Equal to What?
By Nick Cooper
Illustration by Blake Jones
At a time when most progressive causes are losing ground, gay and lesbian struggles to marry and serve openly in the military are scoring huge victories. Full marriage and military service equality were unimaginable only a few years ago and now seem within reach.
Bones, a queer anarchist activist in Houston, thinks these two causes are succeeding because, “of all the calls for justice and normalization coming from the queer community, these issues are the least demanding of structural change.”
The Accepted and the Left Out
“The marriage equality movement appeared late to the GLBT struggle and has taken center stage,” said longtime Houston activist Ray Hill. “Those who fought earlier battles were replaced with those who want to assimilate into the larger society. Many of us have no interest in marrying or killing so these ‘advances’ are not of our choosing or a major priority to us.”
Shum Preston, a political activist and consultant and holder of one of California’s 18,000 same-gender marriage licenses, says, “While we celebrate our baby-step victories, let’s remember the driving impulse of the LGBT movement: as a people we are made poor by discrimination in housing and employment, we are killed and attacked routinely, and our young people are targeted with toxic messages of hate.”
In most states, it is legal for employers and housing providers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The murder rates of transgender people of color, up to 50 times that of straight whites, constitute a desperate crisis being largely ignored. So while there aren’t many LGBT activists who say “gays and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to marry,” many question how the top priorities became marriage and military service.
The queer liberation group Against Equality declares on its website: “Gay marriage apes hetero privilege and allows everyone to forget that marriage ought not to be the guarantor of rights like health care,” and “gay marriage increases economic inequality by perpetuating a system which deems married beings more worthy of the basics like health care and economic rights.”
Bones points out that gay marriage doesn’t help polyamorous people, people in casual relationships, youths, and asexual and aromantic people. Furthermore, the most oppressed subgroups — trans people, undocumented queers, queer people of color, and youths — still find themselves being fired from jobs, evicted, blackmailed, expelled, harassed, bullied, assaulted, and murdered.
Represented by the Human Rights Campaign, the more assimilationist tendency has historically had few trans and queer people of color in its leadership. When the most oppressed subgroups are the least represented and prioritized, it inevitably creates indignation and factionalism. So, it should come as no surprise that less enfranchised LGBT people are not applauding these latest victories.
Human Rights Campaign has found 1,138 federal benefits, rights, and protections that come with marriage. These rights relate to Social Security, taxes, immigration, medical leave, health coverage, and other employee benefits. Of course, LGBT people deserve these same benefits as much as straight folks, but why are they not also deserved by people who have no interest in marriage?
Yasmin Nair, a Chicago-based writer, academic, and co-founder of Against Equality explained in an email, “The only people who will definitely benefit from the economic benefits of gay marriage [are those] who don’t need welfare benefits in the first place. The rest, gays and lesbians working minimum-wage jobs or struggling to pay bills or going under from health care costs, will continue to be screwed by capitalism - like everyone else.“ On her blog she adds, “I will see gay marriage in my lifetime, but I’ll never see universal health care…”
Other Engagements: Military
The right to serve in the military is one many LGBT radicals were content not to have at all. Against Equality published a book, ‘Don’t Ask to Fight Their Wars,’ with the stated intention of creating a “historical reminder proving that not all us queer and trans folk were banging on the doors of the war machine begging to be rainbow-colored cannon fodder.“
Bones says, “The ‘gays in the military’ issue should be seen as nothing more than an expansion of the U.S. imperialist programme. If people are concerned by how soldiers are being treated, I would begin by looking at rape statistics or suicide rates.”
You Call That Equality?
Framing the discussion in terms of ‘equality’ has gotten results but overlooks the systemic, rapidly-widening inequality in the U.S. It makes sense that people who are horrified by the inequalities of consumer culture will not be fans of campaigns that invoke the concept of equality to demand nothing more than access to the privileged class. In the quest for middle-class acceptance, the dominant voices in today’s LGBT movement have sidelined those fighting for human rights and dignity for all.
White middle class American families shouldn’t be treated as ideal or even as the norm. The lifestyles of outsiders, queers, and immigrants have presented alternative possibilities, provided contrast, and fostered constructive conflicts. However, if the demands made by these outsiders amount to nothing more than inclusion within the existing order, white privilege and patriarchy are only further affirmed and enshrined. Radical and anti-capitalist LGBT activists don’t just want an equal seat at the table, they want to overturn some tables.
by Nick Cooper