Ellen Page’s story of workplace abuse proves sexual harassment goes way beyond straight women

November 15, 2017

In the wake of the flood of sexual misconduct allegations against men in Hollywood recently, actress Ellen Page shared her experiences with sexual abuse in a post on her Facebook page last week. While we applaud her for bravely speaking out against sexual harassment and sharing her story, we admire her for bringing attention to one important aspect of sexual abuse against women that’s all too often forgotten: It doesn’t just happen to straight women.

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In the wake of the flood of sexual misconduct allegations against men in Hollywood recently, actress Ellen Page shared her experiences with sexual abuse in a post on her Facebook page last week. While we applaud her for bravely speaking out against sexual harassment and sharing her story, we admire her for bringing attention to one important aspect of sexual abuse against women that’s all too often forgotten: It doesn’t just happen to straight women.

It might seem obvious, but as the daily news cycle is filled with famous names and faces bravely sharing their experiences with sexual harassment, Page is (so far) one of the few high-profile LGBT women to come forward.

In the post on Facebook, Page begins by revealing that director Brett Ratner made explicit comments about her sexuality in front of several cast and crew members on the set of X Men: The Last Stand.

Page writes that when she was 18, Ratner looked at a woman “ten years her senior,” pointed to Page and said to the woman, “You should f*ck her to make her realize she’s gay.”

Page writes, “I was a young adult who had not yet come out to myself. I knew I was gay, but did not know, so to speak. I felt violated when this happened.”

Page alleges that no one said a word to Ratner at the moment, adding,

“I looked down at my feet, didn’t say a word and watched as no one else did either. This man, who had cast me in the film, started our months of filming at a work event with this horrific, unchallenged plea. He ‘outed’ me with no regard for my well-being, an act we all recognize as homophobic.”

Though sexual harassment, in general, exists as an agent of shame, harassment against LGBTQ women is often even more damaging due to the added element of fear and shame about their sexual identity.

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Page admits that when the encounter with Ratner happened, she had not yet come to terms with her own sexuality. For a young adult still figuring out their own sexual identity, encounters like this from people senior to them in their work environment can leave them feeling even more vulnerable and scared than a heterosexual, cisgender person might in the exact same situation.

Of course, sexual harassment against any person creates the same horrific power dynamic in which the abuser has the hold over the victim, who is left feeling small, insecure, and powerless — but the stakes against LGBTQ women are even higher.

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Though it doesn’t receive the same amount of media attention, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience sexual violence at similar or higher rates than heterosexual people.

The Human Rights Campaign adds:

“Around half of transgender people and bisexual women will experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes. As a community, LGBTQ people face higher rates of poverty, stigma, and marginalization,” putting them at a greater risk for sexual assault.

LGBTQ people “also face higher rates of hate-motivated violence, which can often take the form of sexual assault. Moreover, the ways in which society both hypersexualizes LGBTQ people and stigmatizes [their] relationships can lead to violence that stems from internalized homophobia and shame.”

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These statistics are staggeringly high, yet go largely unreported. The current picture of sexual harassment shows a gargantuan-like male figure, from Ratner to Harvey Weinstein, wielding their power and preying on young, straight, female actresses. But Page and her stories remind us that the spotlight of sexual abuse in the workplace rarely shines on trans, bisexual, and lesbian women, even though they’re facing the epidemic as often as their straight counterparts.

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LGBTQ women face the added problem of a lack of support and resources when they are abused, especially in the workplace. They may fear having to “come out” to their employers by revealing the abuse they’ve faced, which can bring fear that they’ll face further discrimination for their sexual identity.

The Center for American Progress reports that in 2016, “between 11 percent and 28 percent of LGB workers report losing a promotion simply because of their sexual orientation, and 27 percent of transgender workers report being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion in the past year.” It’s no secret why they’d be even more afraid to report sexual harassment.

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After opening up about other instances of sexual abuse she faced as a young adult in the entertainment industry, Page calls to remember the women who don’t have the privilege she admits to having in her current position in the industry.

“Let’s remember the epidemic of violence against women in our society disproportionately affects low income women, particularly women of color, trans and queer women and indigenous women, who are silenced by their economic circumstances and profound mistrust of a justice system that acquits the guilty in the face of overwhelming evidence and continues to oppress people of color.”

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She adds, “I have the means to hire security if I feel threatened. I have the wealth and insurance to receive mental health care. I have the privilege of having a platform that enables me to write this and have it published, while the most marginalized do not have access to such resources. The reality is, women of color, trans and queer and indigenous women have been leading this fight for decades (forever actually),” listing examples of brave women including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Winona LaDuke, Miss Major, Audre Lorde, and bell hooks.

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“The most marginalized have been left behind. As a cis, white lesbian, I have benefited and have the privileges I have, because of these extraordinary and courageous individuals who have led the way and risked their lives while doing so. White supremacy continues to silence people of color, while I have the rights I have because of these leaders. They are who we should be listening to and learning from.”

Page goes on to list more examples that seem to prove the entertainment industry in particular is built on a foundation of abuse and exploitation, but we want her words to serve as a call to action for the women of marginalized identities that simply don’t have the freedom to report the sexual abuse they’ve endured.

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Page added that this particular moment is one of “reckoning,” calling to her followers to be a much-needed force of positive change. “Don’t allow this behavior to be normalized. Don’t compare wrongs or criminal acts by their degrees of severity. Don’t allow yourselves to be numb to the voices of victims coming forward. Don’t stop demanding our civil rights,” she added.

Page ends her note by expressing gratitude towards “anyone and everyone who speaks out against abuse and trauma they have suffered. You are breaking the silence. You are revolution.”

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