Sticks and Stones: LGBT Street Harassment

This article was written as a part of LGBT Week 2015 in honor or Ireland's marriage referendum. Find out more here.

By Nichole Fernández (Editor)

I am an unwavering and proud supporter of marriage equality. I’m frustrated that it is taking so long to happen but I am proud of the momentum the cause has gained in the past few years. That being said, I do have issues with the way marriage equality is sometimes portrayed as the end goal for the LGBT movement. With the Irish Marriage Equality Referendum on May 22nd, and the looming decision of the US Supreme court Hearing on same-sex marriage, the topic of marriage equality has dominated Western media. I fear this kind of news coverage outshines many other important issues of the movement and frames equality as both determined by, and ending with, marriage rights. I am additionally critical that the current movement is simply copying the social structure of heterosexual marriage and has seemingly forgotten the LGBT movement’s historic goals of challenging the restrictions of heterosexuality.

Staff writer Ana Isabel Nölke, in her article on gay marriage discusses this idea that marriage equality has incorrectly become the symbol of definitive equality for the LGBT identified. While, marriage equality is a great and momentous step in the right direction, its attainment does not mean the overall LGBT equality movement is complete.  The Center for American Progress published a shocking infographic showing that while LGBT identified individuals may be legally allowed to marry in certain states of the US, 29 states still lack anti-discrimination policies in areas such as employment and housing. Similarly, in Ireland, the constitution allows religious institutions to discriminate against LGBT people. With over 93% of schools under religious control, as well as many hospitals, this poses a problem.

Center for American Progress. 9 March 2015.

Center for American Progress. 9 March 2015.

The discussion of marriage equality additionally frames political equality as a measure of social acceptance. As a society we often conflate legal equality with social equality – in the same way that men and women are treated equally under the law, but sexism continues to exist. While there is rightfully much celebration for passing marriage equality legislation, it can easily cloud the everyday lived experiences of LGBT couples. Political equality does not reflect full social acceptance and does little to counteract daily discriminatory reminders faced by LGBT individuals. I greatly value the media coverage on marriage equality and the growing attention towards the issue, however I am not a political scientist or a policy authority. Therefore, as a sociologist, I would hope that more attention be paid to the everyday discrimination faced by LGBT couples. For me, these daily inequalities are representative of a greater lack of social acceptance and should be an equally important hurdle for the LGBT movement.

An area of daily discrimination faced by LGBT individuals that has lacked a surprising amount of attention is street harassment. With organisations such as Hollaback and other popular cultural movements, street harassment towards women has gained some momentum as of late. A study from the US identified that 65% percent of women had experienced street harassment [1]. Though much data is lacking on this topic, within the LGBT community a reported 90% of individuals have experienced street harassment [2].  Street harassment towards gay men and transsexual identified individuals being the most frequent [3]. LGBT harassment can be so common that it is almost expected.  According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights (FRA) “more than four-fifths of all respondents said that casual jokes about LGBT persons in everyday life were widespread.”[4] Additionally, the FRA found that “some 66% of respondents across all EU Member States are scared of holding hands in public with a same-sex partner. For gay and bisexual male respondents, this figure amounted to 74% and 78%, respectively.”[5]

LGBT street harassment is rarely discussed in the media, by academics, and in social spaces. It is time to start that debate. Recently, I launched a project called Sticks and Stones in order to encourage communication and awareness of LGBT street harassment. It is a project that attempts to give the back power and voice to the harassed while raising the issue to a wider audience. Sticks and Stones encourages LGBT+ identified individuals in Edinburgh to write down the verbal harassment that is aimed at them, take a photo of what they wrote, and upload it to the website. The goal is to collect enough experiences to form a public art installation within the city of Edinburgh. The images are not initially visible online in order to take the discussion away from the virtual field and bring it back to the city in which these discriminations occurred. Providing statistics and quotes about experiences of discrimination only go so far, it is not until these issues are localized can the realization of its prevalence fully sink in. This project, while unfortunately doing little in the way of stopping LGBT street harassment, may help begin a lasting discussion that is lacking within the overall movement towards social and political equality.

Street harassment may seem like a fairly benign issue when compared to the civil equality issue of marriage rights. However, not only can verbal street harassment swiftly turn to physical violence, it is also part of an overall daily reminder of the lack of social equality. The constant threat of harassment makes you to check your behavior and actions in public. It is constant echo of your lack of power in a vastly unaccepting society. It shames you for something that is not a choice. It forces you to face your social vulnerability and is followed by the subtle but ever present reminder of the threat of hate violence. Street harassment is part of those daily discriminations that cause individuals to feel unsafe, unequal, self-hate, and even possibly give up the fight towards political equalities such as marriage. While daily reminders of inequality may work as impetus to spur the fight towards political equality, in contrast it can also dishearten and discourage the movement.

For more information on Sticks and Stones or to upload your own experience please visit





[5] ibid