A couple of people here at Bilerico have already commented on the phrase, "Gay is the New Black," which adorns the most recent cover of The Advocate. Yet the subtitle on that cover, "The Last Great Civil Rights Struggle," is a statement that I find just as disturbing, if not moreso.
It's a concept that I've heard repeated frequently since the election. The last civil rights fight, the last socially acceptable group to discriminate against, the last human rights struggle, and so on. While my mind goes to the question "What about trans people?" the reality is that trans people are far from the last oppressed minority as well. There's a fundamental problem with statements about the last oppressed people. If there is enough mainstream recognition of unjust discrimination for such a statement to be made about a certain group, then they can't be the last. There is always at least a dozen groups whose discrimination is widely considered justified, or isn't even considered.
What about people with disabilities? Deaf people? Pagans? Indigenous populations? Trafficked laborers? Undocumented workers? Prisoners? People who don't speak English? Polyamorous people? Practitioners of BDSM? Sex workers? Proud fat folks? Intersex folks?
The last great civil rights struggle? I sincerely hope not.
I was quite disappointed to hear Cherríe Moraga say, "Gays and lesbians are the last group it is socially acceptable to discriminate against," when she came to visit my local campus. In fairness, she was on the last day of her three-day fast and that could have affected her ability to think critically before repeating this meme. Nonetheless, her claim that "fag" is the only derogatory term still accepted really bothered me.
Several organizations pounced when Anne Coulter called John Edwards a faggot. Yet those organizations were mostly silent about Christian Siriano frequently repeated slogan of "tranny mess," not to mention Michael Savage's on air assertion that trans people should be locked up in straight jackets and that instead of complaining about being murdered we should be thankful that so many of us are allowed to live.
Then there is the huge campaign to stop people from using the phrase "that's so gay." Yet many who would never utter that phrase don't even hesitate to use the term "lame" in an identical manner. The fact that people can honestly believe that anti-gay sentiment is the last acceptable form of oppression is only a testament to how deeply ingrained and unquestioned other forms of oppression remain.
All of this is reflected in the statement "Gay is the New Black," as well. To those still uncertain as to how such a statement is offensive, let me share my reaction. My first thought is, "What does that make the 'old' black?" Apparently nothing. The phrase equates "the black" with oppressed people fighting for rights. If gay people are the new group fighting for rights, then, along with the idea that gays are the last oppressed people, that means that blacks and other people of color must be done by now.
That's the ultimate insult of this sentiment. It repeats the idea that we're living in a post-racism fantasy world. Forget oppression Olympics of who suffered worse, hidden within this statement is the denial that people of color are suffering at all. It cuts our community into segments that must wait in line until it is your turn to get rights - blacks had their turn and it's over. It sounds as if now that it is gay people's turn, you shouldn't put energy toward fighting racism. This claim to rights because "it's my turn now" abandons any claim to justice while simultaneously denying rights to less accepted minorities because it is not yet their turn.
I've occasionally wondered if perhaps my work for marriage equality is actually putting me farther from marriage rights myself. I mean, when same-sex marriage becomes legal, how many people are going to continue fighting for poly marriage? How many are going to celebrate and go home? How many are going to argue that poly folks are not a legitimately oppressed minority and denying us marriage rights is somehow justified? Statements like the recent Advocate cover make me fear that the majority of prop 8 protesters may think their rights really are the last rights worth fighting for. I fear that when it comes to the rights I care about most, they will think that they are all done - just as they think black people's fight against oppression is done now.
The alternative of building a coalition for a broad based vision of social justice is an idea I had thought was gaining some level of consensus. That's why it particularly pains me to see this concept repeated over and over. That so many people would jump to this "me first" approach to rights demonstrates how much farther we have to go. The powers that be have an easy enough time denying us rights, they don't need our help by turning against each other in a battle for who gets the next meager handout designed to appease us.