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Intersectionality: What It Means to Meredith Students

Photo courtesy of Spectrum

Intersectionality is a term that was created by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to explain how overlapping identities of race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and more impact a person’s life. More than 30 years later, intersectionality is more relevant than ever. For Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, their multiple identities shape their interactions with each community they are part of. Stigmas and stereotypes in both communities about the other can make it difficult for intersectional members to find their place.

People with intersecting identities find it important for others to acknowledge them. Amanda Duran, ‘23, explains that “not everyone has the same story and journey as you. One thing you hold similarly doesn’t mean you are going to experience the same things. It’s important to understand that some people are going to be put in different situations, some that aren’t always fair.”

Bliss Wells, ‘23, states that “whether it’s in school, a job, church or home, someone with intersecting identities wants to belong and have the same opportunities as everyone else. The more people who lean in to learn and change that, the closer we are to equity.”

Heudith Molina-Elizalde, a member of the class of '23 who is planning to transfer to ECU, says that “it’s important to understand intersecting identities because it allows us to shine lights on all aspects of a person's life.”

In terms of the personal implications of intersectionality, having overlapping identities plays an important role in how they perceive themselves and their purpose in life.

For Duran, her multiple identities play a significant role in her life. “It means everything to me,” she says. “It’s shaped me completely. I am the person I am today because of it.” Molina-Elizalde explains that their identities affirm their existence. “I am a person of many identities and I am proud of it all, even on days where I doubt myself and the imposter syndrome kicks in.”

In the LGBTQIA+ community, racial prejudice experienced by BIPOC members presents a different set of challenges not shared by white members. Molina-Elizalde notes that many vocal LGBTQIA+ members are white, which can make it difficult for BIPOC members to find their space and voice. However, they do believe that intersectional individuals' connection as marginalized people forms a unique understanding. “Most LGBTQIA+ support movements like BLM and show their allyship by educating themselves and others and introducing inclusive terminology.”

Wells expressed the same sentiment about the support BIPOC have received from the LGBTQIA+ community. When it comes to how BIPOC members are perceived, she explains that prejudice still exists. “Personally, I think there’s still quite a bit of racism within the LGBTQ community,” she says. “A community that should be all about accepting others for their differences sometimes falls short in actually accepting each other and loving beyond what they see.”

Duran mentions how the LGBTQIA+ community uses their platform to shed light on injustices affecting other groups. “June is Pride Month, but this June was different because the Black community and allies were fighting for people’s lives,” she says, referring to the Black Lives Matter protests that took place over the wrongful deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others who fell victim to police brutality.

Being LGBTQIA+ in BIPOC communities comes with a range of stigmas and stereotypes. Molina-Elizalde states that there was no conversation about sexuality in their household. “There’s this culture of machismo in Mexican households that creates a disconnect between parents and potential LGBTQA+ children,” they say. Duran acknowledges the longstanding bias present in BIPOC communities. “There’s some people who understand LGBTQ+ and some who don’t,” she says. “I think there is a lot of deep rooted bigotry pitting BIPOC communities against LGBTQ+ people.”

When it comes to coming out to their families, Molina-Elizalde and Duran have not. For Molina-Elizalde, they are not sure if their parents know but don’t feel the need to come out if their straight cisgender brothers do not. “I’ve never felt the need to come out. I have always been myself and whether or not I had the conversation of both my gender and sexual identities I was always open to expressing myself,” they say.

Duran explains that she hasn’t come out because of her current relationship with her boyfriend. Outside of her brother knowing, she doesn’t plan on telling the rest of her family. “If they did know I was bisexual, they would most likely react negatively. Homophobia is very alive in the Latinx community,” she says.

For Wells, her family seemed to already know and were supportive of her. Though she is grateful for this, she acknowledges that their positive reaction is not a common one for others coming out to their families. Many who come out to their families face the possibility of not being accepted or being cut off financially.

Though intersectionality adds to someone’s identity, it can also lead to identity erasure. For example, Molina-Elizalde feels that their gender identity is erased by stereotypes of what being gender queer should look like. “I’ve been told that maybe I’m ‘just a tomboy’ because there are times where I look more feminine or masculine.” They go on to say that doing so ignores their struggle with gender dysphoria, especially since it took leaving their hometown to express themself the way they wanted to. “Sometimes we struggle with dysphoria for years until we are finally safe.”

Duran’s experience with identity erasure comes from the perception of her racial identity. As a Mexican-American, she feels that she is never seen as enough of either. “I lived a double life for a long time because I wanted to be liked by my white American peers but that’s not who I am,” she explains. “I was raised by immigrants who instilled so many values into me that some don’t understand. I had to learn to value my roots and love my language again.”

How a person is perceived by those around them impacts how they feel about themselves. Wells says that “as a lesbian Black woman, some days or weeks can be difficult, some more so than others, but I don’t think you’ll ever regret being yourself. In a world that can feel like everything is against you, I hope you never regret choosing yourself and love.” Duran emphasizes, “Even if your family refuses to accept who you are, that does not take away your value of life. Your race and ethnicity don’t erase your gender or who you love.” Building community begins with recognizing the circumstances of every member, and understanding intersectionality is key in doing that.

By Aminah Jenkins, Staff Writer


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