LGBTQI+ In/Exclusions: History Month, intersections, and research design

Matson Lawrence and Yvette Taylor

Now LGBT+ History Month 2019 has drawn to a close, we reflect upon the events we participated in, as connected to the LGBTQI+ Lives Scotland project, and our plans for upcoming fieldwork.

On Monday 18th February we contributed to a panel discussion hosted by the University of Strathclyde Students’ Association, examining 50 years of LGBTQI+ activism and the significance of intergenerational learning. Matson chaired the discussion, and the panellists included Yvette, Solomon Abedayou from LGBT Unity, Ethan Wilson the current NUS Scotland Trans Officer, and Scott Cutherbertson from Equality Network. The event was organised by Strathclyde student representatives Joshua McCormick, Silja Slepnjov and Titi Farukuoye.

>> 50 years on from the Stonewall riots, how has society and activism changed? Where will the LGBTQI+ movement – if indeed there is a cohesive LGBTQI+ ‘movement’ at all – go in the next half century? <<

Positioning change

The past couple of years have marked key anniversaries for LGBTQI+ rights across the UK, with 2018 marking 30 years since Section 28 was passed in Westminster. This piece of legislation prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in schools and other local authority services. While the law was not in practice used to prosecute any person or local authority, it still had a devastating impact – effectively silencing discussion of LGBTQI+ lives in schools for many years. It was first repealed by the then newly-formed Scottish Parliament in 2000, followed by Westminster in 2003 – after a previous failed attempt at repeal (Taylor, 2005).

More recently, civil partnerships followed by marriage equality, alongside adoption and fertility laws, been held up as key gains or victories for gay, lesbian and bisexual rights (Taylor, 2009). The Equality Act 2010 also provided the first comprehensive legal protection for LGBTQI+ people in work and in receipt of goods and services. However, activists, academics and legal specialists have called into question the effectiveness of this legislation in practice.

For trans people specifically, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 provided the first legal means for changing the gender marker on documentation such as birth certificates. However, characterised as costly, intrusive and bureaucratic, both Governments have committed to reviewing and reforming the Act – with the potential that non-binary people may also receive means of legal gender recognition for the first time. Meanwhile, for intersex people and those with variances in their sex characteristics, the UK Government has recently opened a call for evidence on the issues faced, following calls from intersex activists to halt the practice of so-called ‘normalising’ medical interventions on intersex children and young people.

Despite and within these legislative gains, LGBTQI+ people continue to face structural social, political and economic inequalities – and these inequalities differentially impact upon LGBTQI+ people based upon co-existing inequalities of, for example, age, class, disability, gender, race, and citizenship status, to name just a few.

Moreover, what constitutes legal progress or change is enacted unevenly across the devolved states or countries comprising the UK. For example, 2017 marked 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of sex between men in England in 1967. However, decriminalisation did not occur in Scotland until 1980/81, and 1982 in Northern Ireland. Likewise, in Northern Ireland, there is still no legal provision for same-gender marriage. These legislative moments frequently underscore the awkward dualisms and tensions around sexuality and gender, where lesbian, bi and queer women, for example, have been rendered domestic, de-sexualised, and absent from public life (a strange ‘protection’ if only for the ‘right kind’ of women).

The theme of LGBT History Month 2019 in the UK was ’50 years of activism’, marking 50 years since the Stonewall riots. The use of a key moment in US history as the basis from which UK or Scottish LGBTQI+ lives are understood and celebrated is significant; LGBTQI+ lives narrated and historicised in reference to a moment elsewhere, in another place and time. Is there comparative access to and historicising of UK and Scottish LGBTQI+ histories?

Resources such as the Lesbian Archive hosted at Glasgow Women’s Library provide these vital insights and sources of connection across time.

Inclusions and exclusions

We have recently been re-reading ‘Coming Out: The Emergence of LGBT Identities in Britain from the 19th Century to the Present’ by Jeffrey Weeks. Weeks’ book has already been the subject of some critical review – including in the Sexualities Special Issue ‘Sexualities and Class’ (2011) edited by Yvette. While a fascinating piece conveying rich and fraught histories, Weeks’ book once again reminds us of how ‘LGBT’ is all too often used as synonymous with ‘gay and lesbian’ – often to the exclusion of bisexual / non-monosexual people, and trans and non-binary people. We have been reminded of this again, too, with the framing of our research as ‘LGBTQI+’ and consequently considering what it means, in theory and practice, to be explicitly attentive to intersex experience, for example, beyond simply including or adding letters to acronyms. This speaks to moving beyond / away from notions of nominal ‘inclusion’ towards enacting in our research design from the outset.

With respect to shifting the terrain and tensions in LGBTQI+ scholarship, we have also been re-reading Arondekar and Patel’s (2016) GQL article. They ask us to think about generational and geographical tensions or resolutions in having ‘been there and done that’, researching sexualities over and over again with proliferating case studies (Arondekar and Patel, 2016). They ask – does this serve to just bring forward certain subjects and how might we, as researchers and academics, be complicit in this? Indeed, this speaks to a broader concern in research design and undertaking – considering research ‘failures’, and the problem or potential of ‘hard to reach’ groups (Taylor, 2004). We know the ways in which we design research and approach recruitment – such how we invite contact or engagement (e.g. online only) and the communities and spaces we target our recruitment to – have potential to exclude or include, and to reproduce the very inequalities we seek to examine.

When we consider intersecting inequalities manifesting, changing and reappearing across LGBTQI+ communities, there can be a certain exhaustion – felt in finding ‘hard to reach’ groups, in being present in spaces rendered ‘absent’, and insisting on connections that are often disconnected. And, considering intersectional oppressions, the inequalities experienced across LGBTQI+ populations and lifecourses are inherently unequal; interacting with co-existent structures of, for example, age, class, disability, gender, ‘race’, and citizenship status, and forming new meanings and manifestations.

As we are about to embark on participant recruitment for the LGBTQI+ Lives Scotland research, we are considering these issues and implications for our own approach. Yvette spoke to this during the LGBT History Month panel discussion, recalling questions asked about her working class lesbian life research; those asking how she reached these ‘hard-to-reach’ women and communities. While research recruitment and data collection increasingly moves towards online platforms, it feels almost a disruptive act to put up a poster in an old-school gay bar, a day centre or doctors’ surgery, to post an advert in the classifieds section of a free newspaper, or to send and receive text messages; the tangible and uneven edges of these forums brushing up against the clean neoliberal lines of online surveys and carefully curated social media content.

What we discuss here is not a case of asserting that certain types of people necessarily do certain types of things, e.g. younger people use the internet and older people don’t, or working class people send text messages and middle class people send e-mails. Instead, more broadly, it is a case of stretching the research model beyond simply utilising the immediate forums we use our daily lives and work, beyond the platforms and formats we are expected to use as academics and researchers, and beyond the ‘official’ professionalised communication channels of the mainstream LGBT sector.  As discussed in our previous blog post, we are keen to stretch the call beyond the mainstream ‘LGBT sector’ of charitable and campaigning organisations. We are also interested in speaking to LGBTQI+ people not linked into – or disidentifying with – mainstream representations of LGBT lives, rights and ‘wants’.

Intra-community exchanges and exclusions

During the panel discussion, we asked (and attempted to answer) questions around ‘intergenerational learning’: In what ways can we foster meaningful engagement between different generations of LGBTQI+ people and movements? Do we currently have spaces or forums to enable this exchange of experience, or is there need to create them? The notion of space emerged strongly, as panellists reflected on the physical lack of accessible spaces within which such exchanges can be facilitated. Panellists discussed the need for younger LGBTQI+ people to learn from their elders, while Yvette discussed the need for stretching this notion of a unidirectional ‘learning’ to considering how knowledge and experience can be exchanged across and between generations.

Panellists reflected, too, on the inherent exclusions enacted by mainstream ‘gay’ venues, as those which implicitly and explicitly exclude on the basis of age, appearance, and class. The example of the Polo Lounge in Glasgow was cited, who were successfully sued for denying entry to two queer disabled people on a night out. Others discussed issues with mainstream ‘gay’ venues; Solomon recalled being part of a group of Black LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum-seeking people denied entry to a large gay venue in Glasgow. There are further documented examples where trans people have been explicitly excluded or expelled from these commercial spaces. Not too long ago, one Edinburgh gay club’s entry slogan was purportedly: “No trackies, no trainers, no working class”. The notion of a cohesive or identifiable LGBTQI+ ‘community’ is further complicated by these implicit and explicit exclusions enacted by the centre of the ‘gay’ or LGBT+ ‘community’ upon those positioned at the peripheries or outside.

Are LGBTQI+ people inherently activists? And should we be?

We paused, and shifted in our chairs, at the question around inherent activism, pausing on how much energy or time we might have for future events, History Months, and (for Matson) activities beyond ‘work life’

By moving through social worlds as LGBTQI+ people, do we manifest – in our embodiments – a disruption to cis- and/or hetero-normativies and hierarchies, and therefore the very act of our existence manifests a form of ‘activism’? And should these ‘activist’ responsibilities be placed on those oppressed, albeit differentially and unevenly? Defined as a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change, are we activists by default or design, when ‘campaign’ is reimagined to embrace the project of our own lives?

New published work

During LGBT History Month 2019, some of our work on LGBTQI+ topics was published:

  • Lawrence, M. and Mckendry, S. (2019) Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Students and Staff in Further and Higher Education: Practical Advice for Colleges and Universities. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  • Morgan, E. and Taylor, Y. (2019) Dangerous Education: The Occupational Hazards of Teaching Transgender. Sociology. 53(1): 19-35.
  • Taylor, Y. (2019) The Queer Subject of ‘Getting On’. In King, A., Almack, K. and Jones, R. L. (eds) Intersections of Ageing, Gender & Sexualities: Multidisciplinary international perspectives. Policy Press.

Upcoming event – From Section 28/2A to LGBTQI+ ‘Inclusion’: Legacies, tensions and trajectories in education – Wednesday 1st May, 16:00 – 19:00, University of Strathclyde.

To cite this blog post: Lawrence M and Taylor Y (2019) LGBTQI+ In/Exclusions: History Month, intersections, and research design. Blog, LGBTQI+ Lives Scotland. Available at: https://lgbtqilives.wordpress.com/2019/03/18/lgbtqi-in-exclusions/

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