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Marginalized Queer Voices and “The gAyTM”

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The most visible parts of the queer rights movement are the organizations and groups that fight on the national level. The three most high-profile issues this movement is working on are the right to marriage beyond the state-sanctioned gender binary, employment rights, and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. These issues are the most high-profile because these are the issues national queer rights organizations put their time, money, and effort behind.

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.

[Indeed! And you can fund such admirable statements by clicking on this here subscribe button. Enjoy!]

17 Comments

  1. Leah wrote:

    No. I absolutely can’t sign on to this. As a bisexual woman, I’m certainly upset about the DNC’s foot dragging action. As a WOMAN, I’m terrified of what will happen if they lose power.

    You can’t talk about elections without talking about abortion. And the Republicans are organized on this issue and out for blood.

    I’m aware of the sufferings of trans folks and other queers, but I’m also aware of the suffering of the enemy combatants we have cruelly imprisoned and tortured. Even though, again, Obama has been too slow on this issue, I can’t afford to weaken him when the other side openly embraces gross abuses.

    Inaction is itself a kind of action. I wouldn’t deny the democrats my vote, I can’t deny them my money.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Permalink
  2. curmudgeonly wrote:

    @Leah: I am also a bisexual woman, and also concerned about abortion; but I’m not sure how laser focused donations and voting for progressive candidates will end abortion rights. Are you implying vote-splitting? I.e., the “Nader Issue”?
    If you’re implying something like, better the devil you know and stuff, very well, And how do we then change things? When you have one big-business cadidate running against another, giving lip service to ideological platitudes but stroking the hell out of the corps, how can we do ANYthing to ensure true equality or justice if we constantly fold?

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  3. Leah wrote:

    @Curmudgeonly

    I’m saying I’d rather target my money to the most competitive races or to the DNC who will assign them as such than target them by ideological purity.

    Give to the DNC to hold back the enemy. Give to Lambda legal to hold the line.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  4. curmudgeonly wrote:

    @Leah: Yeah, cause they’re doing that now…? In the end, I think Citizens United will hurt us much, much more gravely than repeal of Roe ever could…(and I honestly think there is no chance that Roe will be overturned). And I think our DNC is beholden to interests that don’t give a flying fuck about our human rights. The DNC isn’t holding back the real enemy, as far as I’m concerned.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink
  5. Sidra Vitale wrote:

    If I, also a queer woman and sharing Leah’s fear of Republican attempts to control my uterus, give to the DNC to hold back the enemy, and to Lambda Legal to hold the line, to whom do I give to push the envelope? How much of my resources given to holding actions 1) depletes me; 2) sends the message that I’m OK with a lowest-common-denominator that falls short of my true desire and my ardent belief that the real common denominator is equal rights for all human beings without regard to sexual preference?

    How do I reconcile this? (Time to start reading Pam’s House Blend, again, obviously.)

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink
  6. Gayle Force wrote:

    Leah, you might not want to give money to the Democratic Party if you believe in abortion rights either, by the way. Last I checked, Nelson and Stupak ARE Democrats. And abortion rights have been chipped away at very seriously in the last two years, all under Democratic majority rule.

    The DNC does not hold back the enemy. The DNC, in every way in counterterrorism and national security law, which you mentioned, IS THE ENEMY. Obama has either adopted the same policies or worse since Bush. If you’re worried about enemy combatants, you will give no money to the DNC. Because: indefinite detention, challenging habeas rights, drone attacks, the right to assassinate Americans without due process – welcome to the Democratic agenda.

    And I am not trying to get away from the argument here. I absolutely agree with Garland. If you keep giving money to the party that screws you, they will always continue to screw you. It is always the marginalized that are asked to give in for “the good of the whole.” Always the least powerful who are asked to put their “personal issues” aside. Just because the Other Guys will hurt you worse. It is an abusive relationship, on a grand political scale, and it is right and necessary to break it off.

    Thanks, Garland. I am very glad for this post.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Permalink
  7. Leah wrote:

    Yes, the democrats are not where we need them to be, but there are other issues that also need defending, and, unfortunately, politics is a zero sum game.

    The Republicans who supported Ron Paul did not force the Republican party to change its stance. They just wasted their votes. If you disagree with the DNC, support primary challengers, and, if you lose, support the Democrat in the general election.

    Gay rights are important, but they are not the only issue on the table. They’re not even the only life or death issue. When democrats didn’t turn out to support Martha Coakely (an admittedly sucky candidate), we nearly lost the chance to bring affordable health care to tens of millions of Americans.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  8. Simon C. wrote:

    I’m wondering who wins here.

    Say the gAyTM (heh) gets shut down entirely. Say that the sudden loss of support costs the Democratic Party some key elections — enough to cost them power. And let’s be optimistic enough to say that this resounding defeat serves as a wake-up call: fight for queer rights, or queers won’t fight for you. The Dems learn their lesson.

    But if the Democrats lose, the Republicans win. So while the Democrats are sitting in their rooms without supper thinking about what they’ve done, Republicans are repealing gay marriage, criminalizing abortion, removing legal protection for sexual orientation and gender expression, eviscerating environmental protection regulations, drilling for oil wherever they damn well please, stealing from the poor to give to the rich, sweeping up anyone of colour in purges of “illegal immigrants,” crippling health care, boosting the creeping theocracy infecting the government and starting three new wars in the Middle East.

    I’m not trying to be a sarcastic prick saying “Boy, that’ll show ‘em!” And I’m certainly not defending Obama’s tepid track record or the Democratic Party’s dismal one: we got — we’re getting — a lot less than we hoped for. And I’m definitely not trying to pretend that voting for the marginally-lesser of two evils is anything but a shit show. But it’s a two-party system. You can’t hurt one side without boosting the other.

    As bad as the Democrats can be on civil rights, foreign policy, cozying up to corporations, the Republicans could be worse. Is that morally repugnant of me? Probably. But it’s a broken system, and I can’t see another practical response that doesn’t cause more actual, measurable harm.

    The only thing the Democrats have to lose is an election; we have our rights, our freedom, and our lives. Lobby for better candidates. Put more effective pressure on existing ones. Don’t forfeit a seat at the table; take it and USE IT. The system is broken. So fix the system.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  9. Simon C. wrote:

    Excuse me: the Republicans *would* be worse.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink
  10. Gayle Force wrote:

    I’m sorry, but what? Granting equal rights to a group of people doesn’t make anyone else lose their rights. It doesn’t lead to torturing “enemy combatants.” Gay rights won’t lead the country into war, or prevent health care.

    Garland is saying we can OPT OUT of the zero-sum game that is sold to us. Because no marginalized person ever wins that game. Women are threatened with the overturn of Roe if they don’t fall in line. Gay people are threatened with the rolling back of hate crimes and anti-discrimination laws. Let’s not even GET INTO the lack of choices for people of color (because what, they are going to join the Tea Party?), and thus race issues are ignored.

    The two party system? It is broken, as it currently stands. And so we should refuse to play along and enable something that is inherently fucked up and perpetuates inequality. The only way to end the game is to refuse to play.

    I think it is worth, over the long term, insisting on an actually progressive, liberal party, rather than merely capitulating in the ever march toward the right. If we never take a stand, never push back, we will never get it.

    But then, people get the government they deserve, right? Well some of us insist we deserve better.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink
  11. Leah wrote:

    @Gayle Force

    Please explain to me what the Naderites won in 2000 and 2004 by ‘refusing to play the game.’ I certainly preferred many of Nader’s policies to Gore’s, but this kind of thing only works with a large enough group behind it.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Permalink
  12. Dave Clooney wrote:

    @Leah

    I live in Massachusetts. In 2000, there was no legitimate danger of Gore losing the electoral votes of Massachusetts. I voted for Nader. I might have voted differently if I lived in Ohio, but I might not have. What I “won” was George W. Bush, same as you. I know that voting for a candidate is seen as more effective if that candidate has more supporters, but those coalitions don’t appear overnight. Voting for Nader was, for me, a very small part of a larger attempt to build such a coalition.

    I think it is alright for voters to vote for the candidate that they feel best represents them. I think it is okay for donors to give to candidates that they feel represent them. I understand the arguments about the lesser of two evils (I voted for Coakley), but the point of this discussion is that they aren’t the only arguments to be made. There are people who understand that what the Republicans want is bad, but who aren’t willing to fight tooth and nail for the Democratic alternative, because they feel that the Democratic alternative isn’t worth fighting for. The Democrats aren’t the only game in town for spending one’s time and energy.

    If you are going to make the argument that in order to achieve social justice the most efficient use of time and energy is to support mainstream political candidates, that’s fine. The counterargument is that continuing to give the Democrats time and money will reinforce their behavior in marginalizing queer people and issues of social justice, and that if we are going to have an unjust government, we don’t have to spend extra money during the election season to have it. I know that if the Republican’s win it will be “worse” in the short term, and that the short term could last for many years.

    I do take it personally when people talk about “wasting” votes, because the votes for Nader and Paul do get counted. They were cast by people who wanted to communicate something at the expense of being on the winning side, and at the likely or inevitable cost of short term political pain. I just don’t agree that politics is a zero sum game.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 8:31 pm | Permalink
  13. Teresa Q. wrote:

    In any movement, there will be people who don’t fit the “good publicity” bill, and they will get marginalized. The only reason children learn about Rosa Parks instead of Claudette Clovin is because Claudette Clovin was pregnant (statutory rape) and unmarried, and would have made the Civil Rights Movement look bad.

    I think the main justification for the homogenization of the LGBT movement is to make the idea more palatable to people who aren’t involved in the movement, and to make them more sympathetic and willing to donate money, time, and put a little rainbow-ribbon graphic on their blog or website. But really, that’s pretty pointless, because people who don’t like you and don’t want you to sit at the same table that they do will dislike and ostracize you no matter what you look like or do. Putting on an elegant black dress won’t make a misogynist hate me any less than when I’m wearing a tye-dye t-shirt and jeans.

    @Leah:

    If you’re worried about abortion rights nationally, you should be aware that Ginsburg has publicly stated that Roe v. Wade isn’t going to go down as long as she’s a Supreme Court Justice: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0710/39523.html

    Locally and at the state level, it is definitely in danger, but in a lot of places, not even the Democratic candidates have a good pro-choice record. Limitations and bans on abortion will happen no matter who’s in office.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Permalink
  14. Gayle Force wrote:

    Oh, really, so we’re blaming Nader now? Instead of the governor of FL being the candidate’s brother, the Supreme Court, unfair voting practices, shitty campaigning, candidates who went too centrist and alienated some of the base, fear-mongering after 9/11, the entire Republican strategy to take control since 1970, the severe lack of a Democratic opposition party after they rubber-stamped everything Bush wanted, the continuing culture wars and hatred of queer folks, and the Swift Boaters? But it’s just Nader’s fault – really?

    Look, you mentioned “enemy combatants” (note: we don’t call them that anymore) so let’s be clear: you know what the capitulating and voting for the lesser of two evils has gotten us? Plenty of fucking evil. I work in counterterrorism and national security law and human rights in DC. It is exactly the same as under Bush, but some things are WORSE NOW.

    Besides, to bring it back to Garland’s actual post – those candidates who really will fight for equality? They deserve our help, our tax dollars, our support. I understand why Presidential elections can force people to make hard, impossible choices – but midterm elections? Let’s make it clear to the Democratic party that if they want our money, they need to actually act like progressive liberals.

    And if we don’t try, then we do deserve the government we get. And did you notice the Democratic party is particularly inept and toothless, and the left hasn’t gotten pretty much anything they want since Obama got into office? That’s our fault. That’s because we didn’t think we deserved better, we didn’t demand more. I love that Garland wrote this post, because I think we need to start doing that, like yesterday.

    Also, two words: Blue Dogs. DON’T GET ME STARTED.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Permalink
  15. It is a tough question, isn’t it? I understand why some in the community are reluctant to support the DNC. I am certainly disappointed by their lack of action on a number of issues. But if my choice in 2010 is a Republican controlled Congress or a Democratic controlled Congress, I would much rather have two more years to work with Democrats than two years to be bullied by Republicans.

    Thank you for this thoughtful analysis of a very complicated debate.

    Friday, July 16, 2010 at 2:13 am | Permalink
  16. Garland Grey wrote:

    @Joe Thank you for continuing to make your case, even when things devolved into unproductive ad hominem territory. You handled it with a significantly more class than I would have.

    Friday, July 16, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Permalink
  17. Christa wrote:

    ” 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”) ”

    Personally, I DON’T want to support the institution of marriage. ESPECIALLY the movement to earn it. If people want to get married great for them but I am sick of all of the resources in the gay and lesbian movement (lets be real, it isn’t fucking queer because they don’t represent the majority of queer people) going towards the same-sex marriage movement and DADT. And I know a lot of other queers that feel the same way I do. So please don’t dismiss what we are fighting for.

    I am not donating ANY of my money to either the Democratic Party OR any of the Gay Inc. groups. At some point we need to start fighting the paradigm, people. We need to stop just giving in and voting/spending our money on causes/people we don’t really believe in.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

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