Soapbox: embracing diversity individually and institutionally

soapbox-198x300By Brodie McGhie-Fraser

Especially for students, issues of sexuality seem to be everywhere: in the newspapers we read, the politics we debate and the social media ‘feeds’ we ‘consume’.

The UK is a country that has recently passed legislation for same-sex marriage and, despite leading heteronormative oppression historically, is slowly recognising the existence, rights, and perhaps even benefits of sexual diversity. Some might even go as far to say that the UK is now a leading figure in the diversity movement.

Then again, a recent Guardian article reports that more than three-quarters of gay, lesbian, and bisexual victims of hate crime in the UK did not go to the police for fear they would not be taken seriously.

This highlights not only the homophobia of individuals, but also the possibility of institutionalised discrimination of the police force. This news report addresses not just heterosexism in accepting crime reports, but also representation of non-heterosexual people in the system, both as the police and the policed must be considered. This leads us to address key values in the police force, and forms of training to ensure lack of discrimination. Police officers have great power; they are figures who have the means to challenge as well as support.

Moreover, the report suggests a degree of internalisation, where victims of hate crime feel like they cannot report it properly. Diversity in this instance is painted as a reality, but an oppressed one. Under the assumptions of equality (and a level playing field), of meritocracy, of liberal rights and multiculturalism, sexual diversity is still very much an underclass.

More than this, the notion of not being taken seriously suggests that any attempt to call out or to speak up is undermined. The emperor is wearing no clothes, yet the victim is blamed. Sexuality is often negotiated later in life, and has no physical form. In other words, you can’t look at someone in the street and determine how they ‘swing’. Not unless you start conflating sexuality with other factors, anyway. Sexual oppression breeds invisibility. Such a need to conceal or ‘closet’ yourself in the most important areas of your life isolates and alienates, and in turn fuels the heterosexism we see so tangibly in this news report.

Harassment, insults and intimidation were the most common hate crimes, reported by more than eight out of ten victims. We too often hide behind these liberal facades that bury and repress the real issues, and antagonise the people raising them. We’re making slow yet steady progress in terms of recognising sexual diversity, but why are overt forms of heterosexism and homophobia still common? Again, is this due to its invisibility? Like all forms of oppression, they might be social constructions, but the brutality they provoke is only too real.

Interestingly, I find that social media is both a site of major oppression and resistance. It is a space of public opinion, and a reasonably accurate representation of modern zeitgeist.

Even amongst my own friends, I might find media that ridicules, generalises, essentialises, challenges, disrupts and provokes. Some of these occur at the same time. It seems clear that exposure of diversity isn’t enough on its own. Indeed, another Guardian poll suggests that as much one in six non-heterosexuals has suffered hate crimes.

‘Coming out’ doesn’t seem to be attacking heteronormativity at its core. Therefore, we need to really think about what diversity means, analysing its processes and not just the differences. This applies just as much to an institution as big as the police force as much as it does to individuals.

Illustration: Harriet Harrow

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