by Mary Griggs
Anyone who has been an activist for social justice knows that achieving change requires forming alliances. When those seeking equality are few in number, alliances become even more crucial.
The numbers of the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in proportion to the general population is fairly small. Most modern studies examining the prevalence of LGB orientation claim that less that 5% of the population identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. The numbers can get higher—up to 15% of the population—when same-sex attraction or experiences (rather than identity) are measured. Further, even the most liberal of estimates suggest that transgender individuals make up only 0.2% of the population; more conservative estimates suggests the incidence is far rarer than that.
One of the most constructive ways for minority groups to build alliances is by forming umbrella groups. The LGBT umbrella is an example of where several marginalized groups that share similar concerns have banded together to work on their mutual issues. While there are major differences (ie, sexual orientation having nothing to do with gender identity), LGBT individuals are discriminated against for similar reasons and homophobia and transphobia are very much intertwined.
Those with power will never simply give equal rights without a fight. They know that it is in their best interest to keep their opposition fractured. Once they manage to separate some from the herd it is easy to then pick off the rest. Worse, they can drive wedges so we dissociate from each other (the lesbians and gays against the bisexuals and them all against the T’s).
We can’t let them divide us. We are stronger together and even stronger once we seek out other potential alliances from those who don’t share our experiences but are also working for social justice. We can ally with rape and domestic violence activists against intimate partner abuse and hate crimes. We can ally with unions against work place discrimination. We can ally with disability activists and fat activists to challenge the cultural belief that certain bodies are “better,” more “natural,” or more valid than others. We can ally with educators against school bullying. We can ally with social workers on adoption issues. We can ally with those who have been criminalized by society (e.g., sex workers, prisoners and the homeless), because far too many of our LGBT youth are members of those groups.
Oppressions intersect and once we recognize this, the more social justice work we can do.