LGBTQ+ influencer Matt Bernstein (@mattxiv) talks stigma, mental health, social media, and politics in an unfiltered Q&A session.
What does Pride Month mean to you?
I think Pride Month this year is about taking up space loudly and unapologetically. The past year has been devastating for our community — particularly for trans people and LGBTQ youth. The conservative right has strengthened their apparatus to hurt us, and they’re accelerating at an alarming rate. This isn’t a “culture war;” it’s about our right to exist, be ourselves, and be left alone. This month, and every month, we’re going to remind you that we aren’t going anywhere, no matter what Fox News has to say about it.
What is an issue that LGBTQ+ community is facing that many people may not know about?
So much attention is placed on coming out, and rightfully so, but I don’t think enough people discuss life for LGBTQ+ adults and the work that needs to be done in that realm. Mental illness that occurs from discrimination and childhood trauma, drug use, HIV stigma, the list goes on. I want more people, especially outside of the community, to understand that the complexities of being LGBTQ+ does not end with coming out.
What do you think people can do this Pride Month to raise awareness about important issues that impact the global LGBTQ+ community?
We’re experiencing a moment where conservatives are feeling particularly emboldened to express their homophobia and transphobia on some of the world’s largest stages. Our community needs allies to not be afraid to speak up. I know it’s not always easy. I know people get scared of being judged. But if you’re an ally in this position, now you know what it feels like to experience a fraction of the fear and bravery involved in waking up as an LGBTQ+ person every day. If you hear something anti-LGBTQ+, say something. Take a stand.
One of the most difficult challenges for LGBTQ+ youth is the question of family acceptance. What message would you give to those who are looking for the courage to come out to their families?
I never think anyone should feel like they must come out within a certain time frame. Do what feels safe to you. And while it may never be a completely comfortable process, you’ll know when you’re ready. Cliché though it is, there is a queer family — a chosen family — waiting for you in the world, ready to embrace you as you are.
What are some strategies organizations can follow to promote positive and healthy environment for colleagues who are LGBTQ+?
Respecting pronouns is great. Equal pay and protection from harassment are also great. Talk to LGBTQ+ employees about how their needs can be met instead of assuming you already know.
What active role should companies play when offensive comments occur?
I’m going to answer this in the context of “offensive comments” online:
Social media platforms need to do a wildly better job at creating community guidelines that actually protect the most vulnerable communities on their apps. Because of the way policies are enforced through AI, guidelines that are meant to protect users end up disproportionately hurting marginalized groups. Content from women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, fat people, disabled people, etc. are often censored and threatened with punitive action for discussing our experiences which may be considered “inappropriate.” When companies create “community guidelines,” which communities are they trying to protect?