How Asexual Awareness Week Redefined My Queer Activism
During Asexual Awareness Week we celebrate the asexual community, also known as the “ace” community, and challenge ourselves to incorporate asexuality into our advocacy work. Asexuality is a sexual orientation describing people who do not experience sexual attraction, and asexual or “ace” are umbrella terms for a spectrum of identities including demisexual and gray-asexual.
Even though I believed myself to be a well-informed queer activist on a college campus, I had never heard of the ace community before last year. However, during my time as a fellow with the National LGBTQ Task Force, I had the opportunity to research the history of asexuality and the formation of the ace movement as well as to interview prominent movement leaders. What I learned truly redefined how I saw myself as a queer activist and showed me that, as an advocate, I am never done learning.
Part of this redefining period was the result of learning about the overlap between ace and queer communities. According to the 2011 Asexual Community Census, 41% of respondents identified along the LGBTQ spectrum in addition to identifying as asexual, demisexual, or gray-asexual with 20% identifying as transgender or questioning their gender. Additionally, 38% did not identify as LGBTQ but did consider themselves LGBTQ allies.
The census also cites that about 40% of respondents are currently attending college/university and almost 19% are currently attending a high school/secondary school. Many of these young adults look for spaces on their campus where they can have conversations about intimacy, attraction, and identity. These groups are often exclusively LGBTQ campus groups that may act as the first safe space an asexual person may come out in. But even in LGBTQ spaces, ace people may be the target of hostility and exclusion due to misconceptions about what it means to be asexual.
Realizing that a queer student organization, like the one I am a part of, could potentially exclude or invalidate a person’s identity motivated me to make sure that we were as welcoming to all student who may reach out to us. This meant initiating structural changes, such as forming a new Asexual, Bisexual, Pansexual, and Fluid community within our organization, which established a space for ace students to have a voice on campus. But it didn’t stop there. Being intentional about ace-inclusion means ensuring the language we use around sex and intimacy does not alienate or marginalize members of the ace community, and acknowledging the types of relationships we privilege and see as legitimate in our community.
The need for ace-inclusive LGBTQ activism isn’t just an individual imperative on college campuses. It’s part of a larger conversation about disrupting the boundaries between single-issue movements and challenging what is really meant by—and who is included within—queer activism. Some LGBTQ organizations, for example, have made racial justice and immigration reform top priorities, understanding that members of our own community are also affected by the systems and discrimination that oppress people of color and immigrants. Through this, advocates learned when we look across movements, we can see that we face similar barriers although our experiences of them may be different.
Both LGBTQ people and the ace community face barriers and discrimination on both the interpersonal and institutional levels. Our communities fight for similar rights: accurate visibility and representation in the media, preventing physical and sexual violence, access to affordable and culturally-competent health care, relationship recognition, adoption rights and employment protections.
Employment discrimination against the ace community is becoming a growing trend as more people come out as asexual. The rise of asexual-identified employees will drastically increase in the next 5 years, as the 81% of ace individuals under 25 enter the workforce. Unfortunately, increased visibility may lead to widespread discrimination for ace young adults. In looking at the history of other marginalized communities, once the general population is widely aware that a minority group exists, we often see an increase in discrimination targeting that community.
In order for the LGBTQ community to become more inclusive, we have to educate ourselves about the asexual community and dedicate ourselves to fight for their rights. Only then can we stand in solidarity with all those who have felt the sting of injustice for simply trying to be their whole selves, no matter their sexual orientation or identity. As a queer activist, I have dedicated myself to making my activism ace-inclusive. I will step up when it is appropriate for me to demonstrate leadership and step back when it is important that other voices be heard. I will acknowledge what I do not know, educate myself, and stand in solidarity with the ace community. I will hold LGBTQ advocates and organizations accountable to do the same. We are stronger when we all stand together.
You can find resources to host your own Asexual Awareness Week events and social media campaigns here.
By Emmett Patterson, Former Task Force Policy Institute Fellow