Jun 2021 Pride Month Article
Yoga and the LGBTQIA Community
June is Pride Month, a celebration of the diversity of the LGBTQIA Community but Pride is also a protest, a demand for the rights and wellbeing of people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual. Within such a broad category there is much diversity including people of colour who face the double barriers of structural racism as a result of white privilege as well as identity -based discrimination which can limit access to economic and social structures such as paid work and health care.
Any celebration of Pride should be inclusive and intersectional, reflecting and representing all members of society but this is not the case. As always, there are narratives within narratives which cannot be captured in the symbolism of rainbow flags and individual expression. These symbols although important can mask the ongoing struggle for acceptance, validation and the very real socio-economic barriers that face this community in all of its diversity. This can also be seen in the cis gender (people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth) white majority affluence of wellness spaces in the Yoga world. These spaces can be an intimidating place. For example, if a person who identifies as intersex arrives to practice, they are met with registration forms which don’t reflect their choice to use plural pronouns and this is before we get to the issue of changing rooms and rest room facilities. Many people who don’t have the traditional appearance of what a female or male looks like according to societal norms have faced discrimination when asked if they are in the correct rest room or even been met with outrage and subsequently asked to leave.
Maybe the question needs to be asked: Are we really welcoming and accepting of all who wish to practice yoga in these spaces in terms of their practical needs?
If yoga is about union and acceptance then we need to acknowledge privilege in the first instance, educate ourselves about communities we may not have direct knowledge of and do the work of employing teachers from these communities to build inclusive spaces to practice yoga where everybody feels at home. If this work is not done, for one month a year, people will continue to display rainbow flags, make posts about all people being welcome and recruit members of the LGBTQIA community to inform, talk and write on this subject on a voluntary basis without making any real, lasting changes. This tokenism is a form of discrimination in its commodifying and homogenising of the Pride protest for basic human rights which continues today.
Safe inclusive spaces for practice exist, organised and held by LGBTQIA teachers for other teachers and students who identify within these communities. Black Pride and BIPOC yoga spaces exist, for those who feel they are not represented by the dominant Pride movement. I think most would agree, that we will know the work is done when all these groups can feel safe and accepted practicing in the same spaces. This union should not be an impossible dream in the yoga world. We should all be working to make it a reality.