After the jump is a post I wrote over at my diary on Daily Kos. It got a reaction there so I thought I'd pass it along over here.
I saw just a few too many threads with kind straight people asking just why, why, why the LGBT community is so apathetic about getting same-sex marriage. I mean, it's their basic rights! Why weren't they out there in the front lines this whole season, donating, protesting, and doing whatever they could so that they could be equal members of society?
Well, comparing LGBT activism to the sorts at Daily Kos just isn't fair. That's one of the most gung ho groups of Democratic activists in the country. They donate, volunteer, phonebank, leaflet, and do just about anything they can to get good Democrats elected. It's a great time to be a progressive activist. The LGBT movement, on the other hand, is in a far different place.
After the jump was my explanation as to why that is. It's meant to be read objectively; as in, I don't necessarily think that anything there is good, I just think that's the way it is. It's by no means a complete explanation.
So here goes.
1. What's defined as the #1 gay goal for all us LGBTQ folks, same-sex marriage, isn't the #1 goal for most queer folks. For me, I'm much more concerned with non-LGBT specific goals (like universal health care). But even when it comes to all things queer, employment discrimination, violence against the gay folk, HIV/AIDS, and police harassment are far more important. Getting the word "marriage" instead of "domestic partnership" in a state most of us don't live in is a just a little too abstract for us.
But don't just take my word for it. Gay and lesbian people, according to the 2000 census data, are far less likely to live with a lover than straight folks are (about a tenth of gay people live with a lover, about half of the population in general is married). And that's just those who live together; not all of them are going to get married should it become legal all over the country.
Take that with the fact that employment discrimination against queer people is still pervasive. Almost every single gay or lesbian I know (in my small circle of queer friends) has lost a job due to their sexuality, including myself. It's hurtful and it really sends you through a loop to know that someone really hates you that much because of who you're attracted to. I was angry for a while after that, but there's no law against that in most states, and when there is, it's tough to enforce.
In New York City just these past few months, the police have been rounding up queers just for going into porn shops. Cops still hold secret stings against gay men legally soliciting sex. And just a few months ago a cop held a transwoman and another one beat her up, in an all-too-common occurrence (that woman is now dead, and the police are unlikely to investigate). A kid was shot for being gay back in February in school, and the media's been out there trying to paint it as his fault for "flaunting" his sexuality.
HIV infection rates are on the rise. Hate crimes continue to take more people in our community. Businesses still kick queers out who show affection for someone of the same sex or who don't conform to traditional gender roles. Police still sweep through gay clubs and bars and hassle customers in ways that don't happen down at the local Applebee's salad bar. Our people still earn substantially lower incomes compared to their straight counterparts, and trans people still suffer from epidemic levels of unemployment.
So, yeah, excuse us if we don't all see marriage as the #1 priority.
2. Our leadership is, quite frankly, uninspiring and uninspired. There have been plenty of posts here about the incompetence of the No on Prop 8 campaign, and a lot of that's justified. But the point is not that they're out of touch and don't know what they're doing. What's shocking is how unexceptional they were in the gay organizing world.
I'll be the first to say that there are plenty of great people working on LGBT equality. But there's a certain breed of of them that are just, well...
I'll let this email explain for me. This is from HRC, the queer NAACP or NOW. They've refused to acknowledge the street protests in CA going on right now, so they decided to counter-program them with this:
Subject: Don't Miss Tonight's HRC Spa Night at Nickel Spa! (6-10 PM)
Date: Monday, November 10, 2008, 9:03 AM
HRC invites you to an evening of pampering and relaxation while you sip wine, snack on appetizers, and mingle with friends! We are proud to partner with Nickel Spa on this evening spa event.
Nickel Spa: http://www.nickelspa.com/
Services available to both men and women during our event. (receiving a service is not required/mandatory!)
Where: 2187 Market Street (15th and Market)
San Francisco, CA
When: Monday November 10th, 2008
6:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Please RSVP to Nickel Spa for this event at: (415) 626-9000. When calling to RSVP, you will need to make an appointment for any services you would like to receive.
Note: There is a 50 person maximum for this event, you must be on the list to attend! Receiving a service is not required to attend.
20% of proceeds from spa services to benefit the Human Rights Campaign.
Seriously. The community actually, finally comes together for something, and HRC's reaction is to counterprogram. (I know this was probably planned well in advance, but, jeez, they could have rescheduled in light of queers finally caring about something.)
This isn't just a few instances. Last year, after enormous outcry from the LGBT activist community, that same organization refused to change its position on including transgender people in a bill to help fight some of this pervasive employment discrimination that goes on (that bill already being a major compromise). It alienated even more of us from LGBT activism, thinking that it's really just a bunch of out-of-touch villagers who think they can set the agenda for the rest of us and we'll just fall in line.
Another example from California, someone asked an organizer in that state where all these folks who were protesting were back before the election when it actually counted. She answered with something along the lines of "they weren't anywhere near my office." Of course, she means that they weren't ready to take marching orders. I've received quite a few emails and quite a few comments on my blog about how the only thing volunteers were expected to do was phonebank and fundraise. The top-down structure seriously limits investment in the project.
None of this would be bad if it were a few orgs or operations here and there. But this is the way most of the LGBT rights movement operates - pay and go away. They pee in a circle around their donors and their work, and then when they're ineffective they blame everyone else. Those aren't inspiring leaders.
3. Too much diversity of experience. There just really isn't anything to rally around when it comes to the "LGBT community." Some gays comes from rich families in the suburbs. Some come from poor, religious families in the South. Some come from small towns in New England. Some come from poor urban families.
Some are white. Some are black. Some are Asian. Some are latino. Some are Native. Some are mixed.
Some are Jewish. Some are Catholic. Some are Mormon. Some are Baptist. Some are Episcopalian. Some are whatever Sarah Palin was. Some are Muslim. Some are atheists. Some aren't religious.
Some are hot. Most aren't. Some are fat. Some are skinny. Some are muscular. Some are old. Some are young. Some have terrible hair and fashion taste. Others don't.
Some are gay men. Some are lesbians. Some are bisexual. Some are MTF transgender. Some are cross dressers. Some are FTM transgender. Some have HBS. Some are femmy fags. Some are butch dykes. Some are lipstick lesbians. Some are straight-actin' dudes who just want to have a beer with a bro and then a blow job. Some are queers who just want to fuck all the rules.
The point is, there's more diversity of experience among the LGBTQ community than there is among Democrats. People are liberal, conservative, etc. based on their experiences and how they're programmed to interpret those experiences.
We have almost no common experience before coming out, though, and even then it's different for everyone. After we join the rainbow, we continue to find ways to divide ourselves against each other. The straight-actin' dudes hate the femme boys. The hot guys (and Andrew Sullivan) hate fatties. The establishment queers hate the transfolk. The HBS people don't get along with the transgender people. Some lesbians are harsh on bi women. HIV negative guys don't want to go near poz guys. Anyone with a little bit of privilege, through skin color, money, education, class, looks, or whatever, thinks that they're better than all the other queers out there (that's my first thought when someone tells me "I'm not the average gay man").
All in all, we have very little community and a whole lot of in-fighting. I don't know how we overcome that.
4. We have just awful collective self-esteem. I don't mean to get all touchy-feely in the middle of a good rant, but these folks were brought up to hate who they are. Every time you see one of those people yelling on the TV about how queers are going to burn in hell, chances are that someone they know is queer. And chances are that every queer person you know had at least one, if not many, early role model who just plain didn't like LGBT people.
And some had parents to tried, through prayer, tough love, abuse, or training, to get it out of their systems. We're trained to hate who we are.
This probably relates to the in-fighting mentioned above, with there being just far too many people in the community trying to build themselves up by tearing others down.
Everyone's talking about the exit polling showing that LGB people were one of the only groups polled that was less likely to vote for Obama than for Kerry in 2004. Maybe that's not because of racism, but just because this isn't fertile ground for a "Yes we can" message.
Those are my two cents on the topic. Feel free to add to it or tear it down, but we really need to answer this question and find solutions to these problems.