Herukhuti, Ph.D., M.Ed.
Professor, Goddard College
Founder and CEO, Center for Culture, Sexuality and Spirituality
“Race and ethnicity—Concepts of community, traditional roles, religiosity, and cultural influences associated with race and ethnicity shape an LGBT individual’s experiences. The racial and ethnic communities to which one belongs affect self-identification, the process of coming out, available support, the extent to which one identifies with the LGBT community, affirmation of gender-variant expression, and other factors that ultimately influence health outcomes. Members of racial and ethnic minority groups may have profoundly different experiences than non-Hispanic white LGBT individuals.” – The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding, Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences 2011
Saturday morning, we had a very lively discussion of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on LGBT health. Drs, Walter Bockting, PhD, co-director, LGBTI Health Initiative, Division of Gender, Sexuality, & Health, NYS Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, Judith Bradford, director, Center for Population Research in LGBTI Health, Fenway Institute, and Rashada C. Alexander, special assistant to the deputy director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) led the discussion with presentations on their work. Judith and Walter were members of the committee that crafted the report. Rashada, the only presenter of African descent during the conference, provided an important perspective on the way forward for people interested in using the IOM report to engage the NIH.
The committee recommended four conceptual frameworks “be applied to priority areas of research in order to further the evidence base for LGBT health issues:” minority stress model, life course approach, intersectionality and social ecology. Intersectionality is quite unique among the four in that its roots are in the radical activist traditions of Black feminist community organizers. The committee chose of the work Bonnie Thorton Dill and Ruth Zambrana, Emerging Intersections: Race, Class and Gender in Theory, Policy and Practice, as the basis for their understanding and articulation of intersectionality. But its history can be found as early as 1977 Combahee River Collective Statement, in which the women articulated,
“We are a collective of Black feminists who have been meeting together since 1974. During that time we have been involved in the process of defining and clarifying our politics, while at the same time doing political work within our own group and in coalition with other progressive organizations and movements. The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As Black women we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.”
While the attention to an integrated analysis of the role of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and class in social life are the same, the tone, energy and politics of that statement are different than how the committee framed intersectionality in the IOM report,
“Intersectionality encompasses a set of foundational claims and organizing principles for understanding social inequality and its relationship to individuals’ marginalized status based on such dimensions as race, ethnicity, and social class (Dill and Zambrana, 2009; Weber, 2010). These include the following:
- Race is a social construct. The lived experiences of racial/ethnic groups can be understood only in the context of institutionalized patterns of unequal control over the distribution of a society’s valued goods and resources.
- Understanding the racial and ethnic experiences of sexual- and gender-minority individuals requires taking into account the full range of historical and social experiences both within and between sexual- and gender-minority groups with respect to class, gender, race, ethnicity, and geographical location.
- The economic and social positioning of groups within society is associated with institutional practices and policies that contribute to unequal treatment.
- The importance of representation—the ways social groups and individuals are viewed and depicted in the society at large and the expectations associated with these depictions—must be acknowledged. These representations are integrally linked to social, structural, political, historical, and geographic factors.
Intersectional approaches are based on the premise that individual and group identities are complex—influenced and shaped not just by race, class, ethnicity, sexuality/sexual orientation, gender, physical disabilities, and national origin but also by the confluence of all of those characteristics. Nevertheless, in a hierarchically organized society, some statuses become more important than others at any given historical moment and in specific geographic locations. Race, ethnicity, class, and community context matter; they are all powerful determinants of access to social capital—the resources that improve educational, economic, and social position in society.” p. 21
Dr. Herukhuti is founder and Chief Erotics Officer (CEO) of the Center for Culture, Sexuality and Spirituality and editor-in-chief of sacredsexualities.org. He is also a member of the faculty at Goddard College. Follow him on Twitter and Tumblr and like his Facebook Fan page.