August 26th is Women’s Equality Day, a day honoring women’s right to vote in the U.S. and a good opportunity to highlight issues surrounding LGBTQ women’s equality both in the U.S. and around the globe. Our PFLAG community is full of powerful people fighting as and for LGBTQ women, and there is much inspiration to be gained through exploring the activities and needs of other LGBTQ women in different places around the world.
Women’s rights have come a long way, and so has our fight for LGBTQ rights, but often global conversations about general LGBTQ issues (however unintentionally) neglect a variety of concerns specific to women within the community. Societal hurdles already faced by women, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, sometimes makes it harder to discern what problems are particular to those who are LGBTQ. And along with need for unity among individuals with different LGBTQ identities, there is also urgency for greater understanding of problems affecting specific groups under that umbrella term.
LGBTQ women face a unique set of circumstances for a number of reasons. One of the main ones is visibility: discrimination toward LGBTQ men is often made a more public matter, while there is historically more silence on women’s experiences. Since many obstacles LGBTQ women face are private rather than public - such as violence from family members for not conforming to certain gender roles at home - this can prevent them from getting the same visibility and attention. Cultural norms and family expectations pressure many women into behaving in ways considered “typically feminine,” and are in many cases given fewer opportunities to be involved in more “typically masculine” activities associated with public life. Thus, women are forced to overcome questions about their own identity and family needs first, dealing with stigma and physical harm at home more frequently than out in the community.
Violent discrimination generally happens in public places with less frequency than hate crimes against LGBTQ men. In extreme cases, this may look like private honor killings (sadly, often committed by male family members), "corrective" rapes, forced marriages, and cutting family ties. Even without explicit discrimination at home, women in many conservative societies struggle with other hurdles, such as a general lack of access to education, which means fewer opportunities to organize around LGBTQ issues and elevate their own voices.
In many societies around the world, women are also restricted from expressing themselves in the same capacity as men, rendering LGBTQ identities invisible in the process. Often today in the U.S., and even more so for women in developing countries and countries without equal opportunities for all genders, LGBTQ women must deal with the taboo of women’s sexuality in general, meaning there is less accurate understanding in society at large about gender identity or sexual orientation for women.
So how can we work to support women around the globe? Here are wise words - from the strong voices of powerful queer women:
- Trans Olympic runner Amelia Gapin says of the importance of pursuing her goals while being open about her identity, “Representation is important because it kind of shows that this is possible, like you do belong and you’re not the only one going through it.”
- Lesbian poet and activist Audre Lorde recalled, “I remember how being young and black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell” yet was unafraid to also state that “In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.”
- Jóhanna Siguroardóttir, first openly lesbian prime minister of Iceland, says of women’s empowerment worldwide: “Gender equality and empowerment of women is key [for international human rights goals]. Women bear a heavier burden of the world’s poverty than men, because of the discrimination they face in education, health-care, employment and control of assets.”
- Rauda Morcos, Palestinian founder of ASWAT (Voices), the first lesbian rights group in the region, says, “We’re still speaking a language no one else is speaking.” She continues that “being lesbian in the Palestinian society is not easy… Most women come to Aswat to find a place where they can bring out the issues that were considered a secret so far, and we empower one another.” Morcos was given an award by OutRight in 2006, and responded saying, “Just think how this will sound… that a person gets awarded for who they are as a lesbian and that being a lesbian is something to be celebrated.”
- And Adrienne Rich, who is said to have brought "the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse,” writes that “the connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.” She went on to say that “responsibility to yourself [as a woman]…means, therefore, the courage to be ‘different.’”
No matter the obstacles, LGBTQ women are singularly inspiring. They possess valuable perspectives, often a unique capacity to see the the way social problems intersect, and great determination to stand up for themselves with or without public knowledge or attention. They are artists and writers, political and cultural figures, activists, academics, and athletes. They are parents, children, leaders, and pioneers. They have inspired myths, legends, and real, powerful, cultural change.
In honor of Women’s Equality Day today, and every time the opportunity presents itself, do what you can to draw attention to both the potential of LGBTQ women and the lack of research surrounding their concerns - information that would help empower them to fulfill that potential. If you are an LGBTQ woman, raise your own voice about your experience when possible! Organized action is necessary, voices are vital, and better visibility is needed in general - for all women and especially those with intersecting identities who face discrimination in unique ways. “Women’s equality” means equality for ALL women: queer, trans, black, hispanic. We still may not all have the same opportunities, legal rights and responsibilities, or luxuries. But we all should - because all women are powerful.