LGBTQ liberation: do recent gains mean full equality is inevitable?

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Happy pride! The Supreme Court decision today (6/26) is a huge victory after the decades long battle to legalize queer marriage The article below written earlier this month by queer activist Gina Petry is more relevant than ever.

Anyone who hasn’t been living in another world knows the LGBTQ community has made progress. From legal same sex marriage in 37 states to a surge of transgender visibility, have LGBTQ people “made it?” Can LGBTQ folks claim victory and put away their picket signs and go home? Not so fast! LGBTQ people have a way to go before getting that gold at the end of the rainbow.

We’re here, we’re queer — what do we get? Some LGBTQ groups put a huge focus on the right to get married. This is a civil right that all LGBTQ people should have access to if they want it. But this institution, which was invented to transfer “property” (woman and children) to the husband is hardly a progressive accomplishment to proudly hang one’s boa on. The radical pioneers of the queer movement wanted to go much further than that.

So if it’s not marriage, what will be the key to unlock LGBTQ equality?

The tag LGBTQ expresses the fundamental diversity of a community where one-size-fits-all equality simply doesn’t apply. In fact, there are many stratified levels of both privilege and oppression to address in creating demands for freedom. Sure, some LGBTQ folks are bosses and celebrities who have their piece of the pie. But most queer folks are ordinary working people just struggling to survive, many of them women of color, or poor.

According to a new report released by a broad coalition of research and advocacy organizations, LGBTQ women are among the most at risk of poverty in the U.S. Lesbians of color are at least twice as likely to be poor. Transgender women are nearly four times as likely to have annual incomes of $10,000 or less. These statistics show how racism, sexism and transphobia are alive and well. No surprise there. Having the right to marry has not solved these economic disparities any more than they have for heterosexual couples.

Recognizing the diversity of the LGBTQ community and intersections of race, gender and gender identity is essential. It means fighting for needs of the most oppressed, not further creating a stratified community where a handful of LGBTQ join the 1 percenters. In order to combat that dynamic, the movement for liberation has to be multi-issue. That will connect queers to natural allies of feminists and people of color in the fight for justice.

It’s class, baby. One thing the vast majority of LGBTQ people have in common is being part of the working class. It may not be chic to think of oneself that way and well-off queers probably don’t. Most U.S. workers, queer and hetero alike, face stagnant wages, growing inequality of wealth, and deep fears about their future.

For people lucky enough to have a job, the legal protections designed to protect workers have not gone far enough. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 18 states and D.C. also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. The Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) has been in Congressional limbo since the 1990s. These wheels of progress appear to have flat tires.

The movement for LGBTQ equality must include an agenda that recognizes class connections between workers and others struggling to survive. The recent series of reforms, while important to address immediate needs, is not paving the way to full liberation. Relying on step-by-step, single issue progress until full equality is achieved in this system is a myth. Take the fight for abortion rights or affirmative action reforms that women and people of color fought so hard for. They’ve been chipped or ripped away. One victory does not change the fundamental source of inequality. It’s time to think bigger.

For a bold LGBTQ agenda. Socialist feminists believe that taking on the bigoted, behemoth system is critical to complete LGBTQ liberation. Homophobia and transphobia are intrinsically linked to sexism. Sexism arose with the development of private property, whose modern-day form is capitalism. The traditional, monogamous male-female family with women providing free labor in the home is central to it.

The LGBTQ community is a fundamental threat to this patriarchal nuclear family structure. Queers and queer relationships challenge the pillars of gender and sexual stereotypes that have put men and women into rigid places in home and society, and have held systemic oppression in place. LGBTQ defiance scares the homophobes to death. Hooray!

There is strength in naming the mutual enemy. The capitalist system depends on dividing people against each other along race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. Now is the time to bust down those long-standing barricades.

There’s a growing number of LGBTQ folks who are doing just that. They are on the move and continuing the unapologetic fight that began at Stonewall. They are making connections with struggles against police brutality and the prison industrial complex, and for women’s issues, immigrant rights and justice worldwide.

This is the type of leadership that is desperately needed. Capitalism is taking away funding for homeless shelters that house queer youth, cutting childcare subsidies that lesbian and gay parents need, and busting unions that stand up against discrimination and battle for fair wages. A bold movement that raises demands in the context of, and in alliance with, the struggles against all who are oppressed has the solidarity it takes to win.

LGBTQ folks, women and people of color have a common need for a system that really celebrates diversity. Under a socialist system, people will have the freedom to express their gender and sexuality in any way they choose. Relationships will form based on preference and desire. The creation of a communally organized and cooperative society will put an end to false divisions and prioritize the needs of the majority. It is possible!

A strong, unified movement that connects the many realities of the LGBTQ community is needed to create total social makeover. That is the gold at the end of the rainbow.

Send your feedback to Seattle Radical Women President Gina Petry at

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