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Recognising diverse sexual identities and experiences

Two women kiss in a crowded street
Thomas Kern/

More than ever, today’s younger generations are refusing to be defined by a binary view of sexuality. And although the acronym has expanded to recognise this, people who identify as being part of the LGBTIQ community in Switzerland remain targets of violence and discrimination.

 Expert on issues of gender and equality, Caroline Dayer, explains why the very existence of the LGBTIQ community remains fundamental to fighting against social isolation and for equal rights. Queer, pansexual** or asexual; young people especially are using new terms to define their sexual orientation or identity. Why? 

Caroline Dayer: The appearance of these terms corresponds to the current new reality by which the diversity and fluidity of experiences young people are having is shattering binary ideas which, by the way, are very western. Such people are no longer limited by a bi-categorisation by which masculine and feminine, or hetero and homo, are separate and impermeable categories. So, these words are born from a need to define oneself in line with one’s experiences, because it is necessary to be able to define oneself before being able express oneself to others.

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Caroline Dayer
Caroline Dayer, expert on questions of violence, discrimination, gender and equality. twitter/Caroline Dayer In this context, is the LGBTIQ acronym still important for reclaiming the rights of sexual minorities?

C.D.: Yes, because people who refer to themselves with this acronym are still targets of discrimination and violence, in Switzerland as in the rest of the world. So its use enables us to highlight questions of inequality but also to bring to light some existences which are often kept in the cupboard. 

However, it is necessary to be vigilant because behind LGBTIQ are journeys and experiences that are extremely diverse and which cannot be assimilated. 

These letters relate to different things. When we speak of people who are lesbian, gay and bisexual, we are making a reference to an emotional and sexual orientation. The term trans* evokes the question of gender identity, while intersex concerns biological sexuation levels.

Finally, the Q of queer is associated both to a political movement and a theoretical perspective. Queers call into question social categorisations which relate to questions of power. This is also paradoxical because when you add a letter to the acronym you in fact create a new category.

But queer also signifies ‘questioning’, highlighting the fact that, during their lives, some people question themselves about their sexual and emotional orientation and/or about their gender identity. So the acronym groups together very different identities and claims. What is it that holds this community together? 

C.D.: In different research interviews that I have conducted over more than 15 years, I find that there are two questions which remain salient for these people: who to talk to and who to identify with. Still today, in 2017, this is not a matter of course. For one part, the existence of a community can facilitate the search for answers and the construction of oneself. 

For another, these people share the experience of homophobic and transphobic abuse, which is very widespread. The collective dimension is created from this violence to fight against the stigmatisation which isolates people. The associative fabric therefore plays an essential role. Where does Switzerland sit in relation to defending the rights of the LGBTIQ community as compared to our neighbours like France, Germany or Italy?

C.D.: In the legal sense, Switzerland is very behind, as much when it comes to protecting equality. 

Germany has just opened marriage to same-sex couples and in a record time. Switzerland, however, only has registered partnerships, which do not confer the same rights as marriage and which are reserved only for homosexuals. This last point is problematic; numerous people reject the registered partnership because it forces them to come out in an official and unwanted manner every time they fill out a form.  

The acronym LGBTIQ is used to designate people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer. With time, other terms have also appeared to define diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. 

Behind these letters are life stories that are sometimes simple, sometimes torturous, but all unique. For this reason, has decided to publish a portrait to illustrate each term which makes up the acronym. The series will be part of an important and current debate in society and will appear in the coming weeks on

We can, however, reveal that Switzerland is in the process of moving in certain areas, notably on the question of adoption and the protection of people who are homosexual, bisexual or trans*. For example, homosexual people will be able to adopt the child of their partner from 2018 and a process is under way to extend the anti-racial criminal code to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. You have spoken of violence and discrimination, what is the situation like in Switzerland?

C.D.: Whether it is in a school or professional context, in the street, on online social networks or within the family, situations of discrimination, rejection and violence are still very present today. 

Compared to other types of discrimination, the particularity of homophobia and transphobia is that the rejection can come from within the family itself. If young people do not have other means of protection, such as a circle of friends who they can talk to, they can find themselves in a situation of extreme vulnerability. It is part of the reason why this kind of discrimination, coupled with silence and the feeling of rejection, that the rate of attempted suicide is much higher amongst LGBTIQ people than amongst others. Can a homophobic or transphobic situation within the family influence the construction of identity at an adult age? 

C.D.: If the images or discussion available to young LGBTIQ people are either devaluing, emptiness or nothing, the construction of their identity could be more difficult. 

When we ask young people why they don’t want to speak about their questions about their sexual or emotional orientation, or their gender identity, they most often mention their fear of being rejected by their families. Many people have cut off links with their families, either because they have been rejected or because the subject has become an enormous taboo from the moment they mentioned it. It is a recurring situation. Moreover, most of the time, the people in the family considered to be the most important are often the last to be informed. 

However, we shouldn’t forget that there are also a lot of families where dialogue is possible. So the family can either be hell or a refuge. Speaking with loved ones is an excellent way to break down prejudice and move forward. However, people must first have a safety net outside of the family to ensure they don’t fall into a situation of isolation and vulnerability. Is our society ready to consider love in its universal form, without considering gender and orientation? 

C.D.: That’s the ideal goal. But for the moment we see that questions of sexuality and gender are still raised in relation to power and hierarchy. Young people continue to hear that certain relations are better or more legitimate than others. 

We must continue working to make things evolve, especially in relation to protection in the school environment. Children don’t see why a white person and a black person or two people of the same sex can’t love each other and get married. We learn to become sexist, homophobic, transphobic or racist. But the good news is that we can fix it. 

**pansexual: characterising individuals who are potentially attracted sexually or emotionally by people of all sexes and genders. 

Born in 1978 at Hérémence (canton Valais), Caroline Dayer studied at the faculty of psychology, science and education at the University of Geneva. After completing a doctorate on discrimination and equality, she was a researcher and teacher for 13 years.

Currently, she works for canton Geneva as an expert on questions of violence, discrimination, gender and equality. She is the author of two books:

The Power of Insult. Guide to the Prevention of Violence and Discrimination, 2017 Aube

Under the Paving Stones, Gender. Hacking Sexism, 2017 Poche (2014), Aube.

Translated from French by Sophie Douez

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