Privilege 101

Why there is no straight pride parade

I'm fine with gay people, but I don't want to see it everywhere.

Why do they have to flaunt it?

But Juan and Melissa are all about the PDAs at school.

Yeah, but that’s normal.

Most of us are decent folks who try to be kind and caring. So why is there so much negativity and hatred towards LGBTQ people? It’s easy to chalk it up to ignorance, but we would get a lot further by understanding how power, privilege and oppression affect how we deal with people who are different from us.

What are privilege and oppression?

Privilege is a set of unearned benefits or protections given to people who fit into a specific social group. It’s a big concept. Let’s break it down.

  • Unearned benefits or protections:  Some groups have social advantages they didn’t earn, also known as privilege. For example, people born into wealthy families have class privilege, but low-income people don’t. In our society, life is harder when you don’t have money because it’s tough to find good housing, food, childcare and other resources. Sure, wealthy people might work hard, but they also have fewer obstacles to getting the same results. These two groups do not start off on a level playing field.
  • Specific social groups: Oppression happens because society thinks some differences are important. Differences like race, ability, citizenship, gender, sexual orientation, size, class, religion and where you live. Why do these differences matter? Because they’re linked with histories of inequality that still affect people today through ongoing power imbalances.

How do privilege and oppression work?

Privilege operates invisibly, and almost always without bad intentions. Often it’s just seen as “how things are.” For example, a bandage that is “skin colour” is really white people’s skin colour. Whiteness is seen as normal while other skin colours are not. The creators of these bandages were probably not trying to be racist, but whether it was intentional or not, it’s an example of oppression.

People often think that oppression is about calling people names or physically hurting someone. That’s part of it, but oppression runs much deeper. It started long ago in history and institutions keep it going today. Religious institutions, the media, the education system, the criminal justice system and the health care system all promote unequal power dynamics. Oppressed groups have less access to resources because the resources—like money, education or citizenship—are held by institutions that maintain unequal power dynamics.

Here’s a great comic that explains how white and male privilege work:

White Male Privilege Einglish Official Large

What is intersectionality?

We are all made up of a complex mix of identities and experiences, privileges and oppressions. You may be straight and cisgender (privileged) and at the same time be a person of colour from a rural town (oppressed). We experience all of these factors at the same time and in complex (or intersectional) ways.

Intersectionality is important in LGBTQ allyship because it helps us understand the experiences of LGBTQ people who also face many different forms of oppression. If we think of LGBTQ communities as white, middle-class, not disabled, and mostly lesbian and gay, then we leave out the concerns of most of the people in the community. An issue like legalizing same-sex marriage was really important to the most privileged people in LGBTQ communities, while issues like LGBTQ youth homelessness, over-policing and stopping violence against trans women of colour get less air time.

What is cis privilege?

Because cis people are part of the dominant group, they have cis privilege. That means cis people, simply because they are cis, have rights (legal)  and acceptance (social) that trans people don’t. A key part of privilege is that because it feels “normal” you may not even realize you have it.

Here are a few examples of cis privilege from Everyday Feminism:

  • I can pee publicly with some degree of safety. I don’t experience fear of or actual violence for being in the bathroom of my choice.
  • I’m less likely to get weird and nosy questions about my body, especially about my genitals, from strangers.
  • I will have an easier time finding housing because my ID matches the gender people think I am.
  • Characters of my gender in movies or on TV are less likely to be portrayed as exploited or being born in the wrong body. They are more likely to have complex and interesting story lines and are often the main character.
  • If I needed hormone replacement therapy, I wouldn’t have to convince my doctor to give it to me.
  • I have less fear when visiting a doctor or hospital because I won’t be questioned or harassed because of my gender identity. I won’t have to correct doctors who misgender me because my medical records say that I’m a gender I’m not. I won’t be denied care simply because a doctor thinks I’m mentally ill for having the gender that I do. I’m less likely to be asked invasive, personal questions about my gender identity or body that are not relevant to the care that I need.
  • I don’t have to consider telling potential partners about my gender identity or intimate details about my body for fear of being called an imposter. I don’t have to fear being attacked or murdered if someone who thinks I’m attractive finds out about my gender identity.
  • As a young person, I’m never told that I am too young to know my gender.

What is straight privilege?

Straight privilege is the set of advantages that straight people experience simply because of their sexual orientation. These privileges are usually just seen as normal, but they aren’t, because LGBQ people don’t have them. Here are some examples:

  • I don’t have to come out. Society assumes I’m straight until proven otherwise, because that’s seen as normal. LGBQ people have to come out over and over again, which is super stressful. This is why straight people don’t need straight pride, because every day is straight pride day. 
  • I don’t have to worry about consequences if I tell people about my sexual orientation: being made fun of, assaulted, kicked out of home or more.

"Getting a job had been a big challenge for me. I sent resume after resume each day and got no response. Frustrated with the lack of progress, I turned to my friends who were also looking for a job. One friend suggested I delete all LGBTQ references in my resume or make them vague, like “student diversity,” because that was how he got hired. I didn’t believe him at first, but after I followed his advice, employers started contacting me for interviews. I can pass as straight by deleting certain words, but my transgender friends can’t just change their resume and pass as cisgender. I hear questions all the time about whether LGBTQ discrimination is real in Canada and my experience with job search confirms that yes, it still persists." – Alice Anon

  • I don’t have to justify my sexual orientation against common statements such as: “Maybe it’s just a phase?” “Bisexuality isn’t real, you’re confused.” “You don’t look queer.”
  • I am not asked invasive questions about my sexuality, such as “How do you have sex anyway?” or “Who is the boy and who is the girl in your relationship?”
  • My sexual orientation is not a problem for religious leaders.
  • I don’t have to worry that people will think my sexual orientation is a mental health concern.