Why The Term “Cultural Competence” Should Be Avoided When Cultivating Belonging for LGBTQIA+

Cheryl Y Leong
2 min readFeb 2, 2021


Photo by Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash

Culturally Responsive Teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning (Ladson-Billings,1994).

We see this term used in the field of Diversity Equity and Inclusion. While it has worked to understand cultural humility and the importance of having cultural competence, its application has been overextended to LGBTQIA+ movements.

This is how the term may apply and where it may not. “Cultural responsiveness” applies if you see queer folks as having a particular ‘culture.’ In some ways, the shared experience of societal and familial oppression and persecution can be seen as shared ‘culture.’ Also, there are queer communities around the world that have historically had a specific coded language to avoid persecution and vocabulary that describes specific dynamics and experiences.

However, to say that one is ‘responding’ to the culture runs the risk of several issues. The first is that not all LGBTQIA+ individuals feel they belong to ‘queer’ culture. For those who still do not have the privilege of connection or community with other LGBTQIA+ individuals, this idea of a ‘queer culture’ can be entirely foreign. Assimilation into gender binary or heteronormative standards is sometimes a question of life or death.

The second issue is that many cultures worldwide have had a history of European colonization. Laws like 377 that criminalize homosexuality were enforced as colonial rule over India, Malaysia, and Singapore. This colonialism disrupted the pre-existing social standards and understanding of gender diversity of sexual orientation diversity. Being ‘culturally responsive’ in these cases becomes complex and overly reductionistic.

Thirdly, because of this history of colonialism and seeing movements in Western countries shift towards gender diversity or marriage equality acknowledgment and legal change, post-colonial sentiments may resist LGBTQIA+ humanitarian and legal rights because of post-colonial Western resistance. Queer movements can be seen as unwanted colonial “Western influence.” These sentiments may call for “cultural responsiveness” to maintain queerphobia and violence within the culture.

For this reason, I have strongly cautioned my colleagues in the field to avoid the use of “cultural responsiveness” in addressing LGBTQIA+ movements and reserve it for racial equity or cultural specific competence training. The LGBTQIA+ movement is one that seeks legal rights as well as social-familial visibility & affirmation across all cultures. To say that we are being “culturally responsive” would imply some level of cultural relativism as opposed to a universal quest for humanitarianism and equity.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishing Co.