By Alex Xourias

What is “oppression?” What does “injustice” look like? How does “inequity” differ from “inequality?”

These words get thrown around a lot, but their abstract nature often turns conversations murky and directionless. A new initiative of Chicago House CEO Stan Sloan and partners, the LGBTQ Poverty Collaborative, is actively reversing this trend by identifying specifically what inequality, inequity, and oppression look like in a country where universal marriage equality is now tangible.

The group held a donor briefing on March 26th that was the first in Illinois to identify LGBTQ poverty as a social justice priority. Since its inception, Chicago House has worked with communities that are further marginalized by poverty or stigmatized by HIV status. In that regard, the organization has been a leader in addressing “intersectionality.”

Addressing what?

The technical definition of “intersectionality” is the interaction between various forms of oppression resulting in a multifaceted dynamic between individuals and the oppressive systems we operate in.

Wait a second — I didn’t understand any of that. Let’s break it down. How about some imagery?

Think of “intersectionality” as a chain-link fence. Each strand of metal represents a different social construct by which we define ourselves (race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and etc.); and what we end up with is a series of linked pieces of metal. These links, or intersections, support the entire structure of the fence. The links represent the intersections between identities (i.e. black and female, or poor and LGBTQ). Intersectionality holds that these social constructs cannot be understood only by looking through a single lens, but by looking at oppression as interwoven layers. Thus, these layers of oppression become the central areas of support for the fence, or system of oppression that we live within.

This concept is central to the mission of Chicago House, which dedicates itself to providing services to communities affected by HIV/AIDS, poverty, and LGBTQ marginalization. What has been discovered is that these communities are not completely alienated from each other. There are individuals that identify with more than one of these groups, which means addressing intersectionality is something that Chicago House will continue to strive for.

Click here to learn more about the LGBTQ Poverty Collaborative.