliefs trivialize the inequalities of racial and LGBTQ+ groups respectively. Yet when individuals possess any combination of identities, their experiences are often even more marginalized than their mainstream counterparts. LGBTQ+ People of Color are iteratively navigating normative contexts, which can be overwhelming. Consequently, these experiences may lead to feelings of loneliness and a negative self-perception for simply being a cultural being with multiple, intersecting identities.

Acknowledging the existence of multiple intersecting identities is an important precursor to appreciating the cultural complexities for LGBTQ+ People of Color. This wide-angle approach (i.e., intersectionality) can be used to legitimize the voices of marginalized groups and their various oppressions from multiple identities and contexts. Unfortunately, the intersectionality of LGBTQ+ People of Color tends to be examined thru the lens of mainstream culture (i.e., white, cisgender, heterosexual) thus rendering it invisible.

This invisibility or inconspicuousness of intersectionality among LGBTQ+ People of Color assumes the experiences of mainstream groups are natural and neutral, while all other marginalized groups are seen as deviating from society’s norm (Dempsey et al., 2016). Challenging this invisibility as a queer Person of Color creates a counternarrative that is extremely threatening to society as it unmasks the secrets of power and privilege (Sue, 2015). LGBTQ+ People of Color usually have the burden of integrating aspects of their identity (e.g., race, gender, sexual/affectional orientation) that are stigmatized from both their racial and LGBTQ+ communities. For instance, as a queer Latinx male, holding an LGBTQ+ identity is seen as inferior and morally wrong; yet as a Latinx person, one’s positionality is constantly oppressed.

Conversely, white LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to experience discrimination from their sexual and/or gender identity, but not their race. These nuanced realities make it more difficult for people, especially those from the status quo, to perceive any injustices among LGBTQ+ People of Color. As such, how can psychology students and professionals interrupt racial and heterosexual hegemony within their communities to validate LGBTQ+ People of Color intersectionality?

Fortunately, our professions allow us to study diverse people, including their mental states, cognitions, emotional and social processes in their environments. Our unique competencies (e.g., awareness, skills, knowledge, advocacy) can be utilized to disentangle the numerous constructs that converge in the lives of LGBTQ+ People of Color to better understand their flourishing experiences. Psychologists need to work collaboratively with and not for LGBTQ+ People of Color, since these individuals have valuable expertise about the needs of their own communities. In conclusion, I believe psychologists have the responsibility to earn the privilege of collaborating with marginalized communities to make effective social change.

References

Dempsey, K., Ching., & Page, U. (2016). When colorblindness hurts: Cultural competence implications for counselors-in-training. International Journal of Social Science Studies, (7), 101-108.

Lopez, G. R. (2003). The (racially neutral) politics of education: A critical race theory perspective. Educational Administration Quarterly, 39(1), 68-94.

Sue, D. W. (2015). Race talk and the conspiracy of silence: Understanding and facilitating difficult dialogues on race (1st ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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