Soni Thompson, CMO for Billion Strong, talks about what intersectionality means to her and the importance of addressing it to facilitate real change.
When I’m driving in my car, and I arrive at an intersection, there’s a choice that I need to make. I can turn left, turn right, or go forward. The only guidelines that I have are the rules of the road. Is there a stop sign? One-way street? Detours because of construction?
Now, imagine that the intersection is inside you. This is your identity. Who you truly are. Every direction is you. There are still rules of the road, which we call cultural norms, societal pressures, and biases. If I go right, my back is turned on the “leftness” of me. If I go left, my back is turned on my “rightness.” And forward, the path that we’re encouraged to continually move towards, leaves pieces of me behind.
But what if we were able to safely stay at our internal intersections? What if we didn’t feel pressured to choose one path over the other? This is my leftness, this is my rightness, and my here and now also embraces where I’ve been and where I want to go. Imagine being recognized, valued, and celebrated for being unapologetically, authentically yourself, as intricate and complex as you may be!
That doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. But the stop signs, one-way streets, and detours because of road construction are not just on the streets. We face them every day, especially when aspects of our identity are marginalized, oppressed, and discriminated against. For example, I identify as a female, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and as a person with an invisible disability.
To be completely honest, I didn’t know very much about intersectionality before joining Billion Strong. I knew that as a white woman, I made less money than a white man for the same job, but I didn’t know that the salary decreased for LGBTQ+ women, and disabled LGBTQ+ women are paid less than that. The disability pay gap is even more glaring for people who also identify as part of an ethnic minority group.
I also knew that a large percentage of the LGBTQ+ community suffers from mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety, and are more prone to alcoholism, drug abuse, and other forms of addiction, because it’s so much easier to numb out judgment and discrimination than to sit with it and let it burn. But I didn’t know that the intersectionality of LGBTQ+ and disability has a harder time receiving healthcare (particularly transgender people), shelter, education, and community support.
My intersectionality isn’t unique, but I am a complete person, with all of the facets of me combining into a wonderful, whole being. However, recognizing and acknowledging the intersections of our identities is only the beginning. What we do now with this knowledge is what matters. When we talk about social equity, inclusivity, and accessibility, it’s not just for one community of people… it’s for everyone. Let’s have more discussions and bring this issue to light so that we can help finally facilitate the change that we wish to see in the world.