Student Engagement Ambassador, Dominique, discusses the impact of using microaggressions towards a member of the LGBT+ community and how you can avoid it.
When you come to university, it’s a new experience where you get the opportunity to broaden the horizons of the world you already know. You are introduced to a wide and diverse range of people who have new insights due to different geographical location and culture. People who may have gender identities and sexualities that you may not have interacted with before may be something you have not had to navigate before. As a result of this you may mistakenly offend them. This is classified as a microaggression: an indirect, subtle or unintentional form of discrimination against members of a marginalised group. Though unintentional, the impacts can be quite damaging. It is normal to have questions but there are boundaries that you have to be aware of to avoid upsetting and/or offending people. Here are a few examples of microaggressions that people in the LGBTQIA+ community face and how to avoid them.
‘Being LGBT is a choice’
You are not privy to their experience as someone in the LGBTQ+ community. It can vary greatly for each person. Whether it has been something that has been easier for them or has caused them some upset in the past; it is not a choice and should not be treated as one. Denying who a person is, is extremely demeaning and it is not up to you to judge. Every human deserves to be treated with respect and decency.
Forcing someone to come out
No one should be forced to come out and that assumption can make an environment very tense and hostile. This can happen through making jokes at the persons expense or forcing certain expectations built on stereotypes. Not everyone’s experience is the same and this may be triggering for them.
It is also not up to you to tell other people their sexual or gender identity unless they have specified that it is alright. Taking away that choice from someone can have unexpected negated consequences you never know how people will react.
Assuming someone’s gender
By assuming the gender of an individual, you are invalidating their gender expression. This will not only upset them but shows that you do not respect them and their wishes. A simple solution to this is asking them about their pronouns. Not only will this make them feel more comfortable but it will allow for an environment where everyone feels valued. If you accidentally misgender them, remember to apologise and know their pronouns for next time.
Furthermore, just because a person dresses more masculine or feminine, does not mean that they identify as such. Gender expression does not have to correlate with how the person identifies. Everyone is free to dress how they want.
These are simply a few examples of microaggression that people you know in the LGBTQIA+ community are facing. If you would like to continue to educate yourself on these issues, here are some resources:
14 Microaggressions LGBTQ People Deal With All The Time – The Huffington Post
- Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide’ by Kate Charlesworth
- Non-Binary Lives: An Anthology of Intersecting Identities’ edited by Jos Twist, Ben Vincent, Meg-John Barker and Kat Gupta