The gay marriage debate has taken over all the attention from the queer movement left and right. The right wing is consistently and stubbornly denying the existence of queer folks by saying that it’s an immoral choice of lifestyle. The liberal gay and lesbian organizations are continually pulling millions and millions of dollars to appeal to the state for marriage equality under the rhetoric of “we are all the same.” On the other hand, queer separatists are fiercely combating the liberals with the slogan: “we are totally and absolutely different from the heteros,” and have made good points on criticizing the oppressive patriarchal nature of the institution of marriage and how queers should not seek this type of inclusion (see: against equality). However, these critiques have not necessarily been able to generate an alternative grassroots movement which can seriously take on the demands of those queers who are marginalized–queer people of color, trans folks, working-class queers, queers with disabilities, and third world and immigrant queers–from all of the above approaches.
by easy e
Last year, Sherry Wolf published Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics, and Theory of LGBT Liberation. While the publication has many worthwhile ideas to offer as well as for critique, I would like to focus on the first chapter here- the roots of lgbt oppression. Sherry Wolf poses the idea that sexuality as a defining aspect of one’s identity, something we take as given in our society, came about through the development and rise of capitalism as the ruling political economy of our society. This is not to say, and certainly Wolf does not argue, that people did not engage in same-sex behaviour before the rise of capitalism. Rather she poses that the way in which we specifically identify as queer or straight or gay or lesbian etc. has come about specifically because of capitalism. Therefore, the oppression that queer folk face today in our society and the particular ways in which we are oppressed has its roots in capitalism as well.
“Amanda Milan and the rebirth of Street Trans Action Revolutionaries” by Benjamin Shepard in From ACT UP to WTO.
Street Trans Action Revolutionaries (STAR) was founded as a caucus within Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in 1971 to put forth trans demands in the gay liberation movement. The co-founder of STAR, Sylvia Rivera, was a Puerto Rican trans woman who led the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969 along with other trans of color. Yet gradually, the gay liberation movement was co-opted by white middle-class folks who are gender-conforming and became conservative. Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), a New York based gay rights group was founded by ex-members of GLF who did not appreciate its radicalism and wanted to form a single-issued organization that only focused on reformist gay rights. GAA’s conservatism and transphobia showed when they dropped the trans demands while advocating citywide anti-discrimination rights in the 70s. They saw actions put on by STAR and Sylvia Rivera as too “dangerous,” “crazy,” and “extreme.”
This piece was written by JOMO, a member of the Black Orchid Collective.
In the past two years, the issue of gay marriage has dominated the scene of queer struggles. Some of us are actively supportive, others, grudgingly supportive, and more others who rail that yet again, queer struggles are being monopolized by assimilationist, middle class versions of normality and family: “We are the same as you, except for in bed.”
Some supporters of gay marriage point to the economic benefits of marriage. Working class and poor queers need marriage to help alleviate their poverty; immigrant queers need marriage to get US citizenship. I agree. Yet, let’s not forget that many queers will never get married because of their suspicions of state institutions. Granting gay marriage doesn’t guarantee that immigrant spouses get visas or are free from ICE harassment. Also, around us we see families for whom marriage has not helped alleviate the race and class oppressions that they face everyday. While it may be true that gay marriage does benefit some immigrant couples, oftentimes this comes as an afterthought rather than a decisive theme of gay marriage struggles. It is undeniable that the struggle for gay marriage has been dominated by white, middle class queers who support the Democrats and are ashamed of those of us who don’t fit in their status quo.
One may see gay marriage as a reform to be won to open up space for more gains for queer liberation. Indeed, if gay marriage was simply a tactic within a broader strategy that integrated class, race and queer struggles, perhaps it wouldn’t cause so much anxiety among radical queer circles. In the absence of a broader strategy and vision however, all our hopes get pinned on this one struggle and the questions become stressful, burdensome and intense: Are we betraying our roots? Are we fighting for the society we envision through this struggle? Exactly what is this broader vision of queer liberation that gay marriage is a reform toward?
That the issue of gay marriage has dominated and overshadowed other important discussions that should be had among queer radicals shows that there has been a lack of strategy and vision of queer liberation that integrates anti-racist, anti-patriarchy, class struggle and anti-ableist perspectives. While academics have churned out thousands of books on queer theory, spinning our heads dizzy with abstract lingo, those of us on the ground have not similarly churned out our own theory and practice of queer struggles. This is not to say people have not led successful and important campaigns around queer liberation. However, the strategy and vision has not been clearly articulated and insufficiently theorized for it to be replicated and generalized in different places and conditions. The result is the domination of liberals, with their pro-capitalist, liberal racist, ableist, “tolerate us” ideologies.
The following essay by Walter Benn Michaels appeared in the London Review of Books.
Here are some excerpts:
“My point is not that anti-racism and anti-sexism are not good things. It is rather that they currently have nothing to do with left-wing politics, and that, insofar as they function as a substitute for it, can be a bad thing. American universities are exemplary here: they are less racist and sexist than they were 40 years ago and at the same time more elitist. The one serves as an alibi for the other: when you ask them for more equality, what they give you is more diversity. The neoliberal heart leaps up at the sound of glass ceilings shattering and at the sight of doctors, lawyers and professors of colour taking their place in the upper middle class. Whence the many corporations which pursue diversity almost as enthusiastically as they pursue profits, and proclaim over and over again not only that the two are compatible but that they have a causal connection – that diversity is good for business. But a diversified elite is not made any the less elite by its diversity and, as a response to the demand for equality, far from being left-wing politics, it is right-wing politics.”
“Thus the primacy of anti-discrimination not only performs the economic function of making markets more efficient, it also performs the therapeutic function of making those of us who have benefited from those markets sleep better at night. And, perhaps more important, it has, ‘for a long time’, as Wendy Bottero says in her contribution to the recent Runnymede Trust collection Who Cares about the White Working Class?, also performed the intellectual function of focusing social analysis on what she calls ‘questions of racial or sexual identity’ and on ‘cultural differences’ instead of on ‘the way in which capitalist economies create large numbers of low-wage, low-skill jobs with poor job security’. The message of Who Cares about the White Working Class?, however, is that class has re-emerged: ‘What we learn here’, according to the collection’s editor, Kjartan Páll Sveinsson, is that ‘life chances for today’s children are overwhelmingly linked to parental income, occupations and educational qualifications – in other words, class.’”
Read the essay over at the London Review of Books.
The following are two speeches, one by myself and the other by Wen, given at a rally protesting Israel’s Independence Day at the University of Washington in April, 2009.
Each year, the Zionist groups on campus take the opportunity to hold what they call “IsraelPalooza,” which they frame as a purely cultural Independence Day celebration. As part of the Palestine solidarity campaign that Wen and i were involved in, we decided to crash their apartheid party.
While the Zionists tried to emphasize their event as a celebration of Israeli culture, we decided to celebrate 61 years of Palestinian resistance to apartheid. At their event, they offered live music, henna, hookah, falafel, and a “dialogue” tent, ostensibly to prove that they were nice, reasonable people. However, once we began our rally not far away, the white supremacist insults began. First we heard, “There’s no such thing as a Palestinian, you idiot!” Later, Zionists tried to verbally and physically provoke those on our side. We held our cool, while the campus police, who had promised to keep the groups separated, stood back and did nothing to prevent the Zionist hostility.
After several speeches were made and some lively chants recited (including: “From Mexico to Palestine, tear down the wall!”), we began a loud march around the perimeter of the apartheid party. Being that the event was outdoors and advertised as free and open to the public, we decided that we would enter their settlement-like party as a contingent. However, when we tried to enter, the cops formed a human barricade and denied us entry. While they were not willing to intervene when the Zionists were trying to provoke physical fights, the cops were all too happy to bar us from a free event. In comparing the two opposing sides, as we stood face to face with each other, two things were clear: 1) They were overwhelmingly white and we were majority people of color; and 2) The cops were willing to use force to “protect” the whiteys and their “culture” from all the scary brown people. For a brief moment that day, it was like we were living under legally enforced segregation.
Just in case their white supremacy wasn’t obvious enough, the Zionists helped make it crystal clear when one of them yelled at our brown group, “Swine Flu.” When an anti-Zionist Jewish woman who was part of our rally tried to enter IsraelPalooza, the cops barred her, while a couple Zionists behind the cops screamed, “Don’t let her in. She might be a suicide bomber.”
Anyway, after a lengthy showdown with the pigs, we marched through campus, still full of energy, right to a local Palestinian falafel restaurant. The food there was good; much better, i imagine, than the appropriated, blood-soaked falafel that the Zionists were giving out.
I wish i could post video from the event, but it has been lost, so i am posting the flyer for the event along with the two speeches. Continue reading Crashing the Party: Protesting Apartheid Celebrations in Seattle
Across the country, the debate over Gay marriage is continuing with Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and Iowa initiating its legalization, and other states currently facing struggles over prop-8 style ballot initiatives which aim to halt the ability of all people to have their marriages recognized by the state. Here in the state of Washington, the legislature passed an expanded domestic partnership law last year which would provide many of the rights and privileges associated with marriage to same sex and elderly domestic partners. The Washington Values Alliance opposes Referendum 71 in an attempt to strike down this law; a yes vote on the Referendum keeps domestic partnerships in place and a no vote gets rid of them.
Washington Values alliance and many of the other right-wing forces mobilizing to attack Gay Marriage are linked to far-right white supremacist organizations that are also attacking immigrants. Many folks on the Left both locally and nationally are discussing how to respond to these right-wing offensives. Many of us are not thrilled about gay marriage itself or the often liberal racist, patriarchal, and assimilationist groups that are fighting for it. But at the same time it is important to fight the bigots who oppose gay marriage since they are using the anti-gay marriage organizing to build their base preparing for more devastating attacks on queer folks and people of color.
This piece raises some key questions about how to tie the struggle against anti-queer bigotry to immigrant workers’ and student’s struggles against white supremacy. It is a talk given in July by comrades Jomo and Wen, two queer Asian American activists with Democracy Insurgent in Seattle. It was part of a panel of various queer Seattle activists from different organizations hosted by the socialist feminist group Radical Women.
Democracy Insurgent is a Middle East solidarity group animated by principles of anti-racism, democracy, third world feminism and queer liberation. The group came together last fall and have started by doing Palestine Solidarity organizing. A few months ago the anti-budget cuts committee within DI was created because of the budget cuts that University of Washington has distributed disproportionally affected immigrant workers, low-income students, people of color, women, people with disabilities and queer folks. That’s how we started getting involved with organizing with the custodians on campus and supporting their fight against the management because we see our struggles as connected with theirs.
How we see “queer movement” as opposed to white liberal queer movement
The topic of the panel today is on queer liberation and that’s what we are here for! DI is a multi-racial, multi-gender and multi-sexuality group. The way we approach queer liberation is not to compartmentalize issues solely on an identity basis, like that of gay people getting together to fight on marriage equality without any class or race analysis, neglecting the needs of people of color, immigrant folks, or women. Identity based organizing can be very harmful to the movement in the long term. We all know that 40 years ago the Stonewall Riot was lead by majority people of color and majority of gender-queer, and trans folks– but how did it turn into a white middle-class gay man’s story of liberation?
Continue reading Queer Liberation is an Insurgent Movement from Below
This summer, Pakistan’s supreme court ruled that hijras, a name for South Asia’s historic transgender community, will be registered by the state, ostensibly to provide social services and prevent police brutality.
This article from The Guardian written by Basim Usmani indicates that, though the ruling has been lauded by official media and Pakistan’s middle classes, both the motivations and the effects of the ruling are less than liberating for queer people in Pakistan. Continue reading Queer Liberation and the Pakistani State
You only have to go back to the justification of the occupation of Afghanistan as a “war for women” to know that one way imperialism justifies itself is through its supposedly progressive credentials. But this could also be said for white supremacy. The new racism, whether by the ruling class or its populist variants, presents itself as anti-racist, anti-patriarchal. Even queer politics is not escaping this dynamic and it’s no accident that the Israeli apartheid regime recently kicked off a “gay friendly” public relations campaign.
Diamond Walid’s critique over at MRzine is timely.
Beirut: City of Projected Fantasies
by Diamond Walid
Beirut has been labelled the Paris, sometimes the Switzerland, of the Middle East. According to one recent New York Times article, it is now the region’s Provincetown (the Cape Cod resort favoured by gay visitors). This ever-changing city seems to have become a mirror where people project their own fantasies.
Comparing Beirut with another city, whether Paris, Rome or Provincetown is a denial of its uniqueness. Beirut’s gay culture is also unique and specific. As a gay man who has lived in the city for more than 30 years, I know that notions such as “gay”, “straight”, “public displays of affection” and “homophobia” can take on completely different forms and meanings in this part of the world. Yet there was no mention of these nuances in the New York Times article, obviously built on a series of denials.
Continue reading A Queer Imperialism?