'The movement is ours!': Lesbian activist critique
Memphis, Tenn.--The passage of California's Proposition 8--the notorious amendment to the state constitution that bans marriages between same-sex couples--revealed incredible contradictions within the U.S. Queer rights movement. The campaign against Prop. 8 was a "grass-tops" effort by the usual suspects: the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the other monied lobbying organizations that represent the white, primarily male, gay elite. The campaign was long on white celebrity endorsements and short on anything involving real coalition building and organizing. Half-hearted attempts to situate the struggle for Gay marriage within the context of broader civil rights struggles obviously did not ring true with African-American and Latino voters, who turned out in large numbers in support of Prop. 8.
The grass-tops groups, who have never represented Queers of color or Transgender people in more than name only, failed to help Queers within communities of color organize in their communities. The lobbyists fiercely turned on their supposed allies in communities of color, claiming to be "shocked" that one minority would "sell out" another. However, the failures of the Gay lobbyist organizations are hardly a surprise to those of us who are in the movement. The HRC in particular has a long history of irrelevance to real struggles for Queer justice.
In October, the HRC signed on to a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that included sexual orientation as a protected category but excluded gender identity and expression, a bargain which secured rights for Gays and Lesbians at the expense of Transgendered people. Organizations like the HRC have such a narrow vision of "justice" that they are willing to sell out their own constituents! But all the blame for the narrowness of the Queer rights movement so far cannot be put on the HRC; their failures are merely symptomatic of the failures of the broader movement.
The Queer rights movement has been galvanized over the last decade by the question of same-sex marriage. There can be no doubt that the right to civil marriage and the benefits it confers should be available equally to all, regardless of the gender of the partners to the union. Lesbians and Gays have done some organizing on this question, but too often our strategy has been to rely on advocacy groups and the courts to advance our rights on this and other questions. Worse, the emphasis on marriage rights has allowed Gays and Lesbians who are otherwise privileged by their race, class, and gender identity to ignore the critical battle for non-discrimination rights in employment, school, and housing and hate crimes legislation for LGBTQ people.
We are still disproportionately the victims of brutality by the police; discrimination by employers; unpunished violence in the school systems; and depression, suicide, and other mental disorders as the result of a society that tells us we are evil and our relationships are pathological. Transgender men and women fare even worse than Gays and Lesbians; in Memphis, we have received reports of Transgender women who were told to "change back to men" when they sought counseling for drug abuse. When they refused, they were denied treatment. The right to healthcare, the right to work, and the right to walk down the street without fear of assault or harassment are not secure for thousands of LGBTQ Americans. These are among the rights our movement should take up explicitly as we fight for the right to marry. When the movement fails to seek justice for all, it will not see justice for any. Furthermore, a "movement" that consists of sending checks to Washington lobbyists is hardly a movement at all.
The rallies against Proposition 8 around the U.S. on Nov. 15 prove that many Gays and Lesbians are no longer content to merely write checks. The rallies were organized by local activists in all 50 states via a grassroots website. In Memphis, we had over 200 people; larger cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco had thousands of demonstrators. Calls for a "Day Without Gays" (Dec. 10), a national day of protest by LGBTQ people and their allies, and plans for future protests against Prop. 8 demonstrate that this movement has finally blossomed into a national network of grassroots activists and organizations. These efforts--by and for the people--will find much greater success than the Washington lobbyists could ever effect. It is worth noting that the HRC had no role to play in the anti-Prop. 8 protests; they did not even announce the protests in advance on their website.
But we should be careful to use our power constructively as we agitate for change. We do have common cause with other groups of oppressed; in fact, many of us LGBTQ folks are people of color, immigrants, or working class. If this new movement is truly by and for all of us, the fact of our common interests and common oppressors will be more obvious to our comrades in other movements. Labor unions, immigrant organizations, feminists, and African-American civil rights groups should join us in our struggle for liberation, and (to the extent that we are not already affiliated with these organizations) we should join them in their struggles.
We have recently claimed a right to reciprocity in the support of our struggles, but how many in the Queer rights movement have actively worked for the liberation of those groups whose endorsement we demand? Further, the goals of our own movement cannot begin and end with marriage rights. We must situate marriage rights within a broader struggle for Queer rights, and this struggle must include all Queers. We should leave behind the individuals and organizations that seek only bourgeois rights for bourgeois Gays, or at least demand that they join us on the streets if they want to lay claim to our movement. The movement is finally ours: this is a moment of tremendous ecstasy and responsibility. Let's not sell ourselves or each other short. Our liberation depends on it!
5,000 reject Prop. H8 in Chicago
Chicago--Over 5,000 enthusiastic protesters, Gay and straight, overflowed Federal Plaza on a bitter Chicago day on Nov. 15 to continue the fight against California's Proposition 8. Its passage on Nov. 4 took away the right of same-sex couples to marry, but it acted like gasoline in the Christian Right's attempts to put out the fires of the Gay rights movement. Rallies the same day in every state and even in smaller towns demonstrated just how energizing this temporary setback had been.
Songs chosen by the Gay Men's Chorus to begin the rally underscored the feel of the crowd as part of a freedom movement. The California Supreme Court had already taken up the legitimacy of Prop. 8, whether rights could be seized from one group of people and the constitution amended by simple majority vote. The mood of demonstrators though was that "Prop. H8" would be overturned because California judges heard the mass movement, or because that movement would continue to develop. As one sign put it, "Our moment is next."
Plenty of other signs worked "love" into their message, just reminding us that marriage first of all has been a property relation in this society. The hatred directed at Gays and Lesbians probably can't stop love, but it can seriously interfere with sharing healthcare benefits and even visiting or tending to one's partner in medical emergencies. What is at stake is being and acting human.
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Los Angeles--Many anti-Prop. 8 protests have been happening here, at least three on Nov. 8, one at Silverlake, a popular residence and business area for the Gay community. There were many cop cars and mounted police surrounding the area. Three helicopters circled above as over 15,000 people peacefully filled the streets.
Published by News and Letters Committees