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I can remember a moment of clarity when I heard someone referring to LGBTQ+ as QUILTBAG.[1] Although the acronym was first recorded in 2006,[2] I didn’t hear it until much later and I must admit that I have since developed a preference for it as an acronym, not only for ease of pronunciation because it spelt out a word, but also because it provided me with a pleasing mental image of a comfortable, capacious and inclusive place where everyone was welcome: not altogether dissimilar from the carpetbag used by Mary Poppins in the 1964 movie, but intrinsically softer, and amply demonstrating the very qualities that it was trying to incorporate. The idea of inclusivity is an important one, and it should be acknowledged that how we identify as individuals in terms of our sexuality, gender or sex is for life, not just for June or for the benefit of corporate sponsorship. I have no problem with corporations supporting issues of diversity and equality, but I would prefer such actions if they were promoted all year round in recruitment drives or advertising campaigns, and not just for one month a year. It is the equivalent of saying, ‘Yes we will sell you a rainbow product because we want your money, but we don’t see the need to include anyone from the community in our workforce, or as part of our advertising as a positive role model.’

It sometimes feels as though pride month has effectively reduced the wider idea of equality

It sometimes feels as though ‘pride month’ has effectively reduced the wider idea of equality down to one of purely commercial interest, as has been seen for many other commercialised ‘celebrations’, rather than acknowledging the fundamental need to consistently recognise and promote equality within society. It also pays a fundamental disservice to those who have lived with discrimination and have consistently sought equality for attributes that they had no part in choosing. As has been pointed out many times, if there was any stronger evidence of whether being gay / bisexual / transgender is a choice, look no further than those who find themselves to be QUILTBAG in places where such characteristics are outlawed.

For my own part, I take the view that it is not for me to decide who other people should be attracted to, how they should act, or how they should choose to style themselves, much less proclaim decisively upon their biology or sexuality. I take this view not because of any conscious desire to ingratiate myself with different communities, or to cynically increase sales of a product, but due to my experiences of consistent low-level gaslighting and abstract discrimination, which are often the most difficult to identify and also to prove. Proving discrimination is a challenging task: even where  there is written proof, or multiple witnesses to an overtly bigoted statement, it can still be questionable whether the statement had a direct and discernible impact on the individual, or if it translated into discriminatory behaviour.

So how should people try to consider issues of equality?

One idea that has gained in popularity in recent years is the concept of acknowledging ‘privilege’, but it is often thought of in terms of positive entitlement, which is not representative of the true impact. To get a better idea of individual privilege, it is sometimes easier not to consider in terms of what we have access to, but in terms of the absence of barriers to living our lives. Equality is ultimately a negative freedom, rather than a positive one: which means that positive freedoms are the ‘freedom to…’, for example, freedom of movement or freedom of speech. Negative freedoms are the ‘freedom from…’, for example, freedom from racist or sexist discrimination, and they tend to be harder to identify and enforce than positive freedoms.

What can cause privilege to go unrecognised?

What can cause privilege to go unrecognised? Often it is a matter of perception and/or indoctrination: for example, Americans are generally taught that the correct way to write a date is: month/day/year, whereas the British tend to write the day/month/year. Neither are intrinsically right or wrong, and it can be helpful if trying to identify whether the origin is from the US or the UK, but the sequence is also capable of causing confusion if not identified quickly. It is also a format that is heavily embedded and reinforced as ‘the correct way’ during childhood, which means that it becomes more difficult to unlearn later in life: such attitudes and prejudices can be taught or developed as learned responses, remaining until they are challenged or overturned. Thankfully, the joyous representations and tireless work of many years by the QUILTBAG community and those who support them, have done much to promote positive relationships by challenging many of those inbuilt perceptions, and mostly without need for the corporate marketing of rainbows.

Thank you QUILTBAG community

[1] Queer/Questioning, Unsure/Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Two-spirit, Bisexual, Asexual, and Gay/Genderqueer

[2] Lee, Sadie (2006). ‘Final Call: Kate Borstein’ in Diva Magazine, issue 125, p114.

About the author

Gardner is a contributing author for bonafide hr, an autistic individual, with extensive experience as an academic, senior policy advisor and senior litigation caseworker in London. Currently engaged as a parent, disability advocate, freelance author, perpetual student, editor of texts and occasional floozy.