Tag Archives: LGBTQ Activism

Things I Have Learned And Gained From LGBTQ+ activism

I first started getting educated on social justice online, and I found all the first-hand information, and advice I found on sites like Tumblr really useful. They helped me understand, and gave me impeccable value, as most of it came from people who were educating, talking about and fighting against the very oppression they were facing.

This is why I always deemed online activism extremely important. Phrases like “get off your couch and do something useful” always pissed me off, since online activists do many useful things, the most important of which is educating people they don’t always have to educate, which – trust me – can at times be really hard.

That brings us to:

1 – Online activism is real activism. In fact, everything that everyone can offer may be necessary in  a movement.

This is something that joining “physical” – which means actually taking the metro downtown and attending general assemblies in some basement – activism has taught me, especially when I realized how much online activists had contributed to my debut.

To be an activist you don’t only have to march and make illegal graffiti. By all means yes, this is vital in some parts of a movement, but so is every other small task a member of that movement works hard to complete. Protesting outside enterprises is vital, preparing powerpoint presentations from the safety of your room to share knowledge with other people is vital, raising your voice online and stirring the waters of convention at an injustice is vital, managing the finances or keeping the files of an organization which is already offering plenty to LGBTQ+ youth is just as vital. Every task completes another and no initiative can stand on its own without a multi-dimensional plan that requires all sorts of skills to reach all sorts of people and make all sorts of change.

Besides, keep in mind that not all people are able to march. Which brings us to:

2 – Activism should be inclusive

People with mental illnesses, disabilities, poor people, homeless people, should all have a place in an activism that cannot be elitist, ageist, ableist or racist. Some activist groups end up being too closed and clique-ish, denying people who want to offer the chance to do so. It’s one thing – and a very important one at that – calling out someone on something problematic they said or did, and a completely different one completely denying them the space for mistakes, or the space to voice their identity, needs and priorities differently.

3 – I now know for sure that I have rights and that I can demand their recognition and respect firmly.

When you feel all alone in something, when your identity or parts of it are not always understood or respected, even the most given facts about it, such as that you must demand that people respect your self-identification and don’t say offensive things about it, may end up seeming like a luxury, like something you don’t really deserve and you just think you do because you believe you’re a special little snowflake. Ignorant people will make you think that you have no right to ask what you’re asking for, but getting into activism is sometimes important to validate that you deserve the things that other people already have as given in their lives.

Things/Skills I have gained from LGBTQ+ activism.

1 – The motivation to actually work for something and dedicate my whole self in it.

Working voluntarily is weird. You may not be able to bring yourself to work hard for an essay that’s actually gonna give you a good mark, or for a job that gives you actual money, but with volunteering and activism it somehow still works, and  it’s different. Of course you get tired and burned out and there are times that you want to give up or just lay on the couch with a bucket of ice cream and Carmilla, and turn off all notifications in the world ever, but you still know that you’ve chosen this yourself, and it’s something extremely important for you to do, without waiting for something in return. You finally know how to push yourself to do something that you know is more important than many other things in your life. The chance to apply what you’re best at to what you love the most is a truly amazing feeling.

2 – Responsibility when it comes to deadlines, courage when it comes to phone calls I wouldn’t otherwise make or emails I wouldn’t otherwise reply to.

Which, not really. Emails still scare me. But you get the point. Apart from the occasional pro(cat)stination incident, of course. Which is very rare an occurrence and all. Ahem.

3 – Practical life skills.

Presentation skills, project management skills, time management skills, a knowledge of how to share knowledge with other people.

4 – A community.

Wonderful friends who, like few others, formed a family-like circle around me. Nothing is better than meeting people who have been through similar things to your own experiences, people who understand and you know that with the first words and smiles, a place where you can feel safe to freely express yourself. Most of anything else, we’re a community, and what brings us together is often much bigger than our differences.

5 – The actual chance to make a change that will alter my life and the lives of people I care for, for the better.

Activism is not impersonal. What I fight for is not just an abstract idea; it has names. Names of my loved ones, of people I care for the most and of parts of my own identity, experiences and everyday life. The things that truly matter are finally something I can cater to, something I can give my best to shelter. And that’s not something I could achieve on my own.


6 – Cats.

No, really. That’s a real pro. I’ve met so many furry allies during this journey. Everyone – or nearly everyone – who is into LGBTQ+ activism has cats and/or adores cats and/or is an actual cat.

And if they don’t, they’re dogs.

Why Labels And Language Matter In LGBTQ Activism

Language -its fluidity, its use, and the relativity of its importance- is one of the biggest debates in social justice.

However, one of the first – and apparently most common – arguments I found myself surprised to hear when I got into activism, was that language is just language: harmless; that the way you use it doesn’t really matter when your actions speak for the quality of your intentions; and that it becomes truly harmful when you use it to categorize people, to put them into boxes and stick labels on them as if they were different brands of cereal.

Now, all these opinions make enough sense, so why would anyone who believes in freedom of expression – including me – feel uncomfortable at their phrasing? Let’s have a closer look at those statements, at what people might mean with them, and at how things may be slightly different after all.

Words matter as much as actions do

Of course no one can doubt that actions must be taken into consideration as much as words, if not more, and no one should be condemned just for a slip of their tongue when all of their actions show that they care, that they try to learn and make the world friendlier to people who are affected by discrimination. But at the same time, we must remember that people who belong in social groups that are discriminated against in most sections of their lives, and certainly have already had enough, are still affected by harmful, problematic language, and could definitely live without its use.

When, for example, you misgender a trans person (= use, accidentally or purposefully, the wrong name or pronouns, implying that they are a different gender than their own), you invalidate not just a choice of words, but the entire experience connected to their gender and the battles they’ve had to fight for it.

When you hear something directed to you that invalidates or erases your experience, offends your personality and attacks parts of your identity, you don’t really care to stop and check whether the other person’s intentions were good. You were hurt and that’s what matters and people don’t deserve to be hurt for who they are.

Language is a living organism

The language we use is not something stable. Its purpose is to serve our needs. The needs of a society change, and so should our language. Just because a word didn’t exist up to this point or because certain pronouns weren’t used, doesn’t mean that we can’t alter the way we use our language to include them.

Language doesn’t impose limits – it surpasses them

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”. That means that I cannot know anything in my world that cannot be phrased in my language.

The labels that you use in your language don’t have to limit you – they are there for you to describe yourself in a way that this self finally belongs. Of course, you are in no way obligated to use a strict label to describe the complex experiences that come with your identity, to put yourself in boxes and have them dictate what you like, who you are and how you act. If you identify as a lesbian but happen to fall in love with a man, then the way you label your sexuality should in no way be limiting. After all, sexuality and gender are fluid and people can question them all along their journey, without even having to come up to a solid realization in the end.

But at the same time, labels for some people are the way to expand the limits that a language made by other people, with different priorities, interests, and perceptions of the world, has posed for them, without their consent. I have seen on Facebook conversations cis people and, once, even a trans woman, invalidate the existence of non-binary and genderfluid people. They claimed that since we already have two pronouns in our language, remembering pronouns other than those of the binary genders (female and male) is hard and unnecessary, and that they don’t believe in the “politically correct theory” of the existence of more than two genders.

That, of course, is problematic, because there are many people whose gender falls in a spectrum outside the gender binary. That is, they identify neither as male nor as female. Non binary people shouldn’t have to debate their identities and use arguments to justify their existence to you. You just have to do so because their identities are valid as long as they experience them, and in order for you to respect them and show that you recognize their existence, you must at first use their correct pronouns. None of this is for the sake of political correctness alone; it’s about respect of their rights and their dignity instead.

That brings us to that: developing our language to make it more inclusive doesn’t limit us, but expands the limits others have set for us. You speak against the barriers people have set for you, without you. Non binary people are an example, and I use it because it’s the violation I’ve encountered more often. They have to rebuild a world where their existence is accepted, within a binary system that denies it. Changing our language is the first step to achieve that.

And remember: not all of us feel the same about our identities, labels, language, and the way we experience things. Just because you choose to identify as just human, it doesn’t mean that’s enough for everybody around you. When people need to speak for specific parts of their identities, just human is not exactly descriptive. For some people, having words – “labels” – to describe themselves, is much more important than you deem. No identity deserves more or less respect than another, so if you care not to offend the identity of a lesbian, or of a binary trans person, then you must be equally respectful towards the identity of a non-binary person.

Correct language validates people’s existence, as well as their experience. It’s much more than the ever so debated “political correctness”. It’s about accepting me as an individual, and allowing me to speak for my experiences before you do so in my place.

The diversity of language expresses the diversity of our identities

The first thing you learn when you get more into social justice, is that people are diverse. As Sian Ferguson points out in her article “Labels: Empowering, Harmful, or Both?”, people are different, and that difference is not the cause of systemic inequality, that is sometimes enforced by pre-existing language itself. People’s differences must have the correct language to be described by. A more diverse language can express a diverse culture much more effectively.

I’m pansexual. That means I’m not a lesbian. I’m not straight either, and I can’t be successfully included in each of these categories. I have different experiences than both straight and gay women, and have, on occasions, heard things from both categories of women that show lack of understanding to my own experiences. In order to have my experiences accepted, respected and understood, I need to have a word – a specific label – to properly describe them. So, when people speak of queer women, I don’t want them to limit the meaning of the word to gay. I need them to acknowledge bisexual and pansexual identities, in order to create a space for me, and for every other woman with my experiences, to speak. Same goes for all identities.

Words are the tools to build a space for our actions to matter

When you show that it’s vital to be careful with your words in order to respect a group of people, you simultaneously show that it’s vital to be careful with your actions in order to be respectful to people. When you realize how bad a racist slur is, and that you are -under no circumstances- allowed to use it, you also understand how unacceptable it is to hurt a victim of racial discrimination in any other way.

So how can homophobic actions be prevented, how can violence and abuse against trans people be perceived to be as horrible as they are, if we don’t first denaturalize and abolish homophobic and transphobic language?

Words are not just an embellishment to our actions and ourselves; they are the tools with which we build the world around us, and the way we perceive everyone and everything in it. When a person uses a label for themselves, they give life, shape and clothes to an identity that the world has, up to that moment, ignored and erased. Labels are not just labels, words are not just words: they form the space in our minds for new ideas and thoughts to grow.