It is not easy living in a heteronormative society, where heterosexual individuals render privilege and all those who deviate from the norm encounter oppression as a result. Because the laws and policies that are meant to protect individuals are created within a heterosexist framework, the rights and freedoms of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer) community often go ignored or undermined.
This systemic and structural marginalization occurs at the everyday level, possibly in your own doctor’s office, and was experienced by a lesbian couple in Vermont. Dr. Roi, the physician Krista and Jami Contreras initially entrusted with their daughter’s health, refused to provide them with her services on the basis of religious and moral confliction. She claimed that she would never judge the couple’s choices in terms of the expression of their sexual identities, however this statement is intrinsically false. In reality, Dr. Roi’s judgments of the couple were homophobic, and institutional discrimination of homosexuals and other LGBTQ individuals within the realm of religion is not uncommon in the world we inhabit. Since humans with heteronormative perspectives founded religious institutions, it is arguable that some of their axioms perpetuate the privilege and power imbalances that persist in our society. Consequently, there is an undefined grey area between what is moral and what is not.
Homosexuality, when one is attracted to the same sex that they identify with, has historically been deemed as unnatural because of heterosexist social constructions revolving around rigid sexual scripts that dictate how people must behave according to the gender binary, which separates sex and gender into two distinct classes, male and female, masculine and feminine.
This raises a controversial question: Do people use God as a scapegoat to maintain social hierarchies that privilege few and oppress many? Because particular religious institutions render homosexual relationships sinful, it creates an environment where it is justifiable to dominate others, dehumanize them, and thus have easier access to resources and job security, among other things. It induces the notion that it is unnecessary to critically consider the ways in which their convictions affect the physical, mental and socioeconomic prosperity of the ones they marginalize.
Furthermore, although there has been a substantial activism and legislation reform surrounding the rights of the LGBTQ community, governments of the West and the general public are not genuinely invested in them. The American Medical Association forbids the refusal of care based on sexual orientation, which is who one is attracted to, yet Dr. Roi’s practice was not subject to penalty by the AMA because caring for an infant with homosexual parents did not agree with her morals. Her personal and religious beliefs were given priority, despite their discriminatory, oppressive nature. Clearly, Krista and Jami Contreras did not win that battle, so who decides which party’s rights are respected and on what premises?
For most people, witnessing discrimination or becoming aware that they contribute to it systemically does not ignite a fire in them. If the problem does not hinder their invisible, unacknowledged privilege, they remain indifferent, apathetic and unconcerned. Why? In a culture where cisgendered heterosexuals have advantages over those of the sexual minority, surrendering these benefits is an enormous sacrifice. Though the public claims that they are sympathetic toward the needs of the LGBTQ community and women, sincere affinity for equality would involve dismantling the supremacy and immunities that inherently accompany privilege. It would mean relinquishing power and taking responsibility for the injustices that generate oppression.
Beyond doubt, the lesbian couple has endured obstacles that do not exist for heterosexuals, however the privileges that Krista and Jami Contreras do have cannot be disregarded. Because the couple is white, they did not experience apprehension about their race convoluting their message, or whether it would prevent their story from reaching a large audience. When broadcasting the prejudices they endured, their race granted them unquestioned credibility. When asking other doctors whether they would accept their child as a patient, they would not have to worry about race as a determining factor. The child the Contreras are raising does not have to learn methods of survival within racist structures, and she will grow up in a world where her race is widely represented in all aspects of everyday life. A lesbian couple of colour would face more institutional challenges when consulting adoption agencies or seeking employment, fuelling the lack of healthcare and poverty that plagues many Americans.
“Cornell West reminds us that justice is what love looks like public.” We, as individuals of society, as parts to a whole, possess the capacity to be agents of change, yet fail to generate it. Until our love for others is genuine enough to end indifference and shift the power dynamic toward equality, there will be no justice.
Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009-12. Print.
“Doctor refuses treatment of same-sex couple’s baby.” My Fox Detroit. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Amptoon. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.