Triumph and trouble: it’s strange times for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
On one hand, the mobilization for same-sex marriage has achieved legalization in six states. This is a battle for basic civil equality that has energized queers from coast to coast — whatever they think of the institution of marriage! Public support for gay rights has never been higher, and young people are especially sympathetic. When it comes to the culture wars, queers are on a winning streak.
On the other hand, the right wing is on an anti-homosexual tear, gay-bashings are on the rise, and President Obama hasn’t said a peep since winning office about “don’t ask, don’t tell,” or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. But on June 12, Obama’s Justice Department filed a brief in support of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). A slap in the face for Pride month!
How does the movement advance from here?
A rainbow of issues
Reactionaries are multi-issue, and that’s one aspect of the other side that queers need to copy.
No sooner had people read of the horrendous murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in Kansas than they opened their newspapers or powered up their laptops to find that another far-right zealot had slain a Black security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. Both murderers are tied into a network of immigrant-blamers, white supremacists, anti-Semites, misogynists and homophobes.
As the economic crisis brings the hurt to workers and small business owners, the religious right sees an opportunity to play on people’s anxieties and to grow in influence. The bigots are chomping at the bit to rip away every enlightened victory and hurl society back to the Dark Ages (or at least the 1950s!). They are organized, well-financed and practiced at scapegoating the usual suspects every time the economy tanks.
These are the forces behind Proposition 8 in California. And the passage of Prop. 8 brought home the need for an LGBT leadership that will reach out to unionists, people of color, feminists, immigrants and others to form a united defense against the fear-peddlers and hate-mongers.
An LGBT declaration of independence
The Prop. 8 fight also spotlighted the need to be queer and proud. Semi-closeted campaigns with bland and vague slogans like “fairness for families” just aren’t going to cut it. The heroes of the 1969 rebellion at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village certainly weren’t shy about who they were! When their rage erupted in reaction to police harassment, they also showed that change doesn’t trickle down. It explodes up from the streets.
Inspired by the feminist and Black Power movements, the new gay liberation movement organized in opposition to the political establishment and didn’t accept piecemeal concessions. It changed public opinion not by being cautious and quiet, but by being bold and vocal. The result was a huge leap forward in rights and recognition in the 1970s.
But today’s major LGBT rights organizations advocate an approach that won’t rock any boats or ruffle the feathers of Democratic Party politicians. The cornerstone of their strategy is to raise big piles of money for the Dems, year after year—regardless of results. 2008 wasn’t the first time a Democratic presidential candidate scooped up lavender campaign dollars while pledging he’d institute universal healthcare and let gays serve openly in the military. Last time we heard this promise, the queer teenagers of today were in diapers!
Facebook and Twitter proved to be effective new tools in mobilizing crowds to protest after Prop. 8 passed. But beyond the method, what about the message? Too often those rallies featured the same old status-quo speakers. Young activists who flocked to the demonstrations were offered no way to plug in except to join a listserve that sends out periodic alerts to email their senator or donate money.
Enough, already! It’s time to embrace militancy and declare independence from the Democrats—or risk losing momentum and leaving the field clear for the ultra-right.
Revive Stonewall’s subversive spirit
Lobbying for “a place at the table” in a society mired in war and spiraling into bankruptcy is hardly a goal that inspires. But to turn the movement in a new direction means fresh leadership must come forward and promote the building of democratically run grass-roots organizations with radical, action-oriented agendas.
The needs and interests of the LGBT community extend far beyond the right to wed. Federal equal rights laws are long overdue. A loud lavender voice is also needed to amplify the demands for free, universal healthcare, full employment, and an end to homelessness, issues that particularly affect younger and older queers. And how about bringing back a little thing called the separation of church and state? The current patriarchal profit-driven system won’t meet these needs. Champions of LGBT liberation can use these turbulent times as a springboard for launching a better, humanistic, homo-friendly society based on sharing. We just need to be as brassy, smart and demanding as those young queens, dykes and trans folk who fought back on Christopher Street. Freedom Socialist Party, U.S. 4710 University Way NE, #100 Seattle, WA 98105 firstname.lastname@example.org Radical Women National Office 625 Larkin St # 202 San Francisco, CA 94109 email@example.com