Racists, sexist, bigots—Can Australia’s queer community really call itself inclusive?
Cait Kelly

23 Mar 2017 - 2:58 PM  UPDATED 23 Mar 2017 - 2:59 PM

“Do you eat meat?”

Rachael’s boss didn’t mean her dietary choice, he was asking - albeit crassly - for her sexual preference.

“I thought maybe it would be safe, because he was openly gay,” she tells SBS.

“Just the way he said it – it made me feel ashamed,” she says, continuing, “I nodded my head and he said ‘thank god, because all lesbians are crazy’. I was so disheartened because he was meant to be part of my community”.

Rachael’s experience is not unique. Not all of the queer community has embraced intersectional queer politics. Queers can be misogynistic. They can be racist, they can be transphobic, they can body shame and they can erase other people’s genders and sexualities. It hurts the community in a way that straight people can’t, because it comes from within.

Bigotry within the queer community often goes by a different name – lateral violence. The concept is used to explain minority-on-minority violence within developed nations, displaced violence that is directed at ones peers rather than ones true adversaries. Or, in other words – fighting against each other.

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Lateral violence, in its different forms, is prevalent within the queer community. Mill O’Sull - a youth worker in their local LGBTQIA+ community - says it’s not uncommon. “I’ve been sexually assaulted, publically humiliated and constantly taunted and shamed for my body on countless occasions by gay men,” they tell SBS. “Unfortunately we are not exempt from practicing the same oppressive frameworks that have historically ostracised us – and continue to do so.“

Lateral violence isn’t just directed at women, non-binary and genderqueer members of the community. It also plays on race, rearing its head on social media.

Dang Duy Minh Nguyen runs a blog called Racists of Grindr, which chronicles instances of racism on the hook-up app.

“In the gay community especially, there’s a culture of casual and very accepted racism in terms of racial preferences,” he says. “In a lot of peoples’ profiles you’ll see things like ‘no Asians or Indians’ or ‘not attracted to black people, just a preference’. It’s quite shocking the way they feel so comfortable talking about that sort of thing so openly and how little criticism they get for it.”

The community has slowly begun to have these conversations. When Minh Nguyen sees a profile with racism in the user’s bio, he will often message them with questions, in an effort to appeal to decency. Racists of Grindr is littered with these attempts. In another image, shared from another blog – a closeted gay man is shown. 

‘Not out.’ His profile reads, before he uses intense racial slurs. No attempt has been made to hide his identity.

“I guess in terms of Grindr discretion, putting screenshots of someone’s profile up on the internet isn’t [discreet, but] personally I don’t think its much of an outing. Especially since the audience for this type of Tumblr post are likely to be queer themselves anyway.’ Minh Nguyen tells SBS.

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“No one’s got the right to out anyone without their consent,” he concedes. “Ideally, you refute and expose their behaviour without exposing them—to expose peoples’ behaviour without compromising their safety.”

This acts as an example of the rift. When bigotry runs rife, the sense of LGBTQIA+ community can easily get distorted. The prevalence of lateral violence across Australia’s queer spaces cannot be disputed. But why does it happen?

Visibility, awareness and education are all civil equality buzzwords, yet at the end of the day – a lack of these is spurring bigotry across the community.

Angus grew up in Launceston, a small Tasmanian city where he only knew a handful of other gay men. He says that knowing only the experience of homosexual men led him to adopt a sexist mentality towards queer women.

“It just seemed that in the school yard or on the street it would normally be people yelling profanities directed at gay men,” he says. “I think in the past I used to just think it was a separate experience for a woman coming out. I thought women could get away with a lot more than men [when it came to] expressing their sexuality.”

“Because of that I never really considered at that point we were in the same boat or that we were part of the same community,” he says.

Within some queer circles, intersectional politics that calls out racism, sexism and erasure has become the norm, but discussions around bigotry remain complex, with individuals feeling ostracised for expressing their opinions.

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Corinne - who identifies as a cis lesbian - had recently moved from America when a friend took her to a queer night.

“I came out and we got into a conversation and I expressed my views on the trans community,” she tells SBS. In conversation, Corinne had admitted that she wasn’t attracted to trans people.

“I don’t feel like I’m transphobic at all,” she says. “I don’t have a problem hanging out with trans people, I’m not looking round and judging. Some people in the community hear your views on these issues and they start to judge you [and assume you’re] transphobic.”

Corinne doesn’t see her personal preference as bigotry, just a natural manifestation of her sexuality, and notes that this incident made her feel “shunned” and like she “wasn’t welcome in that community”. So do Corinne’s views count as  lateral violence, even if it is unintentional?  Within the LGBTQIA+ community, many feel that expressing no sexual desire toward any specific group is bigotry masquerading as sexual preference.

The traditional sense of community says ‘we are here, we are queer and there is room for all of us.’ Discrimination only divides, pitting parts of the community against each other. With the prevalence of Lateral violence in our queer spaces, can we still call ourselves a community?

Yes, says O’Sull: “Lateral violence is one of the greatest threats we face, but with guidance, education, patience and understanding we can absolutely overcome it. We’ve overcome worse before, we can do it again.”

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