When an outsider looks at queer activism, we seem to always be critiquing and attacking outward: demanding equal rights, slamming critics, and agreeing with each other in the BIG DISCO ECHO CHAMBER of queer discourse. Once inside, you become privy to the complex network of alliances and agendas that are at work in the movement. There are many long-standing, vicious disagreements that play out every few months, causing us to expend time and energy on old grievances that haven’t been addressed as the queer rights movement has become more homogeneous and certain groups have been marginalized and ignored. We go around and around on things like whether or not we really want to support the institution of marriage by getting married (YES. WE DO. To quote Debbie Reynolds in In and Out, “I need some beauty and some music and some placecards before I die”) or the ethics of outing people against their will (usually a dick move.) All of this is to be expected; no group is monolithic. Except Easter Island statues. Those fuckers are HUGE.
If Queer Rights is something you support, but not something you follow closely, the movement can seem like a constant lock-step march to equality, punctuated by the occasional act of dissent lobbed out of left field. (Like when Karl Lagerfield said that he was “against the idea of gay marriage” and I spent a month ranting about how terrible he was and getting some major Photoshop mileage out of his resemblance to the Tall Man from the Phantasm movies.) But as our message has become more standardized, certain groups of people have been targeted within the movement as being less media-friendly. The very groups that fought in the Stonewall Riots, who fought back because they had no options and no support networks and whose actions sparked the modern queer rights movement, have been silenced by a a larger, more powerful segment of the community which sees political capitol in their silence. Every year, the calls to end Gay Pride Parades get more frequent, the drum beat of MONOGAMY MONOGAMY MONOGAMY gets louder, and the message becomes more sanitized. And when we have a defeat, like the passage of Proposition 8 in California, those groups, the genderqueer and the transgender and the poor and the people of color, are attacked for “bringing down the movement.” It is beyond fucked.
As a result of this the queer discourse is dominated by white men: Michael Signorile, Andrew Sullivan, Joe Solmonese, Dan Savage, Andy Towle, David Mixner. I seriously respect and admire some of these men, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that their voices are privileged above the voices of people of color, trans people, and women. And when I first became involved in queer activism, theirs were the only voices I heard. Through reading Andy Towle’s Towleroad blog, I was exposed to the work of Pam Spaulding. Pam is a queer activist, a woman of color, and one of the most important progressive bloggers on the internet. Pam’s House Blend tends to post and promote longer, in-depth pieces, maintains a strict moderation policy, and includes a range of voices that are missing from the larger discourse. Autumn Sandeen, one of the contributors to Pam’s House Blend, was one of the queer servicemembers arrested in the GetEqual protest of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and detailed the transphobic harassment she endured in the process.
One of the recurring topics on Pam’s House Blend is the clash between grassroots queer activism and the national rights organizations they have dubbed “Gay Inc.”, a clash that is also about the disparity between the needs of rich, cisgendered white men and the rest of the queer community. Last week there was a debate about closing the gAyTM. The gAyTM is a neologism used to represent campaign contributions to the Democratic Party from queer constituents. The perception is that while the Obama Administration is willing to do certain high-visibility things — inviting gay and lesbian families to the Easter egg roll, appointing Amanda Simpson, the first Transgender appointee to a high visibility position in the Commerce Department (which, as Joe Biden would say, is a BIG FUCKIN’ DEAL), mentioning queer families in proclamations and holiday messages to the nation — very little has changed in our day to day lives.
The hate crimes bill could have been a great victory — if it wasn’t being constantly ignored or misapplied. Last month, Driton Nicaj left prison after serving a scant 21 days. He pled guilty to assaulting 3 gay men, beatings that resulted in stitches for two of his victims, skull fractures and a broken nose for the third. The judge dismissed the hate crime enhancements, claiming that yelling “faggot” at a gay man while you are fracturing his skull is “just typical trash-talking.” I will admit, I do not know the details of the plea deal that Nicaj’s lawyer brokered for him – no criminal case is the same. But I do know what hard, repeated slaps to the face feel like. They feel like a gay man being stabbed 61 times and watching the defense counsel successfully use the “gay panic defense.” Like having the Justice Department defend the Defence of Marriage Act and citing cases about incest and pedophilia. Like reading the archives of Monica Robert’s Transgriot blog and finding post after post about the violent deaths of transpeople in America. Think on this for a moment, and read the list of grievances Pam listed more than 7 months ago when this discussion started. Consider the amazing level of access that Joe Solmonese, the President of the Human Rights Campaign and the rest of Gay Inc. are being afforded to the White House. Access that has failed to lead to substantive change in the quality of queer lives.
With midterm elections looming in November, the issue of whether of not to close the gAyTM was raised by Joe Mirabella on the Huffington Post and at Pam’s House Blend. In his article he entreats the queer community to continue to give money to the Democratic Party. He outlines the heavy-duty contributions expected to be made to the Republican National Committee in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision. He pleads with the queer community not to stop donations to the DNC. If the Republican party regained control of either house, they would set about eviscerating queer rights, as the Democratic party reminds us every single time they need money. Let me put it this way, if the Democratic Party was a single dude in his early 20’s, and the queer community were a lady he sees occasionally, this is how they would text each other:
Democratic Party: u up?
Queer Community: ummm yeah. lol.
DP: haven’t heard from u in a while.
QC: i tried to call you last week.
DP: can i come over? i reallllllly need to fundraise right now.
QC: go fundraise yourself.
DP: come on baby.
QC: where is this going, DP?
DP: ahhh baby, remember all those rights i gave you last year?
Every year we fall for it. And every year the DNC sneaks out for “an early meeting.” The Queer Community is tired of being the DNC’s booty call. Mirabella’s letter was roundly rejected by the readership of Pam’s House Blend. I thought Mirabella was exactly right about the stark realities of the political climate in which we live, but the other side made really good, solid points as well — points that were informed by decades of queer activism. I’m not sure what the right answer is. I think that Obama is several orders of magnitude better than his predecessor, that his approach to governance is much more contemplative, intelligent and fair, and I know I will vote for him in 2012. I know that he has a limited amount of control over his own party, and that the failures of the party at large aren’t his responsibility. But I can’t fault anyone for demanding that he prove himself the “fierce advocate” of queer rights he said he would be. I remember when I first read the portion of his campaign website that dealt with LGBT rights, I marveled. It was all there, all of the things that would turn the slow grinding nightmare of being a queer person in America into something livable. But I can also remember when that message started to change, when portions of his pledge to civil rights started to disappear. I know that he is trying to clean up the utter shambles of a fucktastrophe that is left when a President gets everything he wants for 8 years, but dragging out the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal for a year because John McCain throws a hissy fit is absolute, utter bullshit. Hey, Mr. President, you can’t crank out a stop-loss order that would stop all this fuckery? On the stationary that says “Barack Obama, Leader of the Free World?” Are you the really the COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF? Or is that just résumé padding?
One of the reasons why I read Pam Spaulding is that she takes the long view. She had this to say about campaign contributions:
“We’re keeping the gAyTM CLOSED, only donating to pols and organizations that are pro-equality and have been effective in advocacy. I see nothing wrong with this. I am not, however, an advocate of sitting out the midterms. If you have pro-equality candidates on the ballot, they deserve and need your vote.”
Instead of shutting off contributions completely, we should be donating directly to the campaigns of candidates that fight for us. This is what all of us should be doing, whether our focus is on queer rights or reproductive rights or racial equality. Instead of writing a check to a general Progressive slush fund, our donations should be more focused. We can’t continue to stand united while getting publicly walked over for our loyalty.
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