The US Embassy has been flying the Pride flag for two weeks as Pride Month continues. It is a great time to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community. If you do not know what the L, G, B, T, Q, or plus stands for, get ready to learn.
Before we get into sexualities, it is important to understand some of the basics that apply to everyone. By now, we should all be familiar with the terms “sex” and “gender”. They often appear on forms we need to complete and frequently with the wrong options and with insufficient options.
Sex is assigned at birth based on visible sex characteristics which do not always match chromosomal sex. We are taught about the XY sex-determination system in which XX is female and XY is male, but it is now known these are not the only combinations. This means there are more than two sexes and it is not binary. The continued use of a binary system is also evidence that sex is a social construct.
Gender is the set of characteristics, including behavior and expression, of women and men that are created and enforced by society. These characteristics are taught to and expected of people based on their sex. For example, boys can play rough and get scrapes and bruises, but girls must play more carefully and reduce their chances of getting physical imperfections while having fun.
Girls help to cook and clean, and boys take the garbage out and help to wash the car. Girls can cry, but anger is inappropriate for them; boys must not cry but displays of anger are expected.
Men are sexually attracted to women and women are romantically attracted to men. When women and girls or men and boys step out of these gender prescriptions, people do not like it. In fact, people start policing them, claiming the need to correct and/or punish them. Gender is a social construct.
The LGBTQ+ community includes people of all sexes and genders. They are not all attracted to people of the same gender. They are a part of the community because their sex, gender, or sexuality is not the same as those assigned to or expected of them.
The terms “women” and “men” are used below for ease and understanding of people encountering this information for the first time. Please keep in mind there are non-binary, gender non-conforming people, gender neutral and gender fluid people who do not identify as women or men. Definitions of LGBTQ+ terms are evolving and being developed as we learn more about gender and sexualities and people explore identity and expression.
What do all of those letters stand for, and why is there a plus sign?
Whether we say LGBT, LGBTQ, or LGBTI, or another version, we need the plus at the end in order to include the people whose letters are missing. LGBTQ+ does not just mean gay. The community is far more diverse than that.
Lesbians are women who are attracted to women. It is important to note lesbians are not attracted to all women. Lesbians are not all masculine-presenting. Some lesbians prefer pants. Some like more loose-fitting clothing. Some like dresses. Some lesbians wear make-up. Some lesbians love wigs. Some keep their hair short. Some lesbians change their looks all the time. Some lesbians are quiet. Some are very loud talkers. Some drink while others do not. What lesbians have in common is that they are women and they are attracted to women.
Gay, these days, is used to refer to men who are attracted to men. It is still, from time to time, used to refer to both men and women, but “lesbian” is a more suitable term for referring to women. Gay men, it must be noted, are not attracted to all men. All gay men are not feminine-presenting. Some go to the gym and talk a lot about their gains. Some have long hair, some have piercings, some have tattoos and some drive large vehicles. Some gay men have full beards, some groom their eyebrows, and some are very particular about the wine they drink. What gay men have in common is that they are men and they are attracted to men.
Bisexual people are attracted to people of more than one gender. In years gone by, it was said that bisexual people are attracted to “both genders”, but given what we now know about genders—that there are more than 50 of them—that definition reinforces the idea that there is a binary. Instead of “both,” we say “more than one” to indicate that bisexuals are not attracted to just one gender.
Contrary to popular belief, bisexual people are not trying to have it all. They are attracted to more than one gender, but this does not mean they pursue or maintain relationships with people of different genders at the same time. There are, however, people of all genders and orientations who engage in multiple romantic and sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Those people are polyamorous. While some are, not all bisexuals are not polyamorous.
Transgender (abbreviated to “trans”) people have a gender identity that is not typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth. “Q” sometimes appears twice in the initialism because it stands for both queer and questioning. “Queer” was a pejorative and it has been reclaimed as an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities. “Questioning” describes people who are still exploring their genders and sexualities.
Intersex people have sex characteristics that do not fit the female-male binary. These characteristics may or may not be visible and they may or may not be recognized at the time of birth. In some cases, people do not know they are intersex until puberty when changes in their bodies alert them. For example, a person assigned female at birth may notice the growth of facial hair or experience pain caused by undescended testes. Only upon consulting a doctor does this person learn that they were incorrectly assigned female at birth and they are actually intersex
Other LGBTQ+ identities include asexuals (people who are not sexually attracted to others or have low or not desire for sexual activity) and pansexuals (people who are attracted to people of any gender).
What should aspiring allies do during Pride?
During Pride Month, pay attention to what is happening around you, what is being said, and what is being left unsaid. What were the responses of your family members, friends, coworkers, religious leaders, social media contacts, and radio hosts when the Pride flag was raised at the U.S. Embassy on June 1? Do they support the LGBTQ+ community or not? Did they choose to focus on who did it rather than why it was done and who it was for? Based on their reactions, do they value the lives of LGBTQ+ people?
By paying attention to what people say, you find out what they believe. You find out what they are willing to do, and for whom. Are they people you want to support and be in relationships with? Allyship is about taking action. It is not sitting quietly, thinking, “Wow, that’s terrible.” It is using your privilege, as one of the people who is not directly impacted by hostility against LGBTQ+ people, to challenge other people’s positions and stop them from spreading hate. You may not be able to change their minds, but you can let them know you do not think the same way and show those around you that there are other ways—much better ways—of thinking and behaving. Remember there are people around you who are LGBTQ+ without you knowing, and they observe your actions. Make sure your actions make them feel loved, valued, and protected.
During Pride, many businesses take advantage of the news coverage and the focus on the LGBTQ+ community by selling Pride merchandise. They may even offer Pride discounts. While they may seem well-meaning, it is most likely that they are focusing on the bottom line. Similar to the pink-washing during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, many businesses use LGBTQ+ people and the month dedicate to the community to make money without giving anything back. When you see those rainbow ads and Pride hashtags, find out where the proceeds are going. Ask businesses what they are doing to support the community. If the answer is nothing, it is exploitation and another example of the commercialization and co-opting of causes while ignoring the needs of vulnerable communities.
Listen to what people are saying. Interrupt hateful, dangerous, violent commentary. Share accurate information. Challenge businesses and others who try to co-opt movements and causes to do something that would have a positive impact for the LGBTQ+ community (and not their image or revenue). Insist that LGBTQ+ people are recognized as people who have human rights that need to be protected.
Children of God. This 2010 film was written and directed by Bahamian Kareem Mortimer. At the micro level, it centres the relationship of two Bahamian men. At the macro level, it portrays the hostility against LGBTQ+ people in The Bahamas. It has won over a dozen awards.
Follow Equality Bahamas on social media. The organization usually celebrates Pride in July, but it is starting early this year. Stay tuned to learn more about LGBTQ+ people, Pride, and what we need governments, nongovernmental organizations, and members of the public to do to protect and expand the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Pride is not just a celebration, but an opportunity to highlight issues and demand change.