Dialogue in LGBTQ+ Liberation:
Past, Present, and Hopeful Future
The history of the LGBTQ+ community is underlined with disparity, hate, and divisiveness.
Disclaimer: As a self-identified gay man, I reclaim the previous slur “queer” and will be using this term throughout the context of this paper. Realizing that not everyone in the community shares this same sentiment, I wanted to make this distinction apparent before readers began reading. Aside from the prominent physical abuse, queer folk faced deeper issues rooted from the same poison; isolation. Unfortunately, these are lingering issues that persist into the present day. In the past, being part of the LGBTQ+ community was a crime, forcing queer folk into the closet.
Although many states have progressed past these conditions in the present day, being gay is still criminalized in many states today. Queer rights have undoubtably come a long way, but much more needs to be done before equal rights can truthfully be claimed. Isolation has separated a loving community into the shadows of shame. However, dialogue has rebuilt this community back together and paved the road towards queer liberation. Dialogue has greatly progressed the momentum for gay rights, both socially and legally. From uniting a segregated community, to spearheading movements, dialogue has been the ever-present, strong base.
Stages of Queer Liberation
The journey towards queer liberation can be categorized into three overall stages, community building, policy change, and finally social change management. Dialogue has been the foundation for momentum throughout all three stages and a vital component that will continue to act as the catalyst in the movement for equal rights. Throughout all stages, dialogue is synonymous with engagement and conversations between communities of people to strengthen bonds. Different regions and states are at various stages of the timeline. New York City will be the example used throughout this publication as a result of having the highest queer population globally (Gates 2006). This publication concerns itself with the power of dialogue in the LGBTQ+ community at each stage, and how it continues to be the driving force of change.
Stage 1: Community Building
“I am proud that I found the courage to deal the initial blow to the hydra of public contempt” – Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
The first stage, community building, focuses on the initial formation of a queer community in a region that is unaccepting. Prior to any historical queer movement, homosexuality was unanimously accepted as wrong, ultimately marginalizing queer folk into the closet. Seeing as homosexuality is not a visible minority, individuals that identify with the community can live a pretentious life to avoid punishment. The deeper issue rooted in this pretentious life is the lack of community.
Individuals had little to no indicators that identified others as queer, furthering their fear and isolation. Even though it was very likely to interact with members from the community in everyday life, it was unlikely to be shared, in fear of punishment. As a result, many members of the community isolated this aspect of their life. In theory, it’s impossible to build any sense of community if all queer folk act in this manner. This all changed with the initial introduction of dialogue in the community.
Dialogue holds many meanings throughout the journey of queer liberation. At this stage it means bravery; the ability to authentically express oneself in exchanges that serve as a foundation of community. “There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it’s now okay to express ourselves publicly. We make that day by doing things publicly until it’s simply the way things are” (Tammy Baldwin 2013). Despite the social norms and laws put in place, queer folk have always found a way to connect and express themselves. From underground gay bars in New York, to cruising in the woods at night, queer folk will scour for a sense of community. All it takes is one queer person to begin speaking out. Although greatly chastised, this dialogue sends a signal to an isolated community that they aren’t alone. This simple dialogue leads to additional queer folk utilizing dialogue to their advantage, trusting close friends, attempting to talk to potential others, forming small, secretive circles. All this community building is rooted in dialogue. Dialogue acts as the first mover; the first blow to the iron barrier of isolation.
New York is an ideal example to examine the timeline of stages. Prior to the Stonewall Riots in 1969, New York exhibited traits of community building. Using dialogue as a means of connection, queer folk created an entire underground community. Facing police raids, harassment, and other acts of hate, this underground community was a persistent oasis that strived off communication (History 2017). Had it not been for brave dialogue among this community, it’s unknown where queer rights would stand today. New York is the birthplace for LGBTQ+ rights, for it was in these underground communities where dialogue connected an isolated community like never before.
Stage 2: Policy Change
“It is absolutely imperative that every human being’s freedom and human rights are respected, all over the world."
– Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir
The second stage, policy change, concerns itself with formal movements that advocate for legal rights of the community. In this stage, dialogue is the freedom of expression that unites a community and assembles them towards a common goal. Although protests and riots are essential in propelling the timeline, the entire foundation for these movements is based on dialogue. In stage two, an underground community has been established; however, safe spaces cease to exist in. Queer folk are met with an abundance of retaliation outside their community, such as the police force. Historically, queer folk have utilized dialogue to band together, communicate, and assemble to protest for their rights. Police raids have been recorded as early back as 1903, while queer folk have, such as Emma Goldman, have been actively speaking out since 1910 (Brittanica 2020) (IN 2020). Had it not been for these individuals, it’s evident queer rights wouldn’t be as far progressed as they are today.
The Stonewall Riots are the most renowned protest for queer rights and is considered to mark the beginning of the queer rights movement. Following an unexpected police raid in an underground gay bar in New York, 1969, the police were met with retaliation from queer folk that resulted in six days of riots (History 2017). Black and transgender individuals were noted to be the leaders of these riots and commence the second stage towards equality. “The spirit that emerged outside a Mafia-run bar in 1969 became the pulse of the gay community and inspired not just an annual parade but ways to express gay pride in individual lives. Stonewall happens every day” (Ann Bausum 2016). Within two years following Stonewall, gay rights groups were established in every major city in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. The following year, 1970, spawned the first ever Pride parades in the United States and parts of Europe (Armstrong and Crage 2006). The Stonewall riots were more than just riots, they were symbolic expressions. It was a contagious spirit for the community, and they didn’t want to lose the spark of inspiration.
Policy change is an important milestone for every civil rights movement, for it’s a monumental step in the intended direction. With that being said, policy change is far from the end of the fight. Enacting laws does not necessitate proper acceptance and facilitation; and passing a law so controversial is bound to be met with resistance. For example, the Civil Rights Act in 1964 was a law meant to free black individuals from slavery by outlawing discrimination based on race and colour (History 2010). In theory, this law would mean there is equal opportunity for all races. However, many activists, such as Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, agree that racism is still very present in present society, from police brutality to systemic racism (Knowles-Carter 2020). It’s one thing to enact laws, while another to actively believe and adhere to them. This logic applies to LGBTQ+ rights. Although there have been significant policy changes towards the queer community, such as America’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, these policies are met with an abundance of retaliation. Dialogue in the context of change management is a potential solution through these troubling times.
Stage 3: Social Change Management
“Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.” – Barbara Gittings
The third stage, social change management, deals with the use of dialogue to change social norms of queer folk. Similar to racism, queer rights won’t be accepted overnight following new policies. Dialogue is needed, more than ever, to continue the conversation of queer rights and shift the social norms of how individuals view queer folk. From correcting the use of a hateful slur, to educating others of queer history, dialogue is underlying solution to furthering the acceptance of queer rights. This is also why a strong sense of community is essential for the movement towards equal rights, for it is within communities that history and experiences are frequently shared. By engaging in meaningful conversation, being educated on queer history, and integrating the LGBTQ+ community in the everyday lives of society, populations are able to engage all demographics into the dialogue and adjust perceptions. In this stage, dialogue is present at every level, from the state to the individual.
Although being the birthplace of LGBTQ+ rights, the New York queer community continues to face discrimination. As recent as 2019, a transgender woman by the name of Lexi was stabbed to death in Harlem, New York (Human Rights Campaign n.d.). She is one of the countless queer individuals that experiences discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, which unfortunately in this case resulted in death. Dialogue is one of the many solutions that can be utilized in this case to enact social change management in a positive manner. In addition, dialogue can act as the underlying glue that enables the success of alternate solutions. Realizing there is no definite timeline, social change management is essential towards normalizing the existence and presence of queer individuals within society.
Globally, queer rights vary depending the state and region. While places like New York are powering through stage three, in other parts of the world, such as Egypt, it is still a crime to identity as queer (United Nations 2018). In some cases, such as El Salvador, hate crimes towards queer folk are frequent. El Salvador reported an increase of hate crime related to the LGBTQ+ community in the past decade, despite homosexuality being decriminalized since 1822 (Washington Blade 2019). To combat this growing predicament, over 100 states have pledged to address violence and discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation within their respective states as of 2017 (United Nations 2016). It’s important to realize the scope that dialogue plays within this stage. Whether it’s international organizations furthering equal rights or simply educating your neighbour about the community’s history, everyone can play a role in shaping a positive future.
No matter which stage of the timeline a region resides, dialogue will always be the underlying foundation towards creating inclusive spaces. Although different states are at different stages of the timeline, it is important for developed communities, such as New York and Toronto, to share their experiences and gain momentum for others. In addition, it’s important to cherish queer history, for queer literature has historically been erased on numerous occasions. For instance, on May 6th, 1933, Nazis set lgbtq+ communities back by burning down the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, a German library containing queer books that helped pioneer rights across Europe (Diavolo 2017). Despite some history may be lost, the LGBTQ+ community has always found a way to connect and continue sharing their experiences. By preserving LGBTQ+ dialogue, states will be able to navigate this three-stage journey more peacefully.
Overall, it is evident that present day society is more ideal for queer folk than in recent history. In an unaccepting society, queer folk have constantly persisted, persevered, and managed to thrive as a community. Yet, although there is much to celebrate, there is also much to be done. “As long as my people don't have their rights across America, there's no reason for celebration,” states Martha P. Johnson, the renowned black, transgender individual known for throwing the first brick at Stonewall (Rodriguez 2020). Through every phase, from beginning to end, dialogue is the fundamental characteristic that drives momentum. While some states are nearing the end of phase three in upholding equal rights, others have barely scratched the beginning of phase one. By utilizing dialogue as the foundation for progress, all states may tackle this global issue at their own pace. Dialogue has continuously progressed the rights of queer individuals and will continue to prevail in the future. In a world where staying connected has become easier than ever, dialogue will persist as the foundation for change.
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Meet Matteo Scurci
Heyo! My name is Matteo Scurci, and I’m a fourth year Finance Specialist and Economics Major at the University of Toronto with a passion for equality and change management. These passions are what led me to join UofMosaic as a Fellow, allowing me to become part of a network of astounding individuals that share my beliefs.
At UofMosaic, I’ve been fortunate enough to develop my emotional intelligence, broaden my horizons, and collaborate with other Fellows to expose the power of dialogue. As someone that identifies with the LGBTQ+ community, I’ve always prioritized my values throughout my personal and professional life. That is why I’ve decided to dedicate my research paper to the importance of dialogue in the LGBTQ+ community. Though analyzing the history and current state of the community, my paper leaves readers with a better understanding of the power dialogue and how it can be utilized for positive, future change.
My paper reflects the UofMosaic’s core competencies of promoting respectful dialogue and reducing conflict to enact positive change, which aligns to their themes of conflict resolution, diversity & inclusion, and global citizenship. By categorizing LGBTQ+ liberation into three defined stages, my hope is that readers use this theory towards more actionable change. I hope you enjoy!