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For LGBTQ people, public space is fraught with potential dangers, harassment, and discrimination. Over the past few months I have been researching how LGBTQ people learn to navigate space and its political implications.

Public space is the stage in which the sociopolitical plays out. How people present themselves and how people respond to such presentations is inherently a political struggle. Noting that gender is part of our performance is important to analyzing gender as a political act, as well as a potentially subversive threat to gender norms.

For LGBTQ people, performing their selves in public space is potentially threatening. Hate crimes against LGBTQ people often are predicated on a number of factors such as public displays of affection, non-normative gender performances, and “queer” signifiers. For LGBTQ people, navigating public space is loaded with political implications. First, social policing from others poses a real threat to ones well being, and second that transgressing gender in the public space is a way to create visibility for LGBTQ people. How LGBTQ people enact themselves in public requires a particular calculation between self-expression, political subversion, and the threat of social policing.

The concept of “passing” is particularly important, yet dubious for LGBTQ people. Being able to “pass” as heterosexual, cisgendered, and normative poses a number of advantages to navigating space. To an extent, LGBTQ people might manage their outward appearances and behavior to “pass” as normative. However, for many LGBTQ people this is not such a simple concept. Self-censorship and monitoring can lead to internalized homophobia, shame, and lack of self-esteem for LGBTQ people. It’s also particularly detrimental to non-heterosexual relationships in its limitation of where couples can go and where affection can be enacted.

Dominant conceptions of gender can be problematic for those who do not fit into them. Men may face stigma for being seen as effeminate. Women who are already at risk for sexual assault may be more at risk if their non-heterosexuality is seen as threatening to hegemony. Anyone who enacts non-normative gender expression may face particular negative attention and violence from those who seek to eradicate their difference.

For trans women of color, public space can be very difficult. Since trans women of color face disproportionate rates of murder, harassment, and incarceration, public space can be extremely dangerous. Though all LGBTQ people may face harassment, transwomen of color are often labeled by others as “mentally unstable,” “deviant,” and “radicals.” The intersections of oppression transwomen may face can make public life a difficulty. The matrix of oppressions and stigmas faced by people carrying multiple stigmatized and stereotyped identities makes achieving fulfillment and safety a much more difficult and inaccessible civic right.

“Safe spaces” for LGBTQ people may be difficult to come by. Often, physical markers such as flags, slogans and names that signify tolerance are all employed by spaces to to demonstrate they are safe, or perhaps, safer spaces. The Internet has created a new method of disseminating information about where “safe spaces” are. Information about where LGBTQ people can go for recreation, recourses, and comfort has become easier, although still imperfect.

All the above is a problem, not just for individuals but also for the community. The importance of being able to find and create community is contingent on one’s ability to be open, safe, and free to express oneself. Going forwards in the future, the LGBTQ community will have to pay attention to this issue, in the interest of preserving culture, well being, and interpersonal relationships. Not merely must public policy change to reflect this need, but our culture must change to accommodate the community.

That public space is inherently a political space means that power dynamics are always in play. And while identification of spaces and personal strategies for safety are important in the short term, an important political project might be to make spaces safer for all LGBTQ people regardless of how adept they are at “passing” or “navigating” spaces. I believe one of the most pertinent political projects for LGBTQ people should be an attention to public space. The creation of safety for LGBTQ people is an issue of overlooked importance, particularly for those of multiple oppressed identities.


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"Natural Afro American Hair" by AveryScott - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
“Natural Afro American Hair” by AveryScott – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

The term “natural hair” is used in the African American community to differentiate between hair that has been left in its natural state and hair which has been permed (which is to permanently straighten the hair follicle with chemicals). African American hair in its natural state appears tightly coiled or kinky and is often socially stigmatized. Social stigmas are any idea that individuals associate with negative connotations. Many individuals would agree that hair is a prevailing symbol of one’s self and self-expression, contributing much stake towards one’s identity. As social norms change over time, so do the effects of symbols that an individual imposes on their social reality; as a consequence of being symbolic in society, hair speaks to a person’s status, power, beauty and beliefs (Bellinger 2007). Hair speaks to one’s character and is representative of their status in society. Hair is also a measure of beauty and how one styles their hair affects one’s level of beauty in society more...












One of sociology’s main critiques revolves around neoliberalism, and its implications on everyday life in a capitalistic society. Yet, individuals do not comprehend what these implications are for those who identify as LGBTQ. As of recently, there are a plethora of articles illustrating some of the consequences that occur in this new neoliberal society. For example, John P. Elia and Gust A. Yep stated in their article, “Sexualities and Genders in an Age of Neoterrorism:” more...



(Photo credit:,_Washington_D.C.,_November_15,_2008.jpg)

Today is the last day of the American Sociology Association’s annual meeting. In honor of this year’s theme Sexualities in the Social World, I wanted to bring attention to the troubling trend of murders of transgender women. First, I introduce what little data exists about the experiences of trans women. Then I consider three existing groups of social movement activists that could act as allies to the transgender community and the presence of barriers which might inhibit the building of coalitions aimed toward stopping these deaths.


There is a dearth of reliable statistics on the murder of trans women. Thankfully, organizations which serve the transgender population and their allies in the academy have embarked upon a mission to attempt to fill this gap. To date only one national study has been conducted; the National Transgender Discrimination Survey was spear-headed by the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality. This study found transgender women experience disturbingly high rates of violence and assault. In 2013, 72% of all victims of murder motivated by anti-LGBTQ sentiment were transgender women.


Currently the National Center for Transgender Equality is distributing the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey (USTS). (Editor’s note: if you are a transgender person who is interested in participating you can find the survey here!) However, the time investment which a massive undertaking of this type demands means for the near future we will continue to operate without a full understanding of who constitutes the transgender population and the conditions of their lives.


Due to a dearth of scientific studies on the topic, the responsibility of data collection has fallen on activists and sympathetic media outlets. The LGBTQ periodical The Advocate has recorded the dates and circumstances of the murders of trans women killed in 2015. The publication has strived to preserve these deceased women’s lives by including their photographs and short biographies. As of August 18th, 17 trans women have been murdered in 2015 alone.  



Do you remember your sex education during your youth? Did you even have sex education?

My school district (a local, public school district composing of four small townships) contracted out our sex education through Catholic Charities, which would come into health classes and teach “sex ed.” (Note: I am very conscientious of using quotations around my experience of “sex ed” because it wasn’t real sexual education, but rather, (heteronormative) abstinence only education.) We started having exposure to sex ed as early as sixth grade, but the “real” sex ed really started in eighth to ninth grade. Boys and girls were separated in two different rooms to talk about their own bodies separately, and would come together where they (at least in my interpretation) tried to scare us into submission.




Photo by Katie Kullen

When same-sex marriage became legal, there was an outpouring of support for the gay community. Many self-identified straight men and women took the opportunity to vocalize their affirmation of gay identities and gay rights. Keeping in mind, as well, the recent public discourse around Caitlyn Jenner and the transgender community, I found it compelling to compile a list of tips for LGBTQ allies that seek to sustain and improve their support of the community during this time.

It should be noted that this list is not exhaustive, and I cannot speak for the entire LGBTQ community. These tips are merely a guideline for possible new ways for interested parties to continue their support in the post-gay-marriage world. Even the most earnest allies might find themselves lost with how to improve and continue to help. Though I only speak as a gay cisgender man and supporter of LGBTQ equality, I’ve taken some time to think about new ways and avenues for activism as well as present underrepresented views and problems facing the community at this time. LGBTQ activism can be made stronger by people of diverse backgrounds working in dialogue with each other. The importance of this list is to learn ways to foster dialogue, understanding and empathy for one another, as well as educate others on what some of the issues facing the community post-same-sex marriage are.

  1. Understand What Gay Marriage Means and to Whom

It goes without saying that an ally supports same-sex marriage. But it’s important to understand the context of this win. I think one can support same-sex marriage as a legal right without embracing it as the end of LGBTQ activism, nor as the tenant of it. Similarly, marriage may be more or less important to every LGBTQ individual. But, I admit, it was moving to see rainbow Facebook profile pictures. It was moving to see support from straight allies in all forms. But as the subsequent op-eds have pointed out, it is not the end of LGBTQ rights. I don’t think this precludes the historicism of the moment, nor does it exclude various othered-LGBTQ people. What’s important is the context- understanding what this moment signifies to the various LGBTQ people. A good ally should strive to understand context.

Furthermore, as activist Laverne Cox has noted, it is equally important for cisgendered members of the LGB community to be inclusive and active in the concerns of the transgender community.

  1. Learn About What Gender Means to Others

Gender is a complicated issue; a very complicated one, and one that is constantly evolving. Now that publicly transgender people are just beginning to come out into the mainstream, it’s important to understand the language of how to talk about this issue. Sure, even the most understanding ally can have a slip up or moment of ignorance. This shouldn’t be demonized- I think there is an opportunity now for better education on these issues. We’re in the midst of a political moment to reinterpret what gender means and how we do gender. The first place to start is to undertake the task of understanding how trans and queer individuals have been talking about conceptualizing their communities and themselves. As well as what unique issues are pertinent to their communities.

  1. Be a conduit for change

There have been years of LGBTQ activists. But it should be noted the importance of straight-allies as well. While it would be inappropriate to speak for the community, it’s important to speak up as an ally. This could mean having various conversations with others, engaging in political action, or simply educating oneself about the issues. A straight ally can do a lot to show others how to be more accepting and empathetic to others. A frank discussion with a friend about your beliefs can change minds.

  1. Awareness of Differences

Not all LGBTQ people are the same. Not all gay people are the same. Not all trans people are the same. There are unique political intersections and personal preferences between all LGBTQ people. It’s easy to make generalization, and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. Stereotypes are present in popular media about what being LGBT or Q means. But everyone has a unique experience and personality that requires inquiry. It’s important to allies to explore these differences. It’s important to be vigilant against reductionist tendencies.

  1. Understand the Work Left to Be Done

We’re not quite in a post-gay world. You and everyone you know might be “cool with it” but the struggle for LGBTQ rights is not a thing of the past. There is a wealth of work to be done for these causes. There are numerous organizations that have been doing work on causes such as teen homelessness, harassment prevention, making spaces safer, providing services to at risk use and numerous other causes. Supporting any one of these causes can make a strong statement and a significant difference in the lives of others.

LGBTQ allies are important to the community. The LGBTQ community is at a critical time in the political realm where opening minds and making tangible real changes is very possible. The help of allies is invaluable towards continuing to acknowledge and alleviate the oppressions faced by the LGBTQ community. Everything from participating in large structural changes to simply changing one’s behavior and speech can be an important and vital force.

Again, this list isn’t the end of the story. Discourse around the needs of LGBTQ people is always evolving and changing to be more inclusive. Going beyond this list, communicating with LGBTQ people to find out the needs of their specific communities can unveil other more specific ways to be involved.

For some information on how to get involved visit the Human Rights Campaign’s website which features a variety of causes. For information on how to start a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) you can visit here.


Further Reading

Why Marriage Matters To Non-Gay Allies


An Ally’s Guide To Talking About Marriage for Same-Sex Couples


Amandla Stenberg, an activist and an individual who has considerable reach amongst the masses used her platform as an actress to speak out against cultural appropriation when she responded to a post on the Instagram of a celebrity teen socialite in early July. Many replies to Stenberg’s response of the original poster demeaned Amandla for making an argument about race as many bystanders were convinced that the original Instagram post was meant to be a fun fashion statement. The subsequent comments have a false sense of logic behind them however, and it is clear that most responders did not understand the argument that Amandla was making. This argument was further convoluted given that is was a response to the derogatory hashtag #whitegirlsdoitbetter; a twitter hashtag meant to spread hate and racism by implying that women of color are unworthy. Her reply has since been deleted but I would argue that Amandla’s reply has everything to do with race, fashion, and hair, all which comprise culture. She later posted another reply which provides more detail about black femininity and cultural appropriation. A person stating that her original reply is about anything less is simply blind to the structures of power and dominance that are at play and is the reason why these issues will continue to be perpetuated so long as their diminishment is condoned by overarching forces such as mass media.

Cultural hegemony is the control of culture through domination of social groups via social institutions. Simply put cultural hegemony is a type of hegemony that serves to police society in a way that is unnoticeable to the dominant group and is perpetuated as the parameters of what to think and how to think about it. Most importantly cultural hegemony serves the interests of the hegemony, the dominant class. When discussing race in America the dominant class refers to White people and minority groups of races and ethnicities are considered subordinate groups. While it is a fact that not all White people have the power and means to establish and carry out this dominance, it is true that all White people benefit from being a part of this dominant class. Culture is comprised of many things to include race, gender, religion, sexuality, class, etc. I aim to focus on race and gender as these are the topics that are at the root of Amandla’s Instagram reply which became viral. more...



Sexuality is, still, something seen as taboo, and deemed not appropriate for everyday conversation. Society assumes men and women will marry, procreate, and in time, create their own family: where their children will repeat the process. However, people do not always adhere to the model: some will live within the “deviant” parts of society. There are people who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender, Queer), SM (Sadomasochism), and many more. One identity, out of the plethora, that many people have problematized is the identity of SM. Those who participate in the SM scene proscribe SM as their primary identity. Previously, there has not much research done on the SM community: but, that has changed. more...



In patriarchal societies, men tend to take advantage of their power, and privilege. This privilege comes so easily because it is invisible to them, which makes men blind to their control over society. Besides, the concept of privilege is based on its omnipresent invisibility. The affordances of privilege cost many people, more so women, relegation to the outliers of society, and nearly incapable of controlling power. At times, certain men have an inclination to enforce, and monopolize, on their power in the workplace; i.e. make sexual propositions, or sexual innuendos, at their female-identified coworkers. The majority of sexual harassment cases stem from the workplace, so what happens when these situations happen in the general public? Furthermore, what happens when sexual harassment, whether physical, or verbal, occur between those of the same gender?





The concept of the “closet,” linguistically, served as the foundation, and means, to identify as a homosexual, or LGBTQ. Within her text, The Epistemology of the Closet, Kosofsky Sedgwick offers numerous ways to define the “closet.” However, there are two definitions pertinent to our understanding of the “closet.” The first definition of the “closet” is described as, “a room for privacy or retirement” (Kosofsky Sedgwick, 2008d: 65) and the second, more appealing, definition of the “closet” has an added word before it: “skeleton in the closet (or cupboard): a private or concealed trouble in one’s house or circumstances, ever present, and ever liable to come into view” (Kosofsky Sedgwick, 2008e: 65). To have something, or to be, in the “closet” points out something that is hidden or kept private from others, never to be discerned. It, also, points to a power relation, or antagonism, between sexualities, and sexuality known as knowledge. Currently, it is common for individuals of the LGBTQ community to ask one another if they are “out of the closet.” Yet, to ask someone if they are “out of the closet” is to pry into their secret: they are asked to elucidate, or bring to life, the sexual identity one feels they must hide and fear. more...