The skewed demographics of LGBT volunteering

29 September 2013 by Jennifer

Considering some factors which influence who volunteers.1

Why are Pride committees and similar organisations so commonly skewed towards economically secure, currently-able-bodied white gay blokes?

I was thinking about this.

For some variables (though not all), the population is skewed in the first place; e.g. white people are a majority in the UK.

As in so many other contexts, the people with more struggles to contend with, and/or more other responsibilities (like parents or carers), are less likely to have the time and energy to be involved.

For reasons mainly of tradition, and a little bit due to biology, women are more likely to have caring roles (though it’s not uncommon for gay men to care for partners or elderly parents). The women who get involved with Pride and suchlike things often have no children, or only adult children.

Some aspects of volunteering cost money: for instance, travelling expenses, extra childcare, or time not available for paid work. Not every organisation covers the participants’ expenses.

Volunteering on LGBT stuff in particular, similar factors apply all over again in skewing who can afford to be out. Some people have to rely on prejudiced employers, carers or family for economic or practical support; some people don’t.2

Other things to worry about

And not everyone’s top political priority is the LGBT aspect of their lives: you might be putting your energy into a local food bank, or improving relations between your community and the Police, or trying to protect the NHS or the environment or a local school.

This is part of why LGBT stuff sometimes comes over as a rich white people’s issue; it’s everyone’s issue, but some people (and some communities) are more likely to have other problems up in their faces at any given time.

Skewed and more skewed

It adds up: the volunteer demographics are likely to lean towards currently-able-bodied white people with limited or no caring responsibilities.

And groups which start skewed can easily end up staying skewed, or even getting more skewed over time.

If you try joining a group where you’re the only one (e.g. only bi person, only Black person, only woman, only older person, only parent), it can feel inadvertently unwelcoming and pointless, unless the majority makes an effort to be welcoming and to take your input seriously. If voting tends to divide along demographic lines, you’ll be outvoted; the focus of the group may not be the focus you were interested in; things you bring up might not be understood.

On a purely social level, it can take effort from one or both sides to get past an off-putting dynamic of “we all know each other”.

I don’t think these are the only factors – they’re just the ones which came to mind. Comments welcome, especially naming other factors or elaborating on the nuances of these.

1. A note on chronology: The origins of this article go back to 20 – 26 March 2013. I was thinking a lot about Pride organisation just then, and had an intense episode of writing, none of which actually got posted at the time. One of the things that came from that batch was “Community content for Pride main stages, radio-show style“, which I eventually posted in May… and then I jumped into actually working on Pride and never got around to posting the others! So there’s this, and there’s another post from then coming shortly, which is more specifically about Pride programming.

2. Can afford to be out: To elaborate a bit on risks of outness and visibility…

The Albert Kennedy Trust reports “We support several hundred young people every year who have experienced domestic violence or have been ejected from home just for being brave enough to come out as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Trans to their parents or care giver.

Adults too may need to rely on others, e.g. for childcare, personal help if ill or disabled, or co-operation at work.

On a less momentous scale, could be you don’t trust your current friendship group to be queer-friendly, and you need some more friends before it feels emotionally safe to come out.

There are lots of factors which intermingle; one, clearly, is the protective effect of economic power. That has a significant effect on the demographics of public outness.

2 thoughts on “The skewed demographics of LGBT volunteering”

Appreciation, criticism & new ideas all welcome...

Optional HTML tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Comments are moderated. Please no name-calling; please speak for yourself from your own life, or else say where you got the info. Thanks :-) Why these commenting guidelines?