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BD Giving Notes #38 – “The Double-edged sword of Representation and Visibility‘’

While we advocate for representation, diversity and inclusion, I think we often forget the other edge of that sword; the clearer the visibility, the easier it is for bigots to have a face to attach to their hate.

As LGBTQIA+ history month ends, this blog is about the good and bad results that come from more visible diversity and inclusion, and why we need to do it anyway.

Over Valentine’s Day, I watched the first season of the HBO series The Last of Us, and by the end of the latest episode (5 at the time of writing ), I had been reduced to a puddle of tears on my bed. 

This is not a review of the show, rather it is a frame for my thoughts. So don’t worry about any spoilers, I will not be making contextual comments on the content of the show.

The third episode, titled Long, Long Time is a masterpiece in nuanced storytelling, overwriting stereotypes. From the opening to the final credit, it was a refreshing reflection of love, joy, pain and the messiness of human relationships. It explored how the dynamics of how people’s relationships change who they are over time, often in the most unexpected of ways. 

One of the most striking things about this episode is that it frames a romantic relationship between two people of the same sex as just another romantic relationship, one with the same types of issues heterosexual relationships are plagued with. The show did not glamorise or present the characters through the rose-coloured glasses queer characters are often depicted within media; as though trying to make them more palatable to non-queer audiences, instead choosing to show how we negotiate and compromise in relationships. Sans the apocalyptic lens through which the show is framed, their relationship was poignant.

In last week’s Note, Cameron and I stated that “Communication without nuance creates echo chambers, and it’s in these isolated spaces that people become vulnerable to radicalisation”. We talked about ensuring that as a charity, our communications are nuanced, allowing us the space to engage people who would otherwise be referred to as being “on the other side of the argument”. 

I found that, so far, the Last of Us has done just that. 

As a Comms Officer, I found the multifaceted way one of the characters in the third episode, who could have been made into a stereotype, was handled with depth and nuance, was remarkable. 

Miles Hewstone describes this approach as “changing stereotypes with disconfirming information”, one of the processes in which stereotypes can be changed by providing information that disconfirms existing, predominantly negative images of the ‘outgroup’

Oftentimes in movies and tv shows, LGBT characters are depicted as one-dimensional, and queer relationships are treated as a caricature of heterosexual ones – tragic, treacherous or non-existent. The media is so saturated with these stereotypes that the ‘The Last of Us’ disconfirmation of them is nothing short of revolutionary.

However, while we advocate for representation, diversity and inclusion, I think we often forget the other edge of that sword; the clearer the visibility, the easier it is for bigots to have a face to attach to their hate. That does not mean we will stop fighting for equity, it just means that we all have to stand firm and in a singular voice condemn those who wish us harm.

How do we communicate safety?

Just like in other parts of the world, members of the LGBTQIA+ community in Barking and Dagenham often still feel disenfranchised. Some data supports that most would not come out to their family or ever. Even the council describes the borough as a ‘cold spot’ for LGBTQIA+ visibility.

One of the lingering questions I have is about communicating security to people who feel like they can not fully be themselves for fear of persecution, or just for their safety. As another LGBTQIA+ history month draws to an end, so much seems to have changed, yet so much remains the same.

How can a fictional show get it so right and reflect what society could be when the reality is far from that?

How do we combat hatred in Barking & Dagenham?

At present, we are working with other local organisations to develop a resident-led awareness project to help address the security concerns for queer youths, especially around the threats of domestic violence, and also strategies to help increase the visibility of the LGBTQIA+ community within the borough without jeopardising safety.

For BD Giving, combating hatred must be rooted in community, and designing ways to end ignorance and fear altogether.

BD Giving Notes is a weekly blog aimed at sharing some thoughts on running a social infrastructure charity. Each post focuses on a couple of things we have learnt or done in the previous week; what’s gone well and what didn’t.

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