Discrimination harassment and violence: the experiences of LGBT communities

In Episode 15 of Series 3 of the DIAL Podcast we’re discussing LGBT discrimination, harassment and violence. Our guests are Sait Bayrakdar from Kings College London and Andrew King from the University of Surrey who, as part of DIAL’s CILIA project have been using a large cross national survey to look at the experiences of nearly 29,000 people living in Germany the UK and Portugal. LGBT discrimination, harassment and violence in Germany, Portugal and the UK: A quantitative comparative approach is research by Sait Bayrakdar and Andrew King and is published in the journal Current Sociology.


Christine Garrington  0:00 

Welcome to DIAL a podcast where we tune in to evidence on inequality over the lifecourse. In this episode, we’re discussing LGBT discrimination, harassment and violence. Our guests are Sait Bayrakdar from King’s College London and Andrew King from the University of Surrey, who, as part of DIAL’s CILIA project have been using a large cross-national survey to look at the experiences of nearly 29,000 people living in Germany, the UK and Portugal. I asked Andrew first to talk us through the background to the research.

Andrew King  0:30 

This piece of research is part of the larger CILIA LGBTQI project, which has been exploring inequalities across the lives of LGBTQI people in four European countries – England, Scotland, Germany, and Portugal. We had a large research team from four different institutions on the project. And they brought expertise from different disciplines, as well as different methodologies. So the main aims of the CILIA project were to study LGBTQI inequalities from an intersectional and lifecourse perspective and bring some comparative dimensions to this. We started with a literature review and survey mapping exercise, which helped us document what had been done so far in the area, then we went on to analyse various sources of data, as well as collecting a large qualitative data set from LGBTQI individuals in the four countries. But this research article reports on the research, which was a part of our quantitative strand.

Christine Garrington  1:43 

Okay, that’s great. Thanks Andrew. I’m going to come back to you a little bit later in our discussion for your sort of reflections on what was was found. But Sait you were the lead author on this, and what was it specifically that you wanted to try to get to grips with and why in this particular paper?

Sait Bayrakdar  1:58 

We were aware from our qualitative research that despite over 10 years of equality legislation, issue of discrimination, harassment, and violence we’re still very significant to LGBT people, but we wanted to look at this both quantitatively and cross nationally. In a nutshell, we were mainly interested in understanding the patterns of discrimination, harassment and violence experienced by LGBT individuals in these countries. But this was quite tricky, because most survey studies still do not collect information about sexual orientation or gender identity. And it is even more difficult to find an international study that collects data from individuals across different countries. One exception to this was the LGBT survey conducted by the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency. And this data allowed us to do a comparative analysis across the countries in the CILIA project. In fact, this really was the on the Pan-European data set that spoke to these inequalities. Also, we wanted to document the diverse experiences and patterns within LGB and T communities. Partly because of data limitations, and small numbers in surveys, these different groups are often merged in a single category as LGBT. Although their experiences differ quite a lot. And our results also come from these differences. Qualitative researchers are quite ahead in this regard. And they have done amazing studies showing the diversity in experiences and outcomes. We hope this research will help us show these differences quantitatively and highlight the need for better survey data collection that allows researchers to study LGBTQI plus lives in this way.

Andrew King  3:37 

So although we, there were four countries involved, actually, the dataset just puts everybody into a UK group. So we couldn’t separate out England and Scotland. And the other thing is that the dataset doesn’t include specific questions relevant for intersex people either. So we weren’t able to include intersex people in the quantitative analysis that we did.

Christine Garrington  4:01 

Okay, yeah, understood. Now, what sorts of things were people asked about in the Fundamental Rights Agency survey then Sait? It just sounds, it sounds a really useful resource for this.

Sait Bayrakdar  4:12 

Yes, absolutely. So the respondents were asked about many things, including their demographic data and social identities, their experiences of discrimination or other kinds of unfair treatment, whether they report these incidents, whether they change their behaviour in public to avoid discrimination. They are also asked about their views about equality policies and their relationships with people they interact in their daily lives. It’s quite a rich study, and I believe it is terribly under used by researchers. In this research, we looked at LGBT individuals experiences of discrimination, harassment and violence, and the survey was asking whether they had experienced any of these as a result of the person’s sexual orientation and gender identity. We looked at how these differences differ for LGBT individuals separately, and how their social background affects their likelihood of experiencing this incidence.

Christine Garrington  5:07 

Yeah and large numbers of people took part in this survey as well. So, Sait let’s dig a bit deeper now and move on to you know what everybody is interested to hear about, which is what you actually found – can you talk us through that?

Sait Bayrakdar  5:20 

Sure. So earlier, I said that we were interested in bringing forward the diverse experiences within and between LGBT individuals, and between different countries. And I can confidently say that we found out that there are quite striking differences across LGB, and T individuals. First of all, in all countries, trans individuals are more at risk of experiencing negative incidents of discrimination, harassment and violence. Compared to their cisgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual counterparts. This is perhaps not surprising for many, but this wasn’t explored quantitatively previously in an academic study. And another interesting finding for me was that different groups were more prone to experience different kinds of negative incidents. For example, lesbians seem more at risk of discrimination and harassment, and gay men are more at risk of violence. We do not know why this is the case. But there is definitely an observable gender pattern here. And my feeling is that this might be related to the ways these identities may be seen as a threat to masculinity. And I think we should definitely need more research to look at these intersections of sexuality, gender, and maybe also other, other social identities.

Christine Garrington  6:38 

Yeah, some really, really interesting and important findings emerging here. And was the story the same across all of the three countries that you, you looked at?

Sait Bayrakdar  6:47 

Not quite. In the first instance, all three countries showed similar patterns in the likelihood of experiencing these incidents across different groups. In all countries, reports of discrimination and harassment were more common than reports of violence and trans individuals were more likely to experience all three forms of negative incidents but there were some interesting differences when we dug deeper. For example, the rates of violence are higher in the UK, which begs the question why the UK is less able to protect these individuals despite being a front runner in equality legislation? Perhaps another thing is that the reports of violence are particularly high for trans individuals and gay men in the UK. These two groups in the UK are more likely to experience violence than those in Germany and Portugal. And I think this suggests that contextual factors may be shaping some part of these experiences or the likelihood of experiencing these incidents. This is something that comparative data can help us understand a bit better.

Christine Garrington  7:47 

Okay, Sait so was there anything else at play? Any other factors that we should take into account or that you took into account that were important or relevant?

Sait Bayrakdar  7:55 

Yeah, so we included quite a few other variables relating to social identities and individual characteristics. I think the most important but perhaps not so unexpected finding was that those who have greater socioeconomic resources are less likely to experience these negative incidents. And this implies that class based social inequalities may have a role here as well. So for example, a more economically advantaged person may be able to protect themselves a bit better, whereas other less advantaged might unfortunately, be more vulnerable to such incidents. We found this effect to varying degrees in all countries. I think this is very important because it points out that intersections of class, sexuality and gender identity are creating unique experiences. Depending on one is positioned across different social demographics, the likelihood of experiencing negative incidents change. We also find that LGBT individuals with disabilities and minority ethnic or religious backgrounds are more likely to experience discrimination. It is really very important that we create more empirical evidence on these intersections looking at different life outcomes, not only discrimination, harassment and violence, but maybe also the outcomes of education, labour markets, and other domains of life.

Christine Garrington  9:15 

Yeah, no, absolutely understood. Now, what would you say then say, Sait that we take away from all of this in an era where, you know, many people assume or think, believe that discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and identity as somehow a thing of the past? I mean, your your research tells us otherwise?

Sait Bayrakdar  9:32 

And this is a very interesting question, which I also find difficult to answer. I think there has been an immense advancement in the equality legislation in the UK, as well as the other countries in our research. And public attitudes have also progressed significantly in recent years. And I think maybe, possibly because of these recent changes, some people may think that the struggle has now been won, and equality has been achieved. However, having legislation is one thing and putting it in effect is another. LGBT individuals still experience discrimination in their day-to-day lives, and the things heterosexual cisgender individuals take for granted are usually not available or accessible to the same extent to LGBT people. And I think that is because the norms and cultures in workplaces, social lives, families are shaped by cis-heteronormativity. So I think those with lived experiences have a better understanding of discrimination and whether or not it is a thing of past.

Christine Garrington  10:33 

And on that note, do you have any thoughts on the implications of all of this for, for policy, especially around efforts to promote greater equality, and diversity, you know, wherever we’re at in the world, but particularly in these countries.

Sait Bayrakdar  10:47 

In this piece we provide quantitative evidence for many issues scholars have been discussing for a while. And we do this by providing further original comparative evidence, we knew that the discrimination, harassment and violence was there. But for me, the most important take home lesson is that there are country differences in the likelihood of experiencing these incidents. And we see that violence is more likely in the UK, particularly for trans individuals. We do not test the effect of potential factors, but our study does show that trans individuals are more more vulnerable to these attacks. So I think policy should really prioritise this. Trans rights have become a very heated topic for some years now. I must say, I think the way trans rights are discussed in the UK is not helping. As a policy priority the government and other policymakers should prioritise addressing trans people’s very immediate needs and ensure that everyone regardless of their gender identity is protected from discrimination, harassment and violence. And another issue. Police documents don’t always take account of diversity in terms of gender identity, sexual orientation, or variations in sex characteristics and intersex status. They often assume that LGBTQI plus communities are a homogeneous group, despite their characteristics and needs being quite different. I think there should be more engagement from policymakers with communities themselves, so they can see that they are working with diversity and difference. This should also take account of differences related to other social backgrounds, such as education, class, ethnicity, disability, religion, and possibly any other significant difference that people may feel or identify with.

Christine Garrington  12:30 

Yeah, thank you Sait for those really interesting reflections. And Andrew, I wonder if there’s anything that you’d like to add to that?

Andrew King  12:36 

Yeah, an overall recommendation from the CILIA project is the need for intersectional policymaking. So policies tend to address people as single subjects and adopt a one size fits all approach, which in a way, erases differences. And as we’ve demonstrated in our article from an intersectional lifecourse perspective, this is really problematic. This means that we need policymaking that focuses on multiple and contextual marginalities as well as inclusions and exclusions and how privilege and oppression are created in multiple ways. So not recognising this intersectional diversity in policymaking, or perhaps only doing so in limited ways means people who embody the intersections of different and multiple marginalities get overlooked. So while some policies need to be specific, they should also recognise intersections. And we very much hope that our article and the wider CILIA project contributes to a new policy agenda in this respect.

Christine Garrington  13:46 

“LGBT discrimination, harassment and violence in Germany, Portugal and the UK. A quantitative comparative approach” is research by Sait Bayrakdar and Andrew King, and is published in the journal Current Sociology. You can find out more on the DIAL website at dynamicsofinequality.org. And don’t forget to subscribe to the DIAL podcast to access earlier and forthcoming episodes. Thanks for listening to this episode of the DIAL podcast which was presented and produced by me Chris Garrington of Research Podcasts.