Opinion

The first time I was sexually assaulted was in an LGBTQ+ nightclub: A call for intersectionality

*Trigger warning*: sexual assault, racism, transphobia, homophobia

The night before Pride in an Amsterdam LGBT+ club I was sexually assaulted. My friend and I had travelled to the other side of Amsterdam to go to this club. We had free drinks as part of our ticket, glitter on our faces and were ready to dance. We made a couple of friends as the night went on, and after one complimented our glitter, I offered to apply some to his face. Word was spreading, and a line of gays formed because wherever glitter is, the gays will surely follow. The lights were pretty and my friend and I felt euphoric in this intoxicated, shimmering paradise. In the middle of the night, one of the guys we were with reached over to cup my friend’s breast, then quickly moved on to mine and squeezed. It was over in a flash. The glitter caught the light on his face as he looked at us and shrugged. He leaned into us both to say ‘I was just checking’… and went back to dancing. My friend and I turned to each other … and laughed.

I have had many wonderful experiences in queer spaces and gay nightclubs since, but that was my first.

This experience has not stopped me enjoying LGBT+ clubs or nights out with my friends. I didn’t even consider it to be ‘sexual assault’ for a long time. The guy was gay. He had told us he was gay. He was not interested in either of us sexually. But it did leave me feeling icky. I didn’t feel like I should feel that way, and I couldn’t put my finger on why I did – after all, he was gay. He didn’t seem to mean any harm. It wasn’t as if he was going to follow us home.The thing is, the LGBT+ community doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Just because someone has experience as part of a marginalised community, doesn’t mean they aren’t the oppressors of other groups. It doesn’t mean they aren’t misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, ableist or hold any number of other prejudices.

I don’t think he meant any harm that night, but nonetheless he grabbed my breast without my consent, and in that moment, he played into centuries of female oppression. He played into a society that views women’s bodies as property, something for men to touch when it pleases them, without consequence. He excused his actions with the flippant remark ‘just checking’. By all means, he can explore his attraction to women (or lack thereof) but it needs to be with consent. He seemed to think there wasn’t a problem with what he was doing. For a long time afterwards, I didn’t think there was a problem because he told us he was gay.But being gay doesn’t give you a free pass. Being part of the LGBT+ community does not give you some kind of authorisation to avoid challenging other prejudices. If you are part of an oppressed group, you can still be the oppressors of others.

This is why there is a growing need for intersectionality, both outside and within the LGBT+ community. Men need to be aware of their actions, need to be aware of the position of women in society. Helena Kennedy wrote in her incredible book Eve Was Shamed: How British Justice is Failing Women that ‘while women are increasingly vocal and are refusing to be muzzled about the violence and abuse they experience, the extent of such crimes is not in decline’.[1] Statistics show two women a week are killed by a spouse or partner.[2] The police receive one phone call per minute concerning domestic violence (of which 89% are about a woman being abused by a man).[3] Every seven minutes a woman is raped. There is limited research into specifically trans women’s experiences of sexual violence in Britain today (a whole other problem in itself) however even with the limited evidence that has been gathered, trans women are at a heightened risk of domestic violence – more than twice as likely to experience domestic abuse from a partner than cis women.[4]

In the same way, white members of the LGBT+ community -myself included- need to educate ourselves on the profound racism that still permeates queer spaces. With the Black Lives Matter marches during Pride month, there has been a greater and necessary focus on the queer community understanding our history, and the key figures that have contributed to securing our rights like Marsha P. Johnson. Stonewall has reported that 51% of BAME LGBT+ people face discrimination specifically from within the community[5] further demonstrating that queer spaces may not necessarily be the safe haven for BAME as it is for white people.

The growing number of LGBT+ refugees fleeing persecution from countries that do not accept people for who they are and who they love, further demonstrates a need to understand the inextricable link between British colonialism and the LGBT+ community, disproportionately affecting BAME members of the queer community. There is a direct correlation between countries which belong to the Commonwealth, which have historically been under British rule, and countries that still have homophobic, biphobic and transphobic legislature in their constitutions. 25% of the world’s population currently live in a country belonging to the Commonwealth, however, they make up a disproportionately large 50% of the countries that still criminalise homosexuality. [6] Countries like Uganda, where an openly gay monarch, King Mwanga II actively opposed Christianity and colonialism at the same time Britain was actively sentencing gay men to death.[7] Yet in Britain today, gay marriage is legal; yet in Uganda homosexual sex is punishable by life imprisonment. To top all of this off, Britain – a country that exported these homophobic laws to begin with – has made a ‘hostile environment’ for people escaping the persecution that has been directly caused by Britain’s imperialist agenda.

We need to more openly acknowledge the variety of discrimination in the LGBT+ community. We must see the intersectionality of systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, xenophobia and how they operate within the queer community – and most importantly, work collectively to dismantle these. We must see how forms of oppression within the queer community itself, for example transphobia or bi-sexual and non-binary erasure are also our battles to fight, even if we don’t belong to those specific communities. Further to this, we must not use our own identities to justify an attack on others (looking at you, LGB alliance). Addressing these different forms of oppression within the LGBT+ community should not divide us – instead it will allow us to create a future in which queer spaces are accepting and safe for everyone.

LGBT+ refugees deserve the welcome and protection of the queer community.

POC deserve a space where they are celebrated and not subject to discrimination or violent forms of racial abuse.

Women deserve their boundaries and consent respected always. No one, no matter their sexual preferences, is entitled to violate those boundaries in the name of ‘just checking’.

This future will not divide us but will take us back to our roots. After all, the LGBT+ community has always been about celebrating the parts of us that wider society has unfairly marginalised and oppressed. Moving forward, we need to ensure this is a celebration for everyone.

[1] Helena Kennedy, Eve was Shamed: How British Justice is Failing Women, 2018.  

[2] Helena Kennedy, Eve was Shamed: How British Justice is Failing Women, 2018. 

[3] https://www.amnesty.org.uk/violence-against-women

[4] https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/stonewall_and_nfpsynergy_report.pdf p6

[5] https://www.stonewall.org.uk/cy/node/79551

[6] https://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/news/african-sexuality-and-legacy-imported-homophobia

[7] https://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/news/african-sexuality-and-legacy-imported-homophobia