Updated: Oct 3
Intersectionality is an essential framework for understanding ways marginalised people face complex layers of discrimination. But how can we all put it into practice to create a better world? We show you how...
We often think of oppression as occurring along a single axis, but none of us exist in a vacuum as gay, trans, Black or disabled - our personhood is composed of various intersecting traits and characteristics and it is in these very intersections that discrimination often multiplies. Understanding the diverse experiences of discrimination faced by multiply-marginalised individuals is crucial to building a more just world.
In the workplace this involves reframing Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives through the lens of intersectionality. By doing so, we can open pathways for every employee to advance in their professional journey.
In this article we’re taking you through the basics of this important concept with perspectives from members of the We Create Space Collective on how intersectionality affects their lives.
Part 1. Intersectionality In Theory
What is Intersectionality?
The concept of intersectionality was developed by Black civil rights advocate and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw and was first laid out in her 1989 paper "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics". It is a conceptual framework that recognizes and analyses the interconnected nature of various forms of discrimination and oppression, acknowledging that individuals can experience overlapping and intersecting systems of oppression based on their race, gender, class, sexuality, and other social identities. Crenshaw formed her theory of intersectionality as a way to frame the unique struggles faced by Black women as victims of both patriarchy and racism. Intersectionality continues to be an essential tool in understanding the struggles of multiply-marginalised people.
“Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.” - Kimberlé Crenshaw
Privileges & Marginalisations.
Sometimes critics of intersectionality misunderstand it as promoting a sense of victimisation in the multiply-marginalised, but this is not the case. Intersectionality asks us to realise that we all carry privileges and disadvantages in different aspects of our lives. It is important to remember that while some marginalised identities are visible to us, many of them are not, and so we should do our best to not make assumptions about those around us or pressure them to disclose information about their identities.
“I'm a non-binary trans man, neurodivergent (ADHD) and a Middle Eastern immigrant in Europe. My father was an abusive alcoholic who luckily left the family, so my mother raised us as a single parent. I am also white-passing, cis-passing, hetero-passing, able-bodied and physically fit, academically educated, and a European citizen. I was born into poverty, but my mother singlehandedly pulled us up into the middle class. My intersectionality, the weird and unlikely combination of privileges and discriminations that I experience, gives me a sort of clarity and a whole lot of empathy. I can clearly see how power is parcelled and distributed unjustly by society, and I know exactly how it feels to be on either side of that division.” - Eli Theodor
Privileges are not static, they may change throughout a person’s life. Eli’s changing wealth status may have afforded opportunities and upward social mobility through his childhood, but this was not always the case.
Understanding Intersectionality from a Holistic Perspective
“As a framework, intersectionality allows us to think holistically. Problems and challenges can become exaggerated in our minds and feelings when we focus on them, that is not to say that we shouldn't, but just to remind ourselves of the wider context, not for anyone else's benefit or to excuse poor behaviour, but simply relieve some of the tension we end up holding. It's tricky to explain, because it almost sounds like the worst reaction when someone shares a challenge, right - it almost sounds like, "Oh, my intersectionality helps me remind myself that it can be worse when things suck for me.", but it is not that simple, because the exploration of my own identity and what that gives me in my intimate internal dialogue is not that simple. But in any case, knowledge is power and intersectionality is a tool to help us gather knowledge about identity - our own and other people's - and fill in the spots of lack of awareness.” - Katya Veleva
As Katya explains, we can embrace intersectionality as a means to foster empathy, deepen our awareness, and expand our capacity for understanding the multifaceted nature of human experiences. By acknowledging the complexities of our own identities and those of others, we not only relieve tension but also pave the way for more inclusive and compassionate interactions, ultimately striving towards a more equitable world.
Finding Strength in our Intersections.
Intersectionality doesn't inherently imply a positive experience. That being said, living with multiple intersectional identities often results in an enhanced sense of empathy, as well as being able to tap into members of different communities for support. Belonging to a historically marginalised identity has been linked to positive outcomes such as increased cognitive empathy and intercultural competence. Finding your chosen family can be hard - but it’s especially so for those of us who are navigating multiple marginalised communities. When we do find our people however, the connections are all the more meaningful and can last a lifetime if we nurture them properly.
“My experiences as a queer, trans, nonbinary, neurodivergent, second-generation Chinese American (it's a lot of identities) have given me an incredibly valuable perspective on many different systems and how they impact people at the margins of the margins. They have also given me the honour of having built communities of similar people marginalized by the status quo who have been some of the strongest sources of mutual care, support, and radical love in my life.” - Lily Zheng
EXERCISE: Examining your own intersectionality.
Now that you understand what intersectionality is, let’s consider how it impacts you on a personal level. Take some time to answer the following questions, using the diagram below to spur your thoughts:
- What ways have you experienced marginalisation or been disadvantaged in your life?
- How would you have liked people to show up for you when struggling with those things?
- What types of privilege do you hold?
- How can you show up for people who don’t have that privilege?
Please note: This wheel is not inclusive of all identities. Feel free to explore any other identities that you feel are missing but hold particular importance to you.
Adapted from ccrweb.ca and Sylvia's Duckworth's Wheel of Power & Privilege
Part 2. Intersectionality In Practice
Intersectionality & Work.
Intersectionality isn’t just a rhetorical device or a tool for understanding the perspectives of others; by harnessing intersectional theory in real world contexts like the workplace we can begin to break down barriers impacting employees from marginalised communities. So how do intersectional challenges show up at work?
Hiring and Promotions: LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly those who are also people of colour, may face significant challenges in the hiring and promotion processes. This intersection of race and sexual orientation can result in disparities in job opportunities and career advancement.
Pay Disparities: Intersectionality also plays a role in wage gaps within the LGBTQ+ community. Studies have revealed that trans people, especially those of colour, often face substantial wage disparities due to both gender and racial discrimination.
Mental Health and Workplace Well-being: Those who have experienced past trauma related to discrimination, may require specific mental health support. Creating an inclusive workplace involves recognizing and addressing these unique mental health needs.
Safety and Harassment: Implementing comprehensive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies is essential to address these intersectional challenges.
Representation and Employee Resource Groups: Embracing diversity within LGBTQ+ employee resource groups (ERGs) by acknowledging intersectionality is crucial. This approach can greatly enhance membership engagement and participation in ERGs
Missing Cross-Cultural Career Development or Queer Leadership: Absence of comprehensive programs and resources aimed at nurturing a diverse and inclusive work environment.
Intersectionality & Violence
“Violence is not faced in the same way by everyone, we might think we know exactly the kind of violence someone faces because we may identify with one of their identities. But a trans sex worker has a very different experience of TERF* and SWERF* violence, as compared to a disabled trans person who has to also deal with ableism, as compared to an oppressed caste trans person, who has to deal with casteist oppression, transphobia and structural oppression that have framed their life experience. We may not be racist, casteist, hetero-patriarchal, or classist ourselves, but we do live in a world that lets those of us not in the most vulnerable position actively benefit from the social structure that is racist, casteist, hetero-patriarchal and classist. Intersectionality recognises that experience and lets us as people, respond to people in all their wholeness instead of seeing them through one lens, which is akin to cherry-picking only identities and stories that we are comfortable with, leaving so much unrecognised, making the fight for justice decentered from what we should aim for: solidarity across all struggles.” - Jo Krishnakumar
*TERF - Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism *SWERF - Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminism
As Jo explains, violence against LGBTQ+ individuals is not solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity but can be influenced by intersecting factors. For example, while transgender people across the board experience higher levels of violence than cisgender people, transfeminine people are murdered at significantly higher rates than transmasculine folk, over 96% of global transgender murder victims in 2021 were transfeminine. Victims are also disproportionately Black, migrants and/or sex workers. In this way, a white trans man and a Black trans woman experience oppression in very different ways despite both being transgender.
By making an effort to understand these complex dynamics and address violence in an intersectional manner, we can provide more effective support and allocate resources to those who need it the most.
Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community Intersectionally.
By adopting an intersectional lens, we ensure that our efforts are inclusive and responsive to the diverse experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals. This means recognizing the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people of colour, disabled LGBTQ+ individuals, LGBTQ+ immigrants or refugees, and other intersecting identities within the community. Through collaboration and empowerment, we work towards building an inclusive LGBTQ+ movement that leaves no one behind.
“My views and the way I navigate this world are undeniably informed by my culture, gender, sexuality, skin colour and religion. These identities are sometimes the way in which people see me first and often the way in which systems have treated me unfairly. If we don't consider and respect each other's intersectionalities then we're really only listening to half the story.” - Mufseen Miah
Fully embracing intersectionality means doing away with monolithic perceptions of what any one minority group ‘is like’ and accepting that we cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach when supporting LGBTQ+ people.
“We all deserve the same things but we need to acknowledge that every individual has different needs because of their intersectionality. We need to work towards normalizing creating space for the individual and providing the right tools to help in their personal growth.” - Aditya Sinha
Steps to Intersectional Allyship.
So how do we put this all into practice? Intersectional allyship involves actively supporting and standing in solidarity with LGBTQ+ individuals from different backgrounds and being considerate of how those individual circumstances have shaped their lives and needs.
You can start by engaging in dialogue, listening to their experiences, and affirming their identities. As always avoid making assumptions or speaking over them. Recognize that allyship is an ongoing process that requires humility, self-reflection, and a willingness to learn. Here are 5 steps to help you on your journey:
Educate Yourself: Instead of burdening your marginalised colleagues with teaching you about injustices, proactively seek out resources to fill gaps in your understanding. By going out of your way to do this work you illustrate genuine commitment to and care for those you are supporting.
Embrace Discomfort: Be prepared to make mistakes and have your perspective challenged. While uncomfortable, these are essential learning moments!
Self-Reflection: Recognize that everyone has biases, both conscious and unconscious. Being an ally involves examining how your biases may contribute to harm.
Listen Actively: Open yourself up to understanding without the need to be heard. Respect the vulnerability of those who choose to share details of their intersectional lived experiences. You never know what they might teach you about your own identity!
Take Meaningful Action: Utilize your privilege, resources, and platform to actively support the LGBTQ+ community. This includes promoting LGBTQ+ voices, supporting LGBGT+-owned businesses, and engaging in changing systems, such as advocating to change outdated workplace policies or implementing life-saving policies.
Continue your intersectional allyship education with more free WCS resources:
While you're here...
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