I need more than pride flags and rainbow pins to feel represented

I’m always learning how to bring my authentic self to work every single day. I’ve written about being Pakistani and Muslim. I’ve talked about being a woman in tech with a background in journalism. I’m proud to be a daughter of immigrants. But one thing I haven’t written about is being queer.

I used to think that being queer meant that I had to have some sort of physical manifestation of it — should I cut my hair short or put a pride pin on my jacket or place a “queer” sticker on my laptop? The thought was scary. As a result, I haven’t told stories about my own queer journey. Instead, I focused on helping other people’s light shine a little bit brighter through my work as a journalist.

Since June is Pride Month, and Seattle is an active participant in all the festivities celebrating identities, I’m accustomed to Pride flags and rainbow decals on store windows. Given this representation, I’m so grateful to grown up in a city that accepts my identity as a queer woman of color. And I’m also glad that Pride can act as a space for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, and all other sexualities and identities that are not encompassed in the acronym ( LGBTQIA+) community to come together and celebrate their resilience. When I see queer couples walking down the street and laughing together, I smile because I can finally envision my future with another woman.

But Pride flags in storefronts and rainbow balloons don’t mean much if they don’t tell an intersectional story about identity.

This rings true for tech companies in particular. I see companies “celebrating Pride” with balloons, stickers, and t-shirts but don’t see any acknowledgement of the trans black and brown sex workers who started the Pride movement and fought to resist systemic oppression.

I see tech companies telling marketing and PR stories that focus on the experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals, but I don’t see myself represented. If the individual in the story is white, do they really understand how hard it can be to come out as a queer Pakistani? In a Muslim community? To know that if they married someone they loved who was the same gender, most of their cousins wouldn’t come to celebrate with them?

Until people stop assuming that I’m straight because of my brown skin, until I can finally feel comfortable using she/her pronouns instead of they/them out of fear of being judged for my sexuality, until there are gender neutral bathrooms in every building, and until I see more queer people of color being represented in C-suite positions and speaking out about their identity, a company or place has not transformed their culture to be more inclusive to the LGBTQIA+ community.

Last spring, I took a class called “Queerness of Love” where I realized that there needs to be more representation of people like me. Films like Moonlight and Paris is Burning were integral to making me feel like I can be open about being queer because they feature LGBTQIA+ individuals who are also people of color. If these characters can be queer in a world that wasn’t made for them, I can too.

Being queer and out is one of the most radical things I can do, as history has proved time and time again. Not only do I want to see more queer South Asian women featured in movies and news stories, I want to talk about how Pride was shaped by queer and trans people of color during the political unrest following the Stonewall Riots. The first gay pride was a riot in response to violence and systemic oppression that the LGBTQIA+ community faced on a daily basis. True advocacy and allyship starts with establishing spaces where LGBTQIA+ individuals can be open about their sexual orientation without fear of persecution.

The world, the tech industry, and academia were not designed for my queer brown body and the love that I have, but I need to see people making room for people like me to actually be comfortable to be myself. This is my history, and I want it to be acknowledged. Regardless of the number of Pride celebrations or rainbow flags on storefronts, we need to remember that the fight doesn’t stop here. Tech companies still need to be held accountable for walking the walk on inclusive culture, which start with having conversations about how pride began or telling intersectional stories about what it means to be a person of color in the LGBTQIA+ community, all while navigating the tech industry.

I deserve to be authentic when I come to work every day, as does everyone.

I want to tell stories of resilience and failure and survival because this is part of my narrative. It’s integral to who I am as a queer Pakistani woman who is in the process of coming out and to unabashedly loving myself.

I’ve always believed that we are constantly rewriting our coming out stories. The queer and gay and bi and trans and every other part of the LGBTQIA+ community is comprised of activists and poets and storytellers and engineers and biologists, and I’m right there with them. I really am queer and here and ready to rumble.

The idea of intersectionality is a reminder that I am everything at once. I am queer. I am Pakistani. I am the daughter of immigrants. Celebrating pride means that I can feel safe bringing all of these identities to the workplace and feel like I’m not only seen for it, but appreciated for it.

If you’re not sure about how to engage in this conversation as an ally, remember the power of asking someone how they self-identify.

The LBGTQIA+ community encompasses broad range of identities, and it’s important to make it a conversation and ask people what they prefer. For me, I identify as a queer woman because this word has always felt safe for me, and the word “lesbian” has only been used jokingly by people who don’t respect my identity.

Ultimately, there’s no one way to be queer. And there’s no one way to be human being. We live in a complex social ecosystem, and every piece of who we are is valuable. Every member of the LGBTQIA+ community is comprised of people who are activists and poets and storytellers and engineers and biologists, and I’m right there with them. I’m finally ready to be seen for every part of my identity.

Program Manager Intern @ Microsoft | Storyteller | Human Centered Design & Engineering Student @ UW


Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on July 3, 2018.