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    Managing LGBTQ+ Intersectional Identities

    By Eduardo Morales, Ph.D.–

    LGBTQ pioneers, by coming out of the closet and urging others to live authentic lives, have drawn attention to the importance of being open about one’s sexual identity. Although this strategy fostered a very active LGBTQ+ civil rights movement, it often neglected to include other types of identities. As a result, there has been a growing body of research in more recent years concerning the intersecting identities of LGBTQ+ individuals.

    Intersectionality may include a person’s ethnicity, race, religion, various expressions of gender, immigrant experience, generation, age, and much more. Coinciding with the growing awareness of intersectionality has been the evolution of the LGBTQ+ community itself, which now includes more letters in the acronym in order to embrace the various sexualities that differ from the heteronormative expressions commonly expected by general society. Broad-based social expectations often run counter to those who feel their life experience differs from the accepted norm. This places challenges on understanding strategies effective in managing the intersectionality of LGBTQ+ identities.

    In attempting to understand diversity and stigma, one theorist proposed that group differences involve being a visible minority compared to being an invisible minority. In 1963, Erving Goffman noted that the challenges varied, depending on which applied. For a visible minority, for example, the person is forced to manage various reactions that are discrediting and cause stigma.

    In contrast, those of an invisible minority need to manage the discrediting information in the form of commentaries and reactions about persons of the invisible minority status. They experience an implied and different form of stigma. By and large, most people presume a heterosexual preference at the exclusion of the realities of an LGBTQ+ community member. LGBTQ+ people are therefore often an invisible minority until they disclose their identity by coming out.

    In my peer-reviewed, published writings, I have proposed five identity states reflecting the different experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals with intersectional identities who experience more than one state simultaneously and may resort to maladaptive ways of coping.

    In one state, a person may deny that they experience stigma and oppression. In a second state, a person may identify as bisexual because they view being gay or lesbian as having an exclusive association of being white and privileged. There is a third state where conflict exists in prioritizing and choosing one part of themselves over the other. Being forced to choose fosters ambivalence, does not resolve the identity dilemma, and does not help in managing their intersectional identity. Consequently, various forms of anxiety and stress may result in this identity state.

    In a fourth state, the person develops a priority for identifying with one type of intersectionality construct over another. The usual resolution is to prefer one or more of their other minority status(es) over being LGBTQ+ in order to reduce the anxieties and stressors they experience.

    In the fifth state, the person develops a way to integrate their intersectional identities, since this is reflective of their individuality and life experience. Attention is focused on changing the world’s view of LGBTQ+ intersectionality in order to incorporate and accept multiple identities. Developing social supports and organizations that affirm LGBTQ+ intersectional identities is therefore extremely important for enhancing well-being and for changing societal biases that can lead to stigma and debilitating distress based on general misinformation and misunderstandings.

    The San Francisco Bay Area has numerous organizations and agencies affirming LGBTQ+ intersectional identities. Over the years, events like Pride Month include activities and parades. These events foster an appreciation for sexual diversity. Having specialized organizations and affirming events that embrace intersecting identities is critical in fostering a welcoming space and in promoting a better understanding of LGBTQ+ individuals. They can educate others while providing a home base and safety for LGBTQ+ people with intersectional identities.

    Every day I am amazed at how more visible and affirming people have become with mass media affirmative LGBTQ+ programming continuing to rise. Such efforts greatly help to change our social climate. Meanwhile, throughout other parts of the U.S., there is an attempt to aggressively eliminate stating any words referring to LGBTQ+. Hence, it is important now more than ever to affirm LGBTQ+ intersectional identities through education, dialogue, activism, and by engaging our voices in various ways.

    Eduardo Morales, PhD, is one of the founders of AGUILAS, where he serves as Executive Director. He is also a Professor Emeritus and retired Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Alliant International University and is the current Past President of the National Latinx Psychological Association.

    Published on July 28, 2022