This Is What It Actually Means to Have Straight Privilege, Because It’s Not Just About Acknowledging Your Privilege and Sitting On Your Hands / by Jennifer Chan

Yesterday, I made a video on an Instagram story and tweeted my thoughts on an article that proclaims LGBT people can overcome heterosexual privilege.

At first, I thought, “Great ­— a problem I’ve been dealing with all my life!” And then, upon clicking the post, that the proposed solution was nothing more than, “consider your lifestyle,” and, “there are savings to be had just going from a 0% savings rate to a 5% savings rate.”

I obviously don’t speak on behalf of the entire community. I also don’t speak on behalf of poor or working queer individuals. But as a queer woman of colour who has a lot of feels about a community I’m proudly part of, here are some things that need to be shared:

  • Heterosexual privilege is not having to worry about coming out to your family and potentially be kicked out of your home.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not having to worry about coming out to your friends and hoping they won’t start misconstruing all your future demonstrations of platonic intimacy with them.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not having to worry about coming out to your coworkers and hoping that dynamics in the workplace doesn’t change.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not having to worry about coming out repeatedly every single time you change jobs, make new friends or meet random strangers who want to know about your partner.
  • Basically, heterosexual privilege is not having to worry about coming out over and over again until you die.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that every year, up to 1.6 million youth experience homelessness in the U.S. 40% of them identify as LGBTQ+, although it’s estimated that LGBTQ+ youth only make up 7% of the population.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that 46% of homeless LGBTQ+ youth ran away because of family rejection of their sexual orientation, 43% were forced out by their parents and 32% faced sexual, physical or emotional abuse at home.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not recognizing the name Tyler Clementi.
  • Heterosexual privilege is forgetting that being caught engaging in homosexual behaviour is still illegal in some parts of the world.
  • Heterosexual privilege is viewing Pride as just a fun party without so much as realizing the event first started as a riot to condemn the police raid at Stonewall Inn.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not knowing what Stonewall was.
  • Heterosexual privilege is living in Toronto and not knowing what the Toronto bathhouse raids were.
  • Heterosexual privilege is living in Toronto and being angry at BLM for stalling Toronto’s Pride Parade in 2016 and accusing them of taking space from others (when some of the co-founders are queer).
  • Heterosexual privilege is feminism lite and selectively not reading any feminist theory written by queer feminists of colour.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that 33% of LGBTQ+ youth have attempted suicide in comparison to 7% of youth in general.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that over half of LGBTQ+ students (47% of GB men and 73% of LB women) have thought about suicide.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in 2010, 47% of trans youth in Ontario had considered suicide and 19% attempted suicide in the prior year.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that LGBTQ+ youth are 4x more likely to attempt suicide then heterosexual peers.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that youth who have been rejected by families for being queer are 8+ times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in 2011, 49% of trans students, 33% of lesbian students and 40% of gay students have experienced sexual harassment in school.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in the U.S., 42% of queer youth say the community in which they live in is not accepting to LGBTQ+ people.Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in the U.S., LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely as their peers to be physically assaulted, kicked or shoved at.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in the U.S., 26% of LGBTQ+ youth say that their biggest problems are not being accepted by family, bullying at school and a fear to be out/open.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in the U.S., approximately 73% of LGBTQ+ youth state they are more honest online about themselves than in the real world.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in the U.S. 92% of LGBTQ+ youth say they hear negative messages about being LGBTQ. The primary sources are school, online and their peers.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not needing to be selective as to where you go for vacation because there are no laws in the world that criminalize heterosexual relationships.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in Canada half of transgender individuals earn $15,000 or less each year, despite that 71% have some level of post-secondary education.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in Canada only 37% of trans people are employed full-time, while in the U.S. trans people experience double the rate of unemployment compared to the general population.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that, in some cases, female-to-male trans workers earn more post-transition, male-to-female trans workers can see their earnings drop by almost a third.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in the U.S., trans people are nearly 4x more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 a year in comparison to the general population.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in the U.S., 47% of trans people report that they have been fired, not hired, denied a promotion or experienced an adverse situation at work of being trans or non-gender conforming.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in the U.S., 47% of trans people report experiencing sexual assault at least once in their lifetime.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in the U.S., 39% of trans people report serious psychological stress, which is 8x higher than the rate of the average American.
  • Heterosexual privilege is not realizing that in the U.S, trans people are 5x more likely than the general population of HIV infection,
  • Heterosexual privilege is not experiencing the cognitive dissonance of wanting to choose a high-paying occupation but also feeling obligated to pursue a lower-paying occupation such as a community organizer, social worker or teacher, in order to help out your community.
  • Heterosexual privilege is having an entire personal finance conference about women in finance and not once speak about issues that face queer women.
  • Heterosexual privilege is acknowledging your heterosexual privilege but failing to donate your time, money or energy into improving the quality of life for queer people.

We can learn a few lessons from this article.

First and foremost, poor and working queer people need to be involved in these discussions. I want to learn how to overcome straight privilege from queer people. I don’t care for learning about how to overcome straight privilege from a self-identified cis-straight person.  

Second, self-identified straight people need to undertake more research into the complexities of privilege before they talk about it with any sort of authority. What helped formulate your thinking? What books do you read? What articles do you read? What critical theory do you read? Without learning about your privilege from members of marginalized communities, your knowledge becomes limited to your lived experiences. That doesn’t cut it. The least you can do is spend a weekend teaching yourself this stuff. It’s important.

Third, acknowledging one’s privilege is a pivotal first step — but it’s only the first step. Radical systemic change involves sustained action. Volunteer your time. Donate your money. Shop at queer-owned businesses. Sign petitions. Tell other people to sign petitions. Fight for raising the minimum wage. Join a movement. Use your platform to promote policies, programs, activists, organizations, etc. that are helping build up their community. You’re not a de facto ally just because you have some sort of self-awareness. That’s baseline.

Sources:

https://egale.ca/backgrounder-lgbtq-youth-suicide/
https://www.hrc.org/youth-report/view-and-share-statistics
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2017/03/29/homeless-rates-for-lgbt-teens-are-alarming-heres-how-parents-can-change-that/?utm_term=.a3251c81d582
http://www.macleans.ca/society/for-transgender-women-the-pay-equity-gap-is-even-wider/