Intersectionality Must Be Understood


It is important to both own and learn from your mistakes, even if those mistakes are published articles for a newspaper

Article Image

Image by Daniel Quasar

By Joseph Higgins

Do you ever get that feeling, where you think about stuff you did in the past and cringe your own face off out of sheer, unadulterated embarrassment and annoyance? That feeling when you’re unable to fathom how you could have behaved in such a way? That’s the feeling I’ve been contemplating a lot recently, as June is underway, and Pride Month is in full swing (albeit a bit muted because of the global pandemic) I find myself regretting a lot of the things that I’ve done and said in the past.

The main source of my cringe-fest this month is an article I wrote for this very publication in my first year. This article, wherein I argued that pride should not be inherently linked to race was not met favourably at the time. To this day it’s the only article I’ve ever had comments on disagreeing with the content of my writing, and one of my opinions. At the time, these comments bewildered me. I couldn’t quite figure out why anyone was supportive of adding a black and brown stripe to the pride flag that I was identifying with, the two issues didn’t seem to connect to me.

I had always understood the traditional six colour rainbow Pride flag to be inclusive of everyone. No matter your skin colour, or your race, if you were a member of the LGBTQ+ community it represented you anyway and didn’t need altering to represent some people twice. I realise now, this was a failing in my own education. The alterations to the flag were not to give double representation, it was to offer allyship and intersectional support between two minority groups. As such, the rest of this article will serve as both my apology and a way to hopefully share my education on the topics contained with anyone that might be following my original thought process.

In the light of recent events across the globe, where millions of people are standing up and protesting against systemic racism and injustices, I’ve begun to understand. Now, there is another article explaining the incredible contribution that black trans activists made to the original pride movement during and after the Stonewall Riots which can be found HERE so I do not feel the need to rehash that ground again. Instead, I want to go over some of what I said in my original piece on this subject, and use the knowledge I’ve gained by actually listening to black voices and educating myself to maybe undo any damage my ignorance could have caused.

I started the original article by saying adding black and brown stripes to the pride flag was a “powerful and considerate gesture” and I think that’s the only part of my writing that I can still stand behind because honestly, It hurtles downhill from there. I continued to argue that the overt nature of the gesture of solidarity was unnecessary, the pride flag already stands for inclusivity for the entire LGBTQ+ community. And it does, but I and many others missed the point of adding the stripes. Well-renowned activist and educator Dr Angela Davis is widely attributed with helping to popularise the term “intersectionality” alongside many other minority activists. Initially, this term was used to describe and highlight the necessary connections and correlation between feminism and anti-racist activism. Since then, the term has grown into an intellectual monolith, one that I was unaware of when I wrote my first piece on this topic. Intersectionality has come to define the connection between categories we’re placed in, whether that’s LGBTQ+, racial minority or gender. Because of that connection, it means that any actions taken to help or campaign for one minority group, will have cascading positive effects for others, it’s a huge unifier for our causes and I’m so glad I now know about it.

I also argued in my piece that the LGBTQ+ community had historically been failing their black and minority ethnic members, and were attempting to overcompensate by representing them on the new flag. Just looking at that sentence makes me shudder because it could indeed be argued that, particularly black trans individuals, do not get the credit they deserve for their incredible contributions to the fight for minority rights. However, to suggest that it is somehow wrong to acknowledge their contributions by changing our flag to represent them is pure ignorance. If anything, the increased historic injustices faced by BAME LGBTQ+ people is all the more reason we should increase our visibility of them and show our appreciation and support.

It was brought to my attention earlier this year, that in 2018, a redesign of the pride flag was created by Oregonian artist Daniel Quasar. The new flag called the Progress Pride Flag, features a triangular addendum of the traditional trans colours plus black and brown, does not alter the traditional six colour rainbow. As you can see, this flag does exactly the same thing as the original alteration Manchester Pride wished to make. It adds representation to two groups that are also marginalised and in need of activism and support in order to overcome systemic oppression and discrimination. That is something the whole LGBTQ+ community can understand and as such, I have started using that flag when I show my support to Pride and celebrate.

I genuinely regret writing that article nearly two years ago. It was a huge mistake and I was so ignorant when I wrote it. But this movement is not about me, I do not want sympathy and I do not want praise for changing my opinion, everyone should be educating themselves on topics of discrimination, especially white people who, intentionally or not, have inherent biases built into our society favouring us. LGBTQ+ members are not immune from discriminating against black people or trans people. Just because we are members of a marginalised group doesn’t mean we’re not also able to discriminate against other marginalised groups. It is important to remember that, and if you make that mistake it is vital that you learn from it. I have the luxury of reading my article from the past and cringing because of how much I regret it, but my thought processes at the time that others may share can cause genuine lasting harm.

I apologise to BAME members of the LGBTQ+ community and I apologise to black people whom I hurt by using this platform to dismiss their plight. I can never understand the racism you experience but I promise to do my level best to be guided by you in fighting it. Hopefully, this is a small start.