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What ‘LGBT community’?

Think twice before talking about ‘LGBT community’, according to new study.

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Research from Sheffield Hallam University highlighted how a lot of LGBT people felt excluded when the phrase “LGBT community” is used, since it suggests that all LGBT people belong to one homogenous group. The research – done by Eleanor Formby, a senior research fellow at the university – involved 600 LGBT participants from across UK; it is elaborated in “Exploring LGBT spaces and communities”.

Writing about the research, Formby said that she is “not sure that ‘community’ is a very suitable word for such a diverse group of people… The term ‘LGBT community’ can be understood in many different ways, and can mean many different things to many different people.”

The concept of “community” is often experienced as an actual physical space (e.g. places frequented by LGBT people, such as bars and clubs) or a virtual space (e.g. online, or even in an “imagined sense”, so long as LGBT people were thought to share “something”). Because many often had fears or negative expectations of wider society, “they invest in the idea of an LGBT community – as somewhere where they could feel safe and understood.”

However, Formby’s research noted that the term “does not capture differences and complexities of experience. It can also wrongly suggest some form of shared experience, which for some people can be frustrating because it seems to ignore their experiences of inequality or discrimination within – or exclusion from – so-called ‘LGBT community’.”

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To start, the acronym “LGBT” itself excludes other sexual minorities, such as those who identify as queer or intersex. As such, “some people feel less welcomed within this acronym. Even those who do feature within these four letters – notably bisexual and trans people – can often feel marginalized by lesbian and gay people, and that they don’t really belong to such a ‘community’,” Formby said.

The idea of an “LGBT community” also suggests that “people who identify in this way should feel part of something. If they don’t, it can compound negative experiences.”

There were also research participants who talked about experiencing discrimination from other LGBT people relating to their age, body, disability, ethnicity, faith, HIV status, or perceived social class. This means that automatic belongingness to a “ready made community… is simply not the case.”

“It is clear then that community belonging is not a given just because people share a gender or sexual identity. And this is why the notion of ‘LGBT community’ is problematic,” Formby said. “In this way, then, the use of the term ‘LGBT community’ could alienate some people and even risks deterring LGBT (and other) people from engaging with services aimed specifically at them.”

While the research does not necessarily recommend abandoning the phrase altogether, it nonetheless noted that using “LGBT people” would be more accurate.

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