The Important Role of Intersectionality on The Level of Mistreatment of Individuals of Multiple Marginalized Groups

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Across the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity, individuals of non-conforming identities fall victim to heightened experiences of victimization, discrimination, harassment, and general mistreatment in an array of social settings. Heteronormative, cisgender, white individuals’ experience much less mistreatment and victimization based on gender and sexual orientation than those of non-conforming sexual and gender identities. Through the dissection of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we can explore the differences in experience across gender identities intersecting with other classes. Intersectionality plays a deep role on the level of mistreatment experienced by individuals of multiple marginalized groups. Race, gender, and class all interplay with the way in which individuals of intersecting backgrounds experience harassment in everyday life. Individuals across sexual and gender identities alone experience harassment in everyday life very contrarily. The experiences of gay men differs from that of lesbian woman, bisexual men, bisexual woman, queer individuals, and transgender individuals. Data collected from research on the topic of mistreatment of sexual and gender minorities will hopefully help better identify how the heteronormative, cisgender, white ideal triggers such levels of harassment.

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In Cole’s article focused on intersectionality and its use in research, Cole defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage,” (Cole 2009, p. 170).

Past research has shown us that men tend to endorse both homophobic and sexist items, as well as hegemonic masculinity items on questionnaires. However, lacking, is the reasoning why homophobia and sexism are promoted and classified as common and hegemonic. These questionnaires also do not account for men who have learned to shield their bias. Evidence of homophobic bias and endorsement seems most apparent in the way “most men mix forms of hegemonic complicity with noncomplicity, blending sexism with nonsexism, and mitigating their own homophobia through disclaimers, irony, and humor,” (Korobov 2004, p. 178-179). Homophobia and sexism is shown both explicitly and implicitly, through outward exclamations of these beliefs as well as more subtle representations through the use of “jokes.”

Although humor, disclaimers, and irony can appear harmless at front, the use is still passive aggressively expressing one’s individual prejudice against individuals on non-conforming sexual orientations and gender identities. Rabelo supports Korobov’s theory of hegemonic endorsement with a definition of stigma theory, explaining how, “broad cultural perceptions and morals dictate which social groups are valued and which are not. Resulting from these perceptions is a stigmatization of these groups, leading to prejudice, discrimination, and other bias (Rabelo 2014, p. 379). These prejudices, shaped by our culture’s ideal perpetuation of sexual stigmas that demean and reject anything remotely out of line with the cisgender, heteronormative, white ideal, create a hostile environment for individuals of non-conforming sexual orientations and gender identities across social settings (Rabelo 2014).

Prejudice and discrimination disguised under the umbrella of humor and disclaimers can be especially damaging to the psyche of the individuals being targeted because it is presented in a way that affirms its acceptability for everyday use. Heterosexism is based on insensitive, non-aggressive, verbal and symbolic harassment that expresses hostility towards nonheterosexual individuals or ideas. The most common individuals to be victim of heterosexist harassment are individuals who deviate from heterosexist norms or gender norms that propose nonheterosexual stereotypes. Aside from heterosexist harassment, sexual and gender minorities also experience gender harassment, including sexual harassment, or any harassment based on one’s sex and/or gender. Gender harassment is based on gender norms and expectations where “stereotypically feminine women and hypermasculine men enjoy positive evaluations and treatment, whereas gender-nonconformists suffer scorn and insult, even assault,” (Rabelo 2014, p.380).

Although often used as differentiating terms, homophobia and heterosexism are not very distinctive. More so, homophobia can be looked as a subtype of heterosexism. Homophobia and heterosexism are both based off antigay prejudice and misunderstanding. However, homophobia stems from a creed based on fear and feelings of hatred, the main factors leading to prejudice and/or harassment of nonheterosexual individuals. Because of the intense nature of homophobia, harassment fueled by it can often times be violent, creating an experience of victimization, faced by many individuals of non-conforming sexual orientations and gender identities (Ragins 2003).

In certain settings, such as the workplace, heterosexism and gender harassment can also take place in the form of punishment for not conforming to company policies and dress codes that exclude individuals who do not conform to gender stereotypes. And although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964) is supposed protect employees from sexual harassment, it does not include the protection of individuals who have been harassed or discriminated against based on their nonconformity to gender norms, stereotypes, and/or sexual orientation (Berkley 2006). Individuals of nonconforming sexual orientations and gender identities who experience harassment in environments that they feel they cannot avoid, such as the workplace, often experience different levels of stress and anxiety.

Stress factors caused by experiences of anti-gay harassment or victimization come from and expectation of heteronormativity. Heteronormativity can be referred to as, “the view that institutionalized heterosexuality constitutes the standard for legitimate and expected social and sexual relations,” (Hequembourg 2009, p. 274). Any individuals who fall away from those expectations are more likely to experience job dissatisfaction, and stress based on one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Individuals exposed to “sexual minority stressors, particularly stress resulting from discrimination and anti-gay violence, may account for higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders and symptoms of poor mental health among GLBs compared to heterosexuals,” (Hequembourg & Brallier 2009, p. 275). In Hequembourg’s study, experiences across gender and sexual identity were studied and compared. Hequembourg & Brallier use a qualitative research approach to explore the differences in stress amongst gender and sexual minorities in order to better understand what is promoting the stress and what consequences may come with certain stress indicators.

Many differences in gender and sexual identity have indicated certain misconceptions such as that “women’s same-sex relationships were eroticized and contorted to fit the heterosexual male gaze, while gay men were negatively depicted as sexually promiscuous and deviant,” (Hequembourg & Brallier 2009, p.292). Most respondents across gender and sexuality admitted to societal stereotypes that portray GLB individuals as more promiscuous and sexual than heterosexuals. Herek confers that GLB individuals have feared being fired from a position based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. A comparable study showed that “8%-17% of LGB individuals have been fired or denied employment based on their sexual orientation,“ (Badgett 2007, p. 4). Both male and female participants admitted to experiences of fear when confronted by heterosexual males, especially when alcohol was involved.

Alcohol can fuel intrinsic bias as well as heighten levels of anger and violence combined with clouded judgment. In situations where alcohol is involved, participants confessed to feeling unsafe or threatened by heterosexual males. Herek also states that “individuals who experienced physical assault because of their sexual orientation appear[ed] to have higher levels of psychological distress than [did] others,” (Herek 1997, p. 209-210). Herek also adds that interview data underrepresents and improperly recognizes the severity of antigay crimes because they can take many forms, encompassing differentiating patterns (Herek 1997).

In Hequembourg’s study, lesbian and bisexual women “indicated that stereotypes about same-sex relationships among women are often eroticized in our culture. Thus, women in same-sex relationships are viewed as sexual objects and their sexual exclusivity to other women is ignored by heterosexual men,” (Hequembourg & Brallier 2009, p.280). Because of the heightened sexualization of women in American culture, women are more likely than their male counterparts to be harassed targeting their sex and femininity. If a heterosexual male is turned away by a female, especially if the reasoning is because the female is not heterosexual, the female could become victim to sexual prejudice of promiscuity and experience unwanted sexual advances, or become victim to sexual harassment fueled by anger and wounded masculinity followed by experiences of unwanted sexual advancements or sometime assault.

“Half of the women interviewees reporting an antigay crime (7 of 14) had been sexually assaulted, compared to one of the men…Sexual assaults tended to differ from other hate crimes in that they were usually committed in a private setting by a lone assistant who was known to the victim.,” (Herek 1997, p. 203).

Women’s experiences appear more sexualized than men. Gay and bisexual men are often faced with more anger and hostility for their nonconformity to sexuality and gender norms. What do men represent in our society? Why would it be that gay men would be more largely targeted? Men represent masculinity, toughness. Gay men break down male standards and therefore make people, particularly heterosexual men, feel threatened just by being themselves because they fall outside the typical male standards deemed normal by our society. In a later article by Herek, he claims that, “gay men are at the greatest risk for person and property crimes,” (Herek 2008, p. 69). While lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to experience sexual harassment from heterosexual men, gay and bisexual men are more likely to experience explicit violence geared towards their nonconformity to stereotypical masculinity standards and gender norms.

Harassment and discrimination in the workplace create a hostile environment for gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals. Evidence certainly shows that heightened experiences of harassment and discrimination based on sexual identity can be psychologically damaging and threatening to an individual’s sense of self. However, lacking from the research above is the study of transgender individuals, whose experiences of harassment and discrimination are just as important to examine when trying to understand issues regarding social prejudice against sexual and gender minorities. When talking about transgender individuals, that includes “any person whose gender identity expression does not align with traditional gender norms, [and/or] do not necessarily associate with the gender they were assigned at birth,” (Dispenza, Watson, Chung, & Brack, 2012).

In a survey of transgender individuals in San Francisco, the study discovered “57% of the transgender respondents surveyed had experienced employment discrimination on the basis of their transgender status or gender identity.” Respondents had been fired, denied employment, or denied a promotion in a job solely based on their gender identity. Despite such an overwhelming statistic, only 12% of respondents actually filed a complaint. Individuals might know that they have a choice to complain but choose not for fear that it will backlash on them, causing them difficulties in their work life and/or making them a target of more harassment and discrimination in the future (Badgett 2007).

Across all dimensions of gender and sexuality, the types of discrimination faced are multi-dimensional and multi-layered. Inside the workplace on a more consistent basis, transgender individuals experience harassment in the form of “hostile comments, employee refusal to use preferred names or pronouns, as well as refusal to allow transgender persons to use restrooms that match their gender identity,” (Dispenza 2012, p. 65-66). Not only have transgender individuals identified harassment instigated by heterosexual cisgender individuals, but also from other members of the LGBT community. In Dispenza’s study, participants identified horizontal oppression as a type of discrimination faced by transgender individuals from LGB individuals. Dispenza also draws upon how discrimination and harassment geared towards sexual and gender minorities is probably inspired by the perceived threat that sexual and gender nonconformists are to the patriarchy, which is “any institution that has been traditionally guided by masculine values,” (Dispenza 2012, p.77).

The patriarchy favors heterosexual cisgender white male dominance. Individuals of nonconforming sexual orientations and gender identities threaten the core values and standards in place by the patriarchy, which American culture subliminally expresses as the norm, through the use of pop culture, backed by these traditional ideals of perfect masculinity and perfect femininity matching appropriately with male, female, favoring heterosexuality.

Finding a job, following a particular career path, maintaining an income, establishing financial security, these are all things that can be difficult for any individual. For individuals who have non-conforming sexual orientations, gender identities, or gender expressions, all of these things suddenly become much more difficult to attain when faced with different levels of discrimination. And when individuals who don’t conform to gender binaries are also discriminated against for their sex or race, what seems like a simple path to follow suddenly becomes ridden with bumps and twists and turns that can leave damaging scars. When an individual identifies with multiple marginalized classes, discrimination is sometimes based on one or multiple biases of those multiple classes. In some studies, class and race showed no connection or difference in discrimination.

Outside of the workplace, transgender individuals can experience increased levels or harassment and even victimization from peers, strangers, law enforcement, schools, and landlords. Transgender women face high levels of unemployment and poverty, experiences of violence, and institutionalized discrimination. Incarceration rates among transgender woman are particularly high, ranging from 37-65% of transgender women surveyed having been incarcerated, or are incarcerated (Reisner 2014). What’s most alarming about this is our country’s incarceration system not being fully operational and accommodating to individuals who don’t conform to gender stereotypes. Often these individuals are placed in facilities based on their biological sex, leading to numerous issues regarding safety, stress, anxiety, and treatment.

Transgender women who have been incarcerated will likely be housed in an environment where they do not feel safe, where they feel they do not belong because of who they identify as, and where their identity will most likely effect how they are treated, their access to certain essential needs like proper health care, and higher their chances of being victimized (Reisner 2014). Reisner’s research also found that experiences of harassment and discrimination are more common among Black and Hispanic transgender persons compared to White transgender persons, proposing that identification with multiple marginalized classes will increase the likelihood of being victimized. In a study by Graham (2014), they argue that “young transgender women are significantly negatively impacted by suicidality, HIV, difficult gender and sexual identity development in unaccepting environments, residential instability, joblessness, survival sex work, and a host of other challenges,” (Graham 2009, p. 274). Graham also identifies three levels of violence, discrimination, and harassment (VDH). It occurs on an interpersonal, institutional, and structural level. Lack of institutional support withdraws from the individuals educational experience, faith-based experience, and experience with the criminal justice system.

One article presents evidence on transgender persons experiences with harassment and discrimination, finding that a quarter of respondents had experienced a violent interaction. Violent experiences among respondents strongly predicted to have been caused by economic discrimination against them based on their transgender identity. Contradictory to what previous articles have stated (Hequembourg & Brallier 2009), Lombardi implies that such incidents of discrimination and victimization “had a positive effect upon depression for both gay men and lesbians,” (c.f. Lombardi & Wilchins 2002, p.99). Given the more than often grotesque nature of some crimes committed against transgender individuals, an individuals ability to have a positive effect from victimization would have to take into account the severity of the victimization. As put by one 50-year-old male-to-female postoperative transsexual, “Every time I leave the house I leave with three strikes against me. I can be raped for being a woman. I can be raped and murdered because I am perceived as ‘gay’ or I can be violently murdered because I am read as trans,” (Kidd & Witten 2007, p. 33). An example of the provoked level of violence against transgender individuals is a small description of a hate crime, taking place August 12, 2002 in Washington D.C.:

“Two male-to-female transgender teens were shot ten times as they sat in the front seat of their vehicle in a Washington, D.C. neighborhood. This was the third transgender shooting in Washington, D.C. that week,” (Kidd & Witten 2007, p. 33).”

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The level of violence used seems out of proportion compared to any other crimes, except for crimes committed by hot-blooded perpetrators with built up rage and resentment. Lack of knowledge understanding only helps nourish people’s misjudgments and prejudices against transgender individuals.

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The Important Role of Intersectionality on the Level of Mistreatment of Individuals of Multiple Marginalized Groups. (2018, October 02). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from
“The Important Role of Intersectionality on the Level of Mistreatment of Individuals of Multiple Marginalized Groups.” GradesFixer, 02 Oct. 2018,
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