TL;DR: June is Pride Month, Immigrant Heritage Month, and PTSD Awareness Month. June also celebrates Juneteenth and Father’s Day. A group of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) practitioners, advocates, and upstanders who understand and appreciate intersectionality came together and shared their experiences and reflections as members and/or allies of the LGBTQ+ community, the immigrant community, the Black community, as well as the community impacted by PTSD. The key takeaway is that we are all intersectional and we all face challenges when it comes to inclusivity and equality, even within our own communities. Another takeaway is that capitalism and commercialization can be counterproductive and harmful to major events like Pride celebrations. It is also important to practice allyship with intention and actions. We ought to listen before we speak, think before we act, and strive to be an upstander beyond being a bystander. You'll find more takeaways and insights at the end of this article.
Definition of Intersectionality
It is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person's social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege. Intersectionality identifies multiple factors of advantage and disadvantage. Examples of these factors include gender, caste, sex, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, religion, disability, weight, physical appearance, and height. These intersecting and overlapping social identities may be both empowering and oppressing.
Editor's note: Below are the acronyms used in the conversation.
PTSD - Post-traumatic stress disorder
EDI/DEI - Equity, Diversity, Inclusion / Diversity, Equity, Inclusion
ERG - Employee Resource Group
AAPI - Asian American Pacific Islander
ZHOU: Good afternoon, everyone. Today is Thursday, May 26th. This is our very first Intersectional Conversation. I really appreciate you all agreeing to join and have a meaningful conversation around intersectionality, identity, our own journeys, allyship, etc. This is a celebration and also a discussion for June, which is Pride Month, PTSD Awareness Month, as well as Immigrant Heritage Month. Let’s kick it off with some self-introduction.
KATY: I'm Katy Byrtus. She/her pronouns. I work in sales, account management, staffing and recruiting, and EDI events.
[NAME HIDDEN]: Hi, everyone. I am a senior learning designer for DEI and belonging. I do everything from the training to helping create meaningful events and experiences related to DEI, particularly Heritage Months and observances as part of my work. And then work on weaving DEI into everything we do at our organization and helping support our kids as well. I think this body of work is part of my life. I am Mexican American, and I really just try to learn and grow in this space. And like many of you are on this continued journey. I'm excited to be here and be in space with folks, to have these meaningful conversations as I move along on my personal journey, but also want to support the broader community as well.
JANA: Hey, I'm Jana. I love this topic. I am a technical producer. I live with PTSD and I came out as an adult, sort of new to the community in that way. I started a group at my last company for DEI conversations. Right now I'm not getting the support that I need with all the things that have been happening in the world lately. So I'm just showing up where I'm at.
ZHOU: My name is Zhou Fang and I use she/her pronouns. I started Intersectional Group this year as I have been spending a lot of time thinking about intersectionality and what that really means to our lives. Even though many people have a lot of intersections, it's something that’s not intuitive. You have to take a moment to think about it and then start a conversation. Because it's not entirely intuitive, it will be worthwhile for us to have real people who recognize intersections and know that we all intersect in one way or another to have a conversation. For example, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Of course, it’s also AAPI Heritage Month. So doing all these things makes me wonder what we can do to highlight June, which is largely known as Pride Month. Later on, I realized it's actually Immigrant Heritage Month as well, which was a surprise to me. I was like, why did I not know this? I should know this. And of course, June is also PTSD Awareness Month and I myself have PTSD from immigration. This is a great opportunity to actually start kicking off some discussion around intersectionality.
What does intersectionality mean for you?
[NAME HIDDEN]: For me, it’s really important. It's my Mexican-American heritage. It's being a woman of color. It's been my anxiety, which is a hidden disability. I even brought it up today when we were talking about ERGs because I think there's not always a conversation around intersectionality; how it shows up and impacts people's lives. I see it (intersectionality) as an integral part of my life, but also in others too.
KATY: I appreciate what you said about ERGs because something I've been thinking a lot about lately is - oh, and ERG is “employee resource group”. I have always really struggled with the way that they don't acknowledge intersections and the way that some companies even limit your ability to join more than one. So you have to pick which part of your identity is most important or that you most want to center on. So intersectionality to me is the spectrum of who we are. It is how we show up. It is who we choose to hold space and community with.
JANA: A lot of the words that I heard that resonate with me are acknowledgment and acceptance. And I'll just add one for myself is an openness to understanding how people interact in the world and how people exist in the world, and that the structures that we have in place and the cultures that we exist in may disproportionately affect folks who are living in an intersectional space, being impacted by or being oppressed in multiple ways. For me, I try to be aware of those things and recognize that, and hold space for those things.
KATY: One intersection that I'm struggling with this month is that the Pride parade is on Juneteenth.
JANA: Yeah, I noticed that as well. And it’s challenging. Thinking about it being a day of celebration when really what I want it to be is a day of activism.
[NAME HIDDEN]: Well, I think that's a great point. I think it's also a good challenge for us to think about how do we support each other? How do we continue to put out the message that we rise by lifting others? We also need to be intentional. And think about things from the broader perspective of how we lift up and support each other and also recognize the context of intersectionality.
June is pride month, immigrant heritage month as well as PTSD awareness month. How do you see yourself intersecting? Do you have any reflections on that?
KATY: I identify as queer and as someone with a hidden disability like anxiety and depression. Something that I struggle with, with regards to Pride, quite a bit is the corporatization of Pride - the capitalistic nature that it has become, how incredibly crowds and alcohol oriented the events are. Because it really ostracizes a huge part of our community that just aren't comfortable engaging with any celebration. Something that I've been struggling with is I'm the Pride Community Co-Chair for Technology Association of Oregon, and we've kind of been scrambling like everyone else because it's like, “Oh sh*t, it's May. What do we do for Pride?” What do we do that is meaningful and creating and holding space for different intersections of identities. I'm happy that we've landed on having an opportunity for folks to volunteer and to help set up the parade, which is way before the crowds. We are then having a viewing party at a company along the route. I think the intersectional piece of these different heritage months or what have you are, I think so often missed if you just go with the crowd. So for me, again, just being really intentional about who's showing up and how can we be inclusive of everyone?
JANA: I'll jump in because that means a lot to me hearing that. I don't drink - I'm sober, to try and mitigate symptoms from PTSD. There is a really large alcohol association with Pride, and I think that's part of the capitalization of it. For me, I feel like I often have to pick and choose where I'm showing up and how I'm showing up. In particular, like for Pride, I kind of have to hide the PTSD side of myself and often learn to come out and actually have Pride in the queer community. And I often feel like I'm having to hide that (queer) part of myself when I show up for work or meeting new people or really fighting the kind of erasure of passing and being perceived as a heterosexual person.
[NAME HIDDEN]: I kind of get a little choked up to hear that people have to hide their authentic self. And I know it happens daily and there's code-switching and things like that and masking. But I really hope by having conversations like the one we're having now will help. Helping get the message out there to other people that want to be allies and in the different communities that we can start having the acknowledgment of this intersectionality, the acknowledgment of the commercialization and how that may be doing harm within the diverse community - within LBGTQIA+ community or within the PTSD community and within corporate America as well. By making more awareness of intersectionality, making more awareness of the complexity and the intersectional identities that we can, you know, create more space for that. I think with the alcohol comment, it made me think about how Cinco de Mayo has become this canned corporate thing.
KATY: I don't know if you've seen it, but there is some horrible Juneteenth stuff out there too. I think about that with Pride - where the communities came around and originally started these and then it's just getting commercialized or getting warped. How do we bring it back? By having these conversations, by acknowledging the diversity within the community, by acknowledging the intersectionality - like how do we take it back, right? And then as an ally, how do I support that effort, as well? How do we keep all those different pieces in mind and move forward in that intentional way that acknowledges all this?
JANA: I am actually very impressed at the reaction to the Juneteenth merchandise. Like it's getting shut down - that's just too far.
Now that we're aware, what's next?
[NAME HIDDEN]: I think it is having more conversations; taking more action to make space. And to hold space, and to support each other. And also acknowledging that there are multiple celebrations, things happening at the same time, multiple identities, all of that. And I think it's like continuing to get the message out about it and how the compartmentalizing of identities is having a real impact on people. Because here we are, talking about DEI and belonging. But if you're still doing that work or still having an organization like that (being performative), then you need to check yourself and do some self-reflection and be able to have those tough conversations.
KATY: I think even within our own communities, we have to hide parts of ourselves or feel like there are pieces that aren't accepted. I'm not sure how it is in other kinds of cultural communities, but I know in the queer community it can be really harmful. I think about the things that we talk about in the DEI workshops and in these corporate settings - like in-group / out-group bias, those happen within the queer community specifically. And if you're not the type that - although I do love me some RuPaul, - but if you're not the type that watches Drag Race and goes dancing every weekend, then you're not it. I know for a lot of people it was really challenging, especially like, coming up, coming out in their twenties in that scene.
ZHOU: It almost feels like that's sort of stereotypical within communities as well. If you don't fit that profile, you are an outsider.
KATY: So I think what’s next is having these conversations but moving beyond, like really thinking differently about how we create inclusive and safe spaces and who we're making sure is represented and at the table.
JANA: I try and live my most authentic life. That's what I strive for. And it's been a struggle. Truly, there was a lot that I had to uncover and get sober and do a lot of things to get there. But I think continuing to exist in the community outside the stereotype is one impactful way to show others. And then using the privilege that I do have to call out where I can, especially with my corporation being silent. There was a Q&A with the CEO today and we just asked directly, “why hasn't there been any messaging? Are you going to be supporting women who may not have access to safe and legal abortions? Where are we with that and holding people accountable?” I didn't quite get the response I wanted, but I think there's still follow-up. So just recognizing the places where I can speak up and making sure they do that (being held accountable).
ZHOU: I think we all have privileges. Intersectionality is both. It's like disadvantages or the oppressions we all experience in our own communities or society at large, as well as the privileges we do have. And we do all have this opportunity to use that (privilege) to do something good. So I really appreciate that.
The last question is, what is your take on allyship?
KATY: It's all performative without action. I just keep thinking of corporatization. I'm not looking forward to everyone's, every company’s LinkedIn feed - having a rainbow. What's it called? Logo, in the feed. I think touting allyship or identifying one as such can be performative and harmful.
[NAME HIDDEN]: There is so much opportunity for people to learn truly about how to take action. There's a lot of savior complex that comes out sometimes with allyship as well. I think the listening part too, along with the action is critical. Because sometimes allies or people that want to be allies don't always listen to what the needs are from the community or from the person they're trying to be an ally to. I have seen that and I worry about that piece too. There's a lot of education for folks that want to be allies - it's an ongoing journey. People who want to be allies have to be able to evolve, based on community needs - intersectionality. There are a lot of people that want to be allies that don't even know anything about that.
KATY: The other thing I was going to say is even allyship within our own communities is complex and messy and can be performative at times. I've been struggling with my own allyship a lot, actually, within this fight for reproductive freedom. Just feeling kind of paralyzed.
JANA: The idea of losing my life in a situation like that (abortion rights)... It's terrifying to me. As far as allyship, I'll just say that I feel most comfortable in action. I am the type of person that likes to be doing something. It's easy to find the actions if you look for them. People are vocal and they're stating what they want and need. You just need to turn over some rocks and do some research and you find it (action) pretty quickly.
Editor’s note: The group went on to discuss “better terms” to describe allyship. Below is a shortened version for clarity.
[NAME HIDDEN]: I like the word upstander versus bystander because I think that has the action. Also, co-conspirators, accomplices… But that's the action piece that really matters, you know. So that's where I land. But not action without the listening part, the getting input, and the hearing. Actively listen before you take the action so that you're making sure that you're really showing up in the way that you're being asked to.
ZHOU: I almost feel maybe it's time for us to try to retire the word ally or allyship because it feels like it doesn't really fit our expectations or standards anymore. Going forward we could intentionally switch ally out and put in upstander, co-conspirator or accomplice.
ZHOU: Thank you. I am really grateful for y’all, for making time today, especially knowing how difficult it has been. If you have any additional thoughts, please share before we wrap up.
[NAME HIDDEN]: I appreciate the vulnerability and the conversation. Look forward to the next one.
KATY: Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.
JANA: Yeah. 100% agree. Thank you all.
Editor’s note: We also asked what fun plans folks had for June. Here are the group's plans: adventures with dogs, self-care, enjoy a new backyard, enjoy time with family, more dogs, and more self-care.
Although each of our identities is intersectional to some degree, it’s hard for individuals to navigate intersectionality and allyship. For example, we may feel like we have to hide parts of ourselves or feel like there are pieces that aren't accepted within our own communities. It’s even harder for companies to successfully navigate diversity, equity, and inclusion ideas with impactful action. At the organizational level, some examples are the inappropriate commercialization of important events such as Pride or Juneteenth or that some companies only allow employees to join one ERG even though employees may identify with multiple groups. As individuals, groups, and organizations, we must listen before we speak, think before we act, and strive to be an upstander beyond being a bystander. It is important to practice allyship with actions, intention, and awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion impacts.
Both intersectionality and allyship/co-conspiracy are complex DEI concepts. Intersectionality is not just about oppression or disadvantage. It can be about privilege too. We may live with disadvantages related to one piece of our identity and advantages or privileges related to another at the same time. At the core of good allyship is listening to the needs of the community. It’s not just putting a rainbow on your social profiles, it’s about impactful, helpful action. So, upstander, co-conspirator, or accomplice may be a better word choice than ally because they imply action. The good news is that there are abundant DEI resources available to both individuals and organizations to help us understand concepts of intersectionality and allyship/co-conspiracy and actions we can take to support these ideas. As Jana said, “it's easy to find the actions if you look for them. People are vocal and they're stating what they want and need.”
We wish to thank the following authors and contributors for their efforts in conducting and compiling this report:
Editor: Kathryn Kennedy