In this post series, I’m defending the idea of giving GLBT people minority status. My first post gives some background on the issue, while my second post documents the oppression they face, thus fulfilling the first of 5 sociological categories that grant minority status to a group.
Now we’ll get into the 2nd of these 5 categories:
2) Physical and/or cultural traits that set them apart, and which are disapproved by the dominant group: as far as I can tell, the scientific community is still researching the nature vs. nurture explanations for same-sex desire (take, for instance, this Slate article explaining some of the recent theories for the biological basis of homosexuality). My educated guess is that there are both biological and environmental factors going into sexual identity, and we’re still figuring out which conditions cause certain factors to come to the forefront. However, I don’t think the answer really pertains to the question of whether gays deserve minority status. Here’s why:
- Other minority groups have changing memberships. Children – a great example of a vulnerably minority population – grow up. The educationally and economically disadvantaged can shift out of that status. Pregnant women are often discriminated against while pregnant, and that status is temporary. A person can convert to a religion which is, in that region, a minority, and then begin to experience oppression based on that status. Does it really matter if people “become” gay or “choose” to be gay? Not from my standpoint in this discussion. While they’re occupying that identity status, if they meet the traits of a minority group, they deserve protections.
- The traits that set gays and lesbians apart – desire for romantic, sexual, and emotional involvement with same-sex people – are, most certainly, disapproved of by the mainstream (see the above bullet points). Further, while many gays and lesbians can and do try to hide this aspect of their identities, it is regarded by many as harmful. An Australian study finds that it is harmful for gays and lesbians to be closeted at work, while a Canadian study finds that adults who are out are less stressed and happier. Related is the study I mentioned above by Mark Hatzenbuehler, which found that LGB individuals living in high-prejudice communities have a shorter life expectancy of 12 years on average compared with their peers in the least prejudiced communities. So the unique traits that set gays and lesbians apart from the mainstream culture are not always visible to the eye, but they are experienced as uniquely setting this group apart.
- Let’s not forget that some minority groups are invisible to the naked eye. You can’t always tell a person’s religion by looking at them, but religious minorities should be protected. You can’t always tell whether someone struggles with mental health issues or an invisible physical illness like fibromyalgia or lupus by looking at them, and yet these differently-abled people deserve protection against discrimination. See where I’m going with this?
- Again, we can chase our tails for years about whether/how gays and lesbians are different from everyone else, and whether that difference is innate, or can be changed, or not… but, beyond the academic validity of saying that LGBT groups are 5 for 5 in terms of Feagin’s list of minority group traits, I’m inclined to grant the dignity to this group of (gasp) believing them when they lay claim to an experience. Blame my folklore background for this one, maybe, since my academic training taught me to regard everyone’s life stories with dignity and respect. If they want to claim minority status for themselves based on the differences they perceive in their lives, why not at least consider that they might be right about the reality of their lived experiences? How utterly arrogant and privileged is it of us to think we know better than they do what their lives are like?
Stay tuned for the final installment in this series!