* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.With greater visibility can come heightened prejudice, but the LGBTQ+ community is adapting and thriving
Paul Donovan is the chief economist at UBS Global Wealth Management.
The position of the LGBTQ+ community can sometimes appear very bleak – a litany of hostile acts accompanied by a monosyllabic chant of irrational hatred.
Prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community has become more visible in recent months. In May, Uganda’s parliament passed a law introducing the death penalty for certain forms of gay sex, including same-sex relations when one partner is HIV+.
The number of European politicians making homophobic comments in public has increased. Reported anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime has grown significantly in the UK. In the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union is tracking almost 500 explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been introduced into state legislatures this year.
Change often breeds prejudice. The dramatic changes of the fourth industrial revolution are truly revolutionary: an individual’s income, financial security and social status can all be radically altered . But while this works well for those who find themselves on the way up, it can be traumatic for those who find themselves on the way down.
The causes of these changes are complex.
All of us, especially at times of change, crave simplicity. The desire to simplify encourages scapegoat economics amongst those who feel they are losing status. The idea that everything going wrong in your life can be blamed on a single cause is seductive. Moreover, the deception of ‘prejudice politics’ seems to offer a simple solution to all your problems – supress the alleged cause and everything will supposedly go back to “the good old days”.
The process fits well with soundbite politics of social media. A single hashtag can be presented, absurdly, as an economic cure-all.
Many groups become the targets of prejudice politics, and LGBTQ+ people are one of the communities being attacked today. Queer people have slowly been granted the same rights as their heterosexual cisgender peers in a small number of countries.
The move to equality is often at a glacial pace – but it is enough of a change to make the queer community an attractive target for prejudice politics. A non-LGBTQ+ person whose relative position in society is declining may be comforted to be told the lie that the queer community is somehow “less than”.
The success of prejudice politics relies on those disadvantaged within the wider society being reassured to see how another group is ‘suffering’ more than them.
This can restore a false sense of superiority that economic change has snatched from them.
Industrial revolutions are not fleeting memes – these are substantial changes that take several decades to work through society. But ongoing change does not mean that the outlook for the queer community is inevitably bleak. In fact, there are good reasons for optimism.
Social media might have helped build prejudice politics, but it has also improved the connections within, and the visibility of, the queer community. The ability to connect virtually has lessened the sense of isolation – even in societies where LGBTQ+ people are openly persecuted.
Social media also promotes queer role models – LGBTQ+ people can be seen via YouTube, TikTok and Instagram and heard via podcasts. People are often more likely to be open about their sexuality when they have visible proof that they are not alone. The number of people identifying as LGBTQ+ increases with each new generation and has increased within existing generations over time.
Prejudice depends on dehumanising its targets, but it is difficult to dehumanise someone you know. Social media increases the number of people we know. It may be the “Truman Show” sense of knowing someone through watching their lives, but interacting with content creators builds understanding.
By encouraging more people to be open about their sexuality, social media also increases the chance of knowing an openly queer person in real life.
Companies also contribute to this. A well-run company will want to employ the right person, in the right place, at the right time. They will want their staff to achieve their full potential.
A corporate culture of prejudice where staff hide in the closet achieves neither of those objectives. As more people come out at work, non-queer people have more contact with the LGBTQ+ community, and the dehumanising message of prejudice fails.
This supports increasing optimism for the LGBTQ+ community. The visible prejudice against queer people is shocking mainstream opinion. A non-queer person, who might normally be apathetic about LGBTQ+ equality, can be stimulated into action by repugnance at the extreme stance of the prejudiced.
Anyone who knows queer people understands that the story LGBTQ+ people are “less-than” others in society is absurd. Such reactions against extremism have been seen around issues such as immigration, and similar reactions seem to be emerging in fighting queer prejudice.
In the United States, 153 of the anti-LGBTQ+ bills presented to state legislatures have so far been rejected. In the UK, an overwhelming majority of the population support queer rights – from marriage equality, to banning conversion therapy, to supporting drag performance.
The Rainbow Europe Annual Review documents improving rights across the continent.
As queer people emerge from the shadows, prejudice has increased. But the combination of greater visibility and abhorrence of extremism leads a resistance to that prejudice. Anti-LGBTQ+ extremism has the potential to self-destruct by generating support for the community.
To adapt the protest slogan of three decades ago, the queer community can increasingly say “we’re here, we’re queer, you’re used to it”.
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