On February 26th, the University of Hertfordshire hosted Crossing the Intersection – Intersectionality Discussion Panel: an event that aimed to open up a discussion about intersectionality and its role in egalitarianism and conversations about social justice today. While the event didn’t have much of an audience turnout, responses from the panel and audience suggested that such a panel, and more like it, were well worth having.
As the event began panelists took their seats, including Manny Hakimyar, VP of Community; Lovelet Lwakatare, School Officer for Humanities and BME Student Advocate; Alice Lia Maro, Social Secretary of the LGBT+ Society; host Oliver Read, Chairperson for the LGBT+ Society and Student Engagement Assistant at the Hertfordshire Students’ Union; and special guest Hatti Smart, VP of Welfare at the Royal Veterinary College.
The event started with a video explaining intersectionality, as created by the Chairperson of the LGBT+ Society, Oliver Read, and the society’s Social Secretary, Alice Maro. The video suggested that the LGBT+ Society wanted to focus on those with intersectional identities, and the challenges they faced. The video explains it quite well, but let’s explore it a bit further here.
Intersectionality is a term used quite a lot in social justice spaces, but originated in academia from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s discussion of black feminism in the late 80’s, where she looked at how both sexism and racism impacted a black woman’s experiences. To cut to the chase, Crenshaw suggests we will better understand a person’s marginalisation in society better if we avoid separating a person’s identities into independent categories, and must see how the two characteristics of being a woman and black together construct a woman of colour’s unique experiences, but also her oppression.
The term has since been used to describe all kinds of folks with criss-crossing identities that make them who they are, such as how a person in the LGBTQIA community could be both a woman of colour and a trans woman.
You may be wondering, though, why this distinction is important. Isn’t boxing ourselves into other categories potentially going to make oppression worse, or just get a bit confusing? We can look at the facts a comic by Joamette Gil pointed out, as seen on Everyday Feminism, to explain the importance of intersectionality a bit further.
Statistics indicate that trans women of colour experienced the highest murder rates between 2013-2015 in the US, with 46 of which making up the 53 known victims. Analysis of this data appears to demonstrate that being a transwoman and non-white enhances the likeliness of experiencing violence as a result of those in this category disproportionately living vulnerably in poverty. Manny Hakimyar, VP of Community, during the panel also drew attention to the experiences of those that might not be accepted by their families for being queer-identifying, but also face discrimination in the LGBTQIA community itself for being of a particular race, with non-white individuals at times experiencing rejection from those that might refuse to date their particular race. In both examples, we see issues that intersectionality makes better sense of: instead of us trying to separate an individual’s identities, it seems sensible to look at how a person’s identities work together to marginalise a person further; their race, and their sexuality, creating obstacles for them that often leave them feeling like outcasts.
Moving on, the discussion begins, and the first question asks the panel what the biggest issues were that arose from having an intersectional identity. Some key highlights from the question were discussions of identity erasure within the LGBTQIA community, and the difficulties of adapting to new cultures as an international student, which can make one reflect upon their own identity as they try to figure out where they fit in in a new place. Ultimately, an important point was raised: the experiences that each individual has can be incredibly unique, and this is especially so for someone who possesses multiple marginalised identities.
Lovelet responded to a question of the media’s influence on intersectional identities by promoting an open-mindedness that communities should develop, but suggested that individuals should be weary of the difficulties in establishing this and the fact that, for some, certain identities might be very new for some folks. Hatti, on the other hand, considered the power the media and its people had, with those like Piers Morgan, she suggested, having denied the identities of some guests on his show that were non-binary. On the positive side, Alice reflected on drag queen Courtney Act’s role in discussing the issues of trans and non-binary individuals on television on Celebrity Big Brother; something the genderqueer star did in a very calm, collected manner.
The panel moved to audience questions, one of which asking what the panel thought about the representation of those with minority identities in the media. Hatti was pleased that soaps were bringing in gay and trans characters, but Alice was confused as to why there wasn’t more diversity in television already and how this didn’t often reflect the reality of society. Manny pointed out that the media was often affirming of normative values in society, wh
ich can decrease awareness of intersectional identities especially when they are not represented well, or at all.
Hatti drew attention to her university’s equality and diversity committee which she sits on, whereby a member of each department is an equality and diversity champion that considers often non-represented groups in discussions. The results have been very positive, and it has encouraged staff to ask more questions about the issues those of marginalised identities face; inspiring a workshop to better educate faculties about trans issues, which was received well, and also inspired conversations to take place between people that otherwise had no idea about the issues. Lovelet added on the fact that BME advocates have made sure that modules are more inclusive for black and minority ethnic students, which she thought could be expanded to cover more students of other groups.
Yosser Shamki, a second-year Psychology student and BSE Representative promoted the idea of using the student rep system to do this, in order to spread awareness of the issues minorities experienced and communicate with staff and use the rapport they had to open up discussion about this. She also drew attention to the alleged commonality of marginalised persons being student reps, many of which LGBTQIA-identifying as well, which made them clued up on the discussion.
To end the discussion, the host asked what the panel would like to say to those struggling with their intersectional identity. Manny referred back to the idea of live and let live, to respect an individual’s choice in their identity, and Lovelet implored that it was of most importance to accept oneself first. Alice agreed, and said that it was important that those with intersectional identities didn’t compromise their identity and to not forget that it ultimately made them who they were. Hatti promoted self-love as well, but the need to educate people further.
After the event finished, The Trident spoke to Yosser to gather her views on how the panel went. While suggesting that more intersectional folks were needed on the panel and that the discussion deviated a bit, unique insight was provided and a conversation that had to take place was indeed taking place.
“I know Lovelet, and she’s always had very good things to say about inclusion and practical action, so I trust her advice. Sometimes with these events, we tend to focus on semantics, so the questions of how we move forward are lost, so I appreciated that Lovelet was there to think about how we implemented them, what funding is needed, how we engage with people and provide incentives to actually make change.”
“It’s important to have these conversations organically as well, as the issue might not be aggression at times and might just be people not knowing – the battle isn’t always won by arguing, but by talking to those who don’t understand, and it’s good to have them talk to real people with these identities. Next time around, I think the word needs to be put out more.
“We have a tendency of keeping conversation within our communities, which I understand as we don’t want to reveal our vulnerabilities, but showing others that our communities are vibrant and dynamic like their own makes it more real and understandable to people, and this is when people become more tolerant.”
Would you be interested in partaking in such a panel? You can get in contact with the LGBT+ Society at firstname.lastname@example.org, as they hope to host another in the future.