Fighting Transphobia and Biphobia Within the LGBT+ Community

By Jessica Sutton.
Edited by Patrick McTague.

Pride month is a time for celebration, reflection, and activism for LGBT+ rights. But when we march in pride parades, are we really marching for everyone? Trans women and bisexual women still experience significant levels of discrimination, and not only from society at large. Bigotry is also present within the LGBT+ community itself, as seen by the growing incidents of transphobic protests at Pride.[1] It’s beautiful that Pride is a celebration. But above all, Pride began as a riot. A fight for rights. And there are huge improvements that can be made inside queer spaces to make the community more inclusive and revolutionary with respect to everyone’s rights. So, here are three things we should be rioting about this Pride!

1. Erasure of trans women from queer history

With a lot of media about LGBT+ rights focusing on cis white gay men as the leaders of the movement (looking at you, Stonewall 2015), you’d be forgiven for not knowing that trans and lesbian women of colour have been among the key drivers of change. Trans women, lesbians, drag queens, and women of colour were the headliners of many significant moments in queer history. For example, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were central in the Stonewall riots. Marsha was a black trans woman, excluded from queer history for decades because of her gender, race, HIV+ status, and life as a sex worker and drag queen. Whether or not Marsha did indeed throw the first brick which sparked the Stonewall riots, there is no arguing that without her advocacy, Pride would not have evolved into the iconic celebration it is today. Yet, her influence is only now starting to be recognised, and her suspicious death at the age of 46 remains unsolved.

You can learn more about Marsha’s life on this episode of our podcast, Great Woman Theory.

At a similar time, Sylvia Rivera was fighting for the gay rights movement to be intersectional and inclusive. She criticised the movement’s focus on liberating white, cis, middle class gay men and lesbians. Her iconic “Y’all Better Quiet Down” speech was delivered to a booing crowd, as she called for trans people to be better recognised at Pride. The stifled influence of both women, and the resistance to their ideas, demonstrates gatekeeping and marginalisation within the LGBT+ community itself.

2. Exclusion of trans women from the LGBT+ community

Exclusion of trans women from queer history sadly extends to instances of exclusion from the LGBT+ community today. Prejudice against trans people, and trans women in particular, continues to haunt queer spaces. A good deal of this bigotry has come from radical lesbian groups who believe that the increasing recognition and participation of trans women at Pride is an attack on their rights. The idea of lesbians being “under attack” erupted in the UK in 2018, when lesbian group “Get the L Out” protested at the London Pride Parade, obstructing the marchers.[2] Their banners proclaimed: “Transactivism Erases Lesbians”. She’s Right has already published an article on TERF ideology, and I don’t propose to repeat much of that information here. But in short, “Get the L Out” proposed lesbians founding their own movement, where their concerns about trans “activism”, “forced transitioning” of lesbians, and the Gender Recognition Act 2004 could be aired more freely. It must be said that these women make up a very small proportion of the lesbian community, most of whom treat trans women as their sisters. But that small minority of TERFs is very vocal.

Sadly, this is not a new problem. Pride marches and Pride month were touted as an opportunity for everyone to be unapologetically themselves, but the L and G of LGBT seemed to reap the benefits of that far more than others. While there is definitely some erasure of lesbians from queer history, trans people are in no way responsible. The answer is not to oppress trans women who want to be accepted as women, and some as lesbians. The answer is to work together for the good of everyone in the rainbow community. Trans women belong here.

3. Discrimination against bisexual women in the LGBT+ community

Bisexual people certainly cop more than their fair share of bigotry, and bisexual women experience this bigotry in a different way to bisexual men. On the one hand, bias from the straight community means that bisexual women are hyper-visible. This prejudice focuses on disbelieving, fetishising, and denigrating women who identify as bisexual. This likely ties into the view that women are not complete without male attention, and therefore two women together are an enticement for men, rather than an independent relationship. The stereotype that women are bisexual for “attention”, indicates that women only perform attraction to other women for the pleasure of men. Many straight men fetishise stereotypically attractive women in performative sexual situations. But real, emotional, romantic, and sexual connection between women is still ignored or considered deviant.

Bias against bisexual women within the LGBT+ community can be just as harmful and hurtful, if not more so, as it comes from a community that prides itself on being inclusive. One problematic view is that bisexuality itself, simply does not exist: people are either gay or straight. If a bisexual woman dates a man, she may be criticised as “pretending” to be queer and infiltrating queer spaces. If she dates a woman, her bisexual identity may be criticised as a “phase”; a stepping stone until she admits to herself that she is a lesbian. This is bisexual erasure, meaning that issues facing bisexual people are often excluded from debates about LGBT+ rights.[3] They are not seen as legitimate compared to other sexualities and identities. Some lesbians have even described bisexual women as “anti-feminist” due to their attraction to cisgender men and supposed adherence to traditional gender roles.[4] These views are inescapably bigoted. Bisexual people deserve to be validated and respected, and they should never feel uncomfortable asserting their place in the community.

What to do?

Nothing should detract from Pride being a momentous time. It is the expression of a struggle spanning many years and the celebration of so many lives. But the community is not perfect. Inclusivity is, and always will be, an ongoing and important challenge. We all need to do the work. Bisexual women and trans women are integral parts of the community, and they need to be treated as such. Intersectional feminism celebrates, protects, and fights for all genders and sexualities: lesbian, bisexual, transgender and others. Remember those people the next time you march in a Pride parade. And remember that until we all have equal rights and recognition, we cannot stop the fight.




[4] JM Rodriguez Queer Politics, Bisexual Erasure : Sexuality at the Nexus of Race, Gender and Statistics, 169–182.

Photo by Tim Samuel from Pexels

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