WANTED: More women in LGBTQ+ organisations

We often hear the women are underrepresented in the LGBTQ+ political scene in general. But is this really the case and, if yes, what is the reason behind the lack of females in LGBTQ+ organisations?

WANTED: More woman in LGBTQ+ organisations

Quite often it is being heard and said that the rainbow agenda is predominantly being run by men or male-identified people. That women and female-identified people are far less visible in the LGBTQ+ media, in the boards and in organisations in general. A lack of female representation would not only create an imbalance but also mean less diversity and a more narrow focus and perspective within the LGBTQ+ communities. Homotropolis decided to look into this and find out if women and female-identified people are underrepresented in the organisations in Copenhagen and Malmö. And we also asked relevant organisations to comment on the importance of having all genders represented.

Beginning on the Swedish side the board of Malmö Pride consists of 2 women, 3 men and 1 trans person. In the operational steering committee 6 out of 9 people are identifying as women and the Malmö Pride Festival Manager Filip Filipek is satisfied:

“I think our balance is very good and in Malmö Pride we are not struggling with underrepresentation. Combining board and management we have a majority of female-identifying persons in our organisation. We are working actively in our recruitment process to attract people of all genders and identities. In our festival program we actively work with intersectionality and diversity. We can always do better, this is an ongoing process year after year that has to be incorporated within the organisation. I do believe that we have come far in this process in Malmö”, says Filip who also underlines the importance of acknowledging non-binary persons when discussing diversity and representation.

“Not everybody identify as female or male. We are a movement that embrace all identities and cannot be confined to a male­-female paradigm”, says Filip Filipek from Malmö Pride.

According to Paul Calderon, former chairperson at BLUS (LGBT University Students Network in Copenhagen), a higher participation of females is needed in all the LGBTIQ organisations:

“BLUS, being a group of younger people, has always kept the relevance of representation in mind. We actively invite people of all genders and sexual orientations to participate as members, volunteers and board members. In fact, in the past two years there has been a strong representation of women and female-identified people in our board. Homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, cisgender and transgender women were the majority in my last board team. I don’t think this is the case for every organisation and that is a shame, because lack of representation leads to the monopolisation of subjects and problematics by one specific group, which is why I think the so called “gay agenda” always answers first to the problem of white cisgender males. It is something we have to work on”, says Paul Calderon and continues:

I think in a way culture puts in the minds of women that their participation is not needed. Or that it is irrelevant. You can see it when women actually try to participate in spaces and men immediately react to it. Mansplaining, sexualization and objectification of women are some examples. In the case of the LGBTIQ community I would say that historically trans women have always lead the fight but in later generations and especially here in Europe, gay men have been taking over”.

Emilie Junget, the current chairperson of BLUS, agrees that the LGBTQIA+ scene is in general mainly dominated by men.

“When women aren’t as represented as men in general in these scenes, it’s easy to see why women are underrepresented in boards as well. So I think that the real question is why women are underrepresented in the LGBTQIA+ scene. For me this has been a question that I have thought about since I came out myself. I especially noticed this in the nightlife in Copenhagen. I don’t even have a number for how many gay bars there are in Copenhagen, but there is only one lesbian bar, and it is open 3 nights a week. That makes you wonder, where are all the LGBTQIA+ women? My own unsupported and unscientific answer would be that the reason why woman are less represented in the LGBTQIA+ scene, is because they don’t feel that they need it as much as men do. I think it might be because LGBTQIA+ women, and especially lesbians and bisexuals, are much more accepted in the patriarchy that is our current society”, Junget explains while also noting that having all genders represented equally can be a big driver for breaking down prejudice and creating more acceptance.

In Copenhagen Pride the board including substitutes has 3 cisgendered women, 5 cisgendered men and one transgender man. The inner circle itself additionally includes one more cis-gendered man and a cis-gendered women and according to chairperson Lars Henriksen the culture within the organisation is key to a better representation:

“Securing a wide representation means creating a safe and inclusive culture and give space. It is important to be aware of the privileged position we have as for example cis-gendered gay men. There are many different approaches to an inclusive organisation and at Copenhagen Pride we constantly strive to improve ourselves and we do regular evaluations to make sure we are on track. We are not completely there yet – and I don’t think we will ever cross the finish line – because this is something that calls for a persistent and on-going effort. When we look for candidates we are very focused on representation, but at the same time we would never urge anyone to join us in order to cover up a lack of representation and thus have that person become a token”, says Lars Henriksen and continues:
“We have worked hard in recent years to make sure our festival has become more inclusive and safe for the trans community and by doing that we have at the same time managed to get a much better festival. Our board has recently agreed to also put more focus on women who sleep with women in the coming years in order to make sure that this group gets better represented. It is important because a rainbow cannot be made up of just one colour but needs to include every colour. And this is why we need to not be afraid of self-criticism and keep working on improving our own culture and organisation”.

LGBT Danmark, the oldest and largest LGBT organisation in Denmark, has also experienced the challenges of underrepresentation.

“In the current board of 9 members and a substitute, there are three identifying as women. Two are trans persons”, says Søren Laursen, chairperson at LGBT Danmark.

“I think, there has generally been a female underrepresentation in the board over the years. Curiously this is not reflected in the other organisational units: among the spokespersons, in the work groups, in the services such as counselling there is generally a more balanced distribution of persons identifying as male or female. But we have not been successful to obtain a similar thing in the board.
It is my hope, that we can make board work attractive to more of our activists, as it is my opinion, that the board should better reflect the diversity in our organisation and our community at large. It is crucial to communicate, that this is a way you can engage – we are an organisation living by our activists. For instance, this should be part of the first information you get, when you become a member, and the message should be actively disseminated among all activists”, Laursen says.

In Pan Idræt, the Danish LGBTQ sports association, only 14,3% of the board identify as female and both the chair and vice-chair are male.

“I wish we had more gender diversity on the board of Pan Idræt, however only 20% of our members are women, so purely based on numbers it follows naturally that there are fewer women than men on the board. That being said it is certainly something we look at every single time there are vacancies at the Annual General Meeting. I consider it our duty as the board to locate competent and dedicated members and ask them if they would be interested in standing for election. As an entirely natural part of that recruitment process we look at professional background, experience/skills, age and most certainly also gender”, says Christian Bigom, chair of Pan Idræt and continues:

“Every year we do an open call for potential candidates to stand for election and we encourage everyone to contact me or any other board members beforehand if they have any questions. In addition to this “open call” we try – throughout the year – to spot potential candidates and encourage them to stand for election. I most certainly think gender and diversity in general is important in the boardroom. We are tasked with leading the organisation and every situation can be approached from different viewpoints. Having diversity in the boardroom brings different perspectives, schools of thought and ideas to light and I think that’s important”, Bigom says.

The Copenhagen-based organisation Sabaah is working for the rights of LGBT+ people with minority ethnic backgrounds and is the only organisation to have a transgender chairperson.

“I am proud to say that we in 2016 have more women than men on the board. This along with having a transgender chair is possibly differentiating Sabaah from other LGBTQ organisations. In some ways I consider Sabaah to be a silent criticism of the existing power structures in our society”, says Fahad Saeed from Sabaah while also admitting that it has not always been like that:

“Of course we have several times ended up with mirroring the existing structures in which the cis-gendered men end up being the most visible and the ones who dominate the board but we have now managed to turn that tendency around. We also have a very broad representation when it comes to ethnicity although it can be challenging to recruit members due to the limited number of people with minority ethnic background in the LGBT community. But also in this case we have started to see positive changes as more and more resourceful voices with minority ethnic backgrounds join our organisation. In this sense I believe that we are more than just a silent criticism of the power structures of society but also an active player in both society as well as within the LGBT community”, says Fahad Saeed from Sabaah.

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