Monday, June 22, 2009

The Gay Rights Tug of War

In the wake of recent news about the quickly emerging LGBT rights agenda, I have become increasingly troubled with the framing of the movement. As a young, Black woman, and not to speak for all Black women, I feel we have taken our eyes off what ultimately is vital for equality and empowerment of all LGBT citizens. My stance may make several people in the movement angry, but I feel it’s required to send a reality check.

Firstly, I would like to address the constant lashing of the Obama administration. While I agree that the president should be held accountable for his promises to the LGBT community, I think there are more pressing issues that he is lending his attention to. Frankly, I am elated that President Obama has come out in support for the LGBT community, both in his campaign and in his administration. I applaud him for the memorandum on domestic partner benefits, calling for a repeal of DOMA, DADT, and the passage of ENDA and DPBO and the hate crimes bill which passed in the Senate just yesterday. All of this, in just a few short months. If you “80s and before” babies will recall, it took Ronald Reagan until the seventh year of his presidency to even say the word AIDS. I think it’s safe to say Obama’s on our side. Criticizing him specifically is not helping us move forward.

The gay rights movement is unique because it encompasses all ages, genders, classes, and races like no other movement. This can be our greatest strength or our Achilles heel. We must consider all these social groups when deciding how to move forward and in numbering our priorities. By ignoring this fact we risk alienating our comrades and dissipating our solidarity.

This brings me to the topic of entitlement. As much as people want to disagree, the gay rights movement has been historically associated with white men, and lately, rich white men. Brace yourselves: The idea of a bunch of white men soap-boxing about how they’re being oppressed doesn’t look good. The badgering of the nation’s first Black president by a bunch of white men doesn’t look good either. If you hadn’t noticed, we live in the United States where there is a public and a counter-public, where race is embedded in our history, and where racism is still very prominent. We must be sensitive to that if we are to progress with all sectors united.

We cannot expect things to happen because we’re tired, or fed up. We cannot just throw money and complain that the president can’t snap his fingers and give us rights. The civil rights movement started almost fifty years ago; today there are still disparities in education, socio-economic classes, employment and wages. Congress just apologized for slavery last week, 150 years later. If we think for a second this fight will be won because of our huffiness, we deserve to lose the fight.

Marriage should not be our top priority; yes I said it, close your mouths. While it is very high up on our list of priorities it should not be the first. Say marriage is recognized federally tomorrow, great! That will directly and immediately benefit married couples. Out of the 30 million – I’m sure there’s more – reported LGBT citizens in this country, the percentage of married individuals is what, 20%? What does it do for LGBT youth who are homeless? What does it do to fight the AIDS epidemic among LGBT men & women? Does it stop someone from being fired from their job because they’re gay? Does it allow LGBT men and women to serve openly in the military? On a broader scale, does it provide an economy stable enough to allow a gay man or woman to start his/her own business? What does it do to open dialogue among LGBT people of color with their families? These are all questions the marriage issue will not answer.

Don’t think of me as anti-marriage, I want to be able to marry a partner of my choosing as much as anyone else; but right now, I think it’s more important that the children of today and my future children be able to go to school without the fear of being bullied; it’s more important that the future gay rights leaders have a home, and support and access to health care. It’s more important that we stop the Carl Walker-Hoovers of the world from contemplating/committing suicide. While fighting the good fight of marriage equality is a good thing and should be continued; I think we should spend less time badgering each other about an issue that will affect some of us and focus our strengths on issues that will immediately affect all of us.

We cannot expect one man, no matter what station he holds, to wave a magic wand and create utopia. The pressure we’re placing on President Obama should be redirected to congress; they are the lawmakers who represent us. Our voices should be released into the streets. We should be knocking on doors, engaging in dialogue with people who may not support us and winning them over. We must provide solidarity and unity among all groups that color our rainbow flag. We cannot risk ignoring, chastising or neglecting any of these groups, and we cannot afford to make enemies.

We must use the auspices of “Social Movement 2.0” to educate ourselves, to get the word out, and to empower each other. We must continue in the fight for marriage equality, but we must also recognize the bigger picture. We can learn a lot from past movements; it is important that we take advantage of the knowledge gathered from movements before us, and even more important that our work and vigilance leave a mark for our future.