Advancing Diversity through a Framework
of Intersectionality: Inclusion of LGBT Issues in Higher
By M. Paz Galupo, director of the Multicultural
Institute and professor of psychology at Towson University
A small group of individuals interested in LGBT issues
attended the “Transitioning on Campus” presentation
at the AAC&U Diversity and Learning conference in
Philadelphia. We all had anecdotes to share and issues
we could identify at our respective campuses, but collectively
we had little sense of shared direction or vision. Looking
around the room during this roundtable session and at
the other impassioned “diversity” discussions
taking place at the conference, we felt the sense of
marginalization experienced on our home campuses recreated.
Although general discussions about “diversity”
would sometimes acknowledge “sexual orientation,
gender identity, religion, ability, etc.,” the
conversation mainly centered on race/ethnicity. Yet
few, if any, individuals at our table identified as
persons of color and few, if any, identified openly
as allies. How, then, could we expand the larger conversation
about campus diversity to allow for successful integration
of LGBT perspectives?
The problem we encountered at the Diversity and Learning
conference is symptomatic of the current status and
direction of diversity planning in higher education.
Institutions are held accountable for narrowly defined
diversity outcomes, and the emphasis in diversity planning
continues to center on race/ethnicity. The trend toward
centralizing diversity efforts has helped campuses to
better coordinate efforts across divisions and levels
and serves to elevate the status of such efforts. For
the most part, however, strategies for integrating LGBT
concerns have not been systematically or thoughtfully
articulated. Because diversity efforts have historically
addressed issues of gender and race, and because LGBT
issues are unique in a number of ways (sexual orientation
cannot be visually detected, institutional and legal
protections are not uniformly present or applied, etc.),
LGBT issues present a challenge to many existing diversity
Effective integration of LGBT issues into established
diversity structures in higher education requires a
larger framework of intersectionality. Rather than simply
advocating for diverse racial communities or focusing
solely on “the” LGBT community, those of
us involved in campus diversity work need to reframe
the ways these diverse communities intersect and inform
each other. We need to contextualize the work of LGBT
advocacy within the already developed framework of racial
and gender equity.
As a biracial Jewish lesbian who “presents”
to many as palatable by virtue of being “white
enough,” “straight-looking,” and “well
educated,” I straddle identity categories in interesting
and confounding ways. My reality resides among the intersections
of diverse categories. I am accepted as both insider
and outsider, sometimes simultaneously, in conversations
about race/ethnicity, sex/gender, socioeconomic status,
ability, religion, national identity, sexual/affectional
orientation, and gender identity, but am forced to use
a language and framework that fails to acknowledge the
multiplicity of my being.
Likewise, diversity efforts in higher education fail
to address the wholeness of our communities. As we have
moved ahead in advancing diversity initiatives we have
often recreated false dichotomies and reified artificial
divisions. Below I describe just a few examples of how
diversity efforts have failed to acknowledge the intersectionality
among diverse communities. These examples are intentionally
situated to elucidate the nexus between LGBT and diverse
racial communities within higher education, moving from
micro to macro levels of analysis.
Individual level: Many individual LGBT students of
color are exposed to homophobia and discrimination as
part of the accepted “culture” of their
respective racial communities. Likewise, these students
experience racism and exclusion within LGBT communities.
The result is that these students do not feel a sense
of belonging in either place.
Institutional level: Using a centralized approach to
diversity, student offices are assigned to ensure that
the “diverse” groups share a suite of offices.
The LGBT students are not able to use the space since
they do not feel safe among the other groups, whose
cultures may discriminate against them.
National level: Historically black universities typically
have no institutionally recognized LGBT student groups.
These examples reveal the real structural barriers
that prevent successful integration of LGBT communities
into larger diversity initiatives. It is clear that
campuses have failed to recognize the need to contextualize
LGBT advocacy within the existing culture of diversity
work—namely, that which is framed to address primarily
racial and gender equity. The reluctance to address
homophobia within diverse racial communities may stem
from a desire to be sensitive to the cultural norms
of diverse racial groups. Part of the inability to have
meaningful discussions about sexual diversity and gender
identity, then, arises from our limitations in creating
meaningful dialogues within racially diverse groups.
Often we diversity workers resist attending to the
whole of our communities using the same arguments levied
against diversity efforts in general: Why focus on X
because “they” are such a small part of
our community? Why allow “special consideration”
for these individuals? Focusing on X deters us from
our main objectives. Instead we should be asking the
- Why do we advocate for LGBT inclusion in general,
but remain afraid to challenge homophobia within our
racially diverse communities?
- How can a dialogue about the experiences of LGBT
persons of color inform, for example, our work within
the larger African American and LGBT communities?
- How can our successes in advancing racial diversity
and gender equity inform our advocacy for LGBT inclusion?
And conversely, how can arguments for LGBT inclusion
be used to shift our discussions about race and gender
in creative and more effective directions?
By attending to the questions framed by intersectionality
we do not merely make visible the experiences of a few,
we shift the dialogue to move beyond single labels for
us all. We allow a conceptualization of diversity that
moves beyond binary dimensions, and expands to include
a three-dimensional sense of self and community. Keeping
central a framework of intersectionality will better
advance a true and inclusive diversity agenda in higher