Who Gets Their Fun in the Sun, and Who Doesn’t?

a red triangle and purple transgender symbol are wrapped in police tape and surveilled by two cameras.

By Kristyn Johnson; Art by g.r.

The summer season is a time of warm weather, fun clothes, and outdoor adventures. Families gather outside for picnics, friends take trips to pools and beaches, couples enjoy walks through the parks, and people wear lighter clothing to keep cool. As the months warm up and we head outdoors, many people likely think of this season as all about fun in the sun. However, for many queer, LGBT+, trans, non-binary and gender nonconforming folks, the summer months can mean exposure, hyper-visibility, and danger.

Being outside more in the summer months can draw unwanted attention for many reasons. For many gay, lesbian, and bisexual couples, walking along the street and holding hands or having arms draped across each other can still be a dangerous act. As more people move about on the streets, there is a higher probability of encountering homophobic slurs and actions. Even with the exciting festivities of Pride in June, there are still situations in which LGBT+ people will be harassed for simply being visible in the outside world. There is even evidence to suggest that LGBT+ people are more likely to be the targets of hate crimes than any other marginalized group.

Gender nonconforming, non-binary, and trans people also face increased scrutiny in the summer months, as clothing choices and gender presentation are policed in places like pools and parks, as well as streets and other public areas. As the controversy over “bathroom bills” suggests, trans people are often not allowed access to restrooms in public spaces, and by extension changing rooms and lockers. So, being trans or gender nonconforming and going to a pool is to invite unwarranted and invasive questioning from others. If a trans or non-binary parent brings their children to the pool, they can feel fear and anxiety over which bathroom to use with their kids and may even be asked for identification in the process. Others have described similar issues with being scrutinized while using public pools, which highlights deeper issues of trans people existing in public, where they can go, and what they can do. Questions of identification and where one must show ID also speak to larger issues that trans and gender nonconforming folks face, including airports, schools, workspaces, and voting areas.

Trans and gender nonconforming individuals must also confront whether they will dress in ways that match their identity and presentation or dress in ways that allow them a small amount of safety in public spaces. Such a choice requires one to pick between passing as cisgender (and potentially struggling with gender dysphoria) or dressing in a more authentic fashion while running the risk of increased scrutiny and less safety. The exclusion and policing of trans and gender nonconforming people from public spaces is especially troubling when coupled with the knowledge that these marginalized groups are at higher risk of being attacked and murdered. In 2017 alone, 28 trans people were murdered, victims of suspected hate crimes.

Queer, trans, and LGBT+ people being made hyper-visible in the summertime can also increase the risk of street harassment. As many have noted, street harassment is more prevalent in the summer months. Whether it’s because of the increased traffic on the streets or fewer clothes because of the heat, gender nonconforming people and cis and transgender women are more likely to have to battle street harassment in the warm months. Many people from these groups have a story to share of men who yell too loudly from across the street, sit too closely on the bus, or follow them down the street. While there are protections in place for LGBT+ people who experience sexual harassment in the workplace, there is little in the way of protections in public spaces and more informal situations. This lack of protection is especially true given that police maintain the policies that encourage such harassment, and cisgender and/or heterosexual bystanders are unlikely to intercede when harassment is taking place.

These various problems encourage us to ask the question: Who has access to public spaces, and who does not? Unfortunately, more times than not, queer, LGBT+, and gender nonconforming people do not have open access to public activities and spaces. It seems likely in these scenarios that queer folks are only allowed to be free in public when they conform to cisgender and heterosexual standards created by the people who police and control these spaces. So, what do we do to protect each other as we venture out into the heat? The police are little help in such situations, as they create and maintain these discriminatory policies, actively harass and discriminate against LGBT+ peoples, or dismiss any concerns as over-reactions. Such discrimination by the police is doubly troubling when one considers that trans and gender nonconforming people are regularly misgendered, abused, and assaulted in prisons and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers.

We must, as a community, look after each other. Support each other in parks, join one another at pools, band together on the streets, take back the outdoor seating of bars and restaurants, and carve space on buses and trains, so that the visibility of summer is not always a burden to avoid, but may be an act of resistance to celebrate.

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