Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

A one-question interview with Sassafras Lowrey

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | October 18, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: assimilation, chosen family, LGBT, LGBT homeless, marriage, marriage inequality, queer youth, Sassafras Lowrey

Mattilda: You recently edited Kicked Out, sassafras-lowrey.jpgan anthology of stories by current and formerly homeless queer youth (including yourself) -- one of the dominant themes in the book involves the chosen families that youth create in order to challenge, undo, and survive the violence of birth families and the trauma of living in a world that often wants queer youth to die or disappear. I'm wondering if you think that the current focus on marriage within national gay organizations detracts from funding for queer youth services and also perpetuates the vulnerability of chosen families.

Sassafras: I'm horrified by the way in which we as a community have shifted to being very single-issue focused, and that single-issue is marriage. I get frustrated when I look at the millions of dollars that our community has pumped into state after state in losing battles. Every time I hear about the financial cost of fighting for marriage, I think of how many beds that would buy in shelters for homeless queer youth, and quite frankly how many lives we could have saved by allocating our priorities and resources differently. 40% of homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBTQ, this is an epidemic our community cannot afford to ignore.

On a theoretical level there is the argument that approving gay marriage will make mainstream cultural more friendly to queer youth. But that only works abstractly and doesn't address the immediate needs faced by our kids this minute. I challenge anyone in the community to go have a conversation with a homeless queer youth and come back and tell me we need marriage more than they need food, shelter, or just a supportive ear to listen.

Sassafras: As queer folks we have a powerful legacy of building our own families and knowing that family oftentimes has zero connection to blood connection. On a very personal level without created family I wouldn't be here, and neither would most of the other people who shared pieces of their stories within the Kicked Out anthology. For current and former homeless LGBTQ youth, created families are often a lifeline to survival.

I worry that with our push for marriage, that we will lose sight of one of our most important skills - building family. Our queer families do not need government recognition to be real. I don't think there is anything I can say that will cause the gay rights movement to suddenly wake up and stop fighting for marriage, my only hope is that we can raise other issues like LGBTQ youth homelessness to equal levels of outcry and support.


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The gay community only started pumping money into marriage campaigns after the anti-gay movement began using the marriage issue as a means of attacking the gay community, fundraising for conservatives and getting conservatives to the polls by putting gay marriage bans on the ballots.

Though I agree we've lost sight of what's important, conservatives will just use marriage to beat us about...everything. I.E. Saying anti-bullying policies that include LGBTs will lead to gay marriage. They've done this in NC.

Everything we want, they'll argue with "It'll lead to gay marriage." The Vatican refused to endorse a UN resolution against the criminalization of homosexuality because it would lead to gay marriage. We can't ignore it...we have to convince lots of people that gay marriage isn't that scary so it becomes a less effective scare tactic. It's not theoretical.

Great work, Mattilda! That's funny - I was just directed to this book yesterday...

@GrrrlRomeo: Re:"The gay community only started pumping money into marriage campaigns after the anti-gay movement began using the marriage issue as a means of attacking the gay community, fundraising for conservatives and getting conservatives to the polls by putting gay marriage bans on the ballots."

First, I don't think that's historically true. The gay marriage issue was raised as one before the emergence of gay marriage amendments - the rise of a neoliberal gay - and classed - identity began in the early-to-mid '90s, for instance, before Hawaii.

And even if it is true, or part of the truth, surely the fact that gay marriage is a cause pushed as such simply because the meanies don't want us to have it is a sorry excuse for continuing to push on this issue? Surely it reminds us that the cause in itself is specious at best and does little to serve our interests?

Thank you, Yasmin -- now, as to the question of the homophobia of the Vatican, hmm, it seems to me that they would find other reasons to advocate against a UN resolution against the criminalization of homophobia, were they not using the specter of gay marriage -- oh, I know, like the way the Vatican has been advocating, producing and encouraging structural homophobia for generations and generations and generations...

I think the "either or" construction being employed to alienate marriage from the rest of the (pardon me) "gay agenda" is a trap to be avoided, if not indeed outright disingenuous. The fact is, wherever sexual minorities face institutionalized discrimination, the movement needs to be actively engaged. No one issue alone will deliver the liberation and equality we seek anymore than the Brown v. Board of Education or '64 Civil Rights delivered liberation and equality to black folks. We need to be fighting on every issue, on every front, at every opportunity.

But the one thing that all the LGBTQ issues speak to, when everything else is stripped away, is the fundamental demand for basic human dignity. It's what qualifies LGBTQ folk (at least according to the initial California Supremes marriage ruling in May '08) as a "suspect class." And it's the universal denial of that dignity historically, that legitimates a LGBTQ movement distinct from broader progressive reform efforts traditionally based in economics, race, religion, and gender. That dignity is also what the NO on 8 campaign wasted $40 million trying to trade for "marriage equality" by burying gay folks in the deepest darkest campaign closet they could fabricate. Trading a birthright for an entitlement was a lousy deal even had we prevailed against Prop 8.

As a former bullied homeless gay teen myself, I have no doubt that immediate human needs should be addressed with priority. Nor was $40 million necessary to defeat Prop 8 in a well run campaign. We lost Prop 8 (or got stuck with it as the case may be) because 1) we abandoned the terrain of faith and family without ever firing a shot, and 2) we didn't utilize the truth that is ours and that will indeed "set us free," if and when we believe in ourselves enough to actually speak that truth.

So why don't we in the LGBTQ movements stop trying to throw each other under the bus based on our differences, honor the vast diversity of the global genetic "Gayaspora," prioritize the variety of issues that call us to action, and organize ourselves as one people in tireless pursuit of dignity for all (which in my estimation certainly includes housing, employment, matrimony, healthcare, safe-schools, and a decent living wage, to name a few.)

The problem now as I see it, is a wholesale lack of democratic governance, cohesive strategy, and financial accountability in the queer body-politic. I know that to even gaze upon the hydra-headed Medusa that is Gay Inc. is to risk an eternity in stone, but until we have a shareholder's rebellion and take the reins of our own collective future, we will continue to stumble and fall toward freedom while the insidious evil that cloaks itself in the love of God continues to feed on the lives of our little brothers and sisters before they even come of age. To do otherwise is simply unacceptable given the track record and the body count.

Respectfully,
pastor Scott

I challenge anyone in the community to go have a conversation with a homeless queer youth and come back and tell me we need marriage more than they need food, shelter, or just a supportive ear to listen.

I'll tell you what we need: A straw sculpture of a man and a big stick with which to beat it.

First, supporting same-sex marriage and supporting organizations, programs and services for homeless GLBT youth are not mutually exclusive. This may be extremely difficult for some of the radical queer types to believe, but it is quite possible to donate money to a marriage campaign and then donate the same amount of money to an organization for homeless GLBT teenagers and/or to do equal amounts of volunteer work for both.

Second, I agree with GrrrlRomeo above. Christian theocrats and their Republican allies are the ones who turned same-sex marriage into a nationwide fight and launched campaigns to ban it in state constitutions, putting our community on the defensive. It's not a fight that we asked for.

I find the radical queers' blase and uncaring attitude toward the anti-marriage amendments very disturbing. These are constitutional amendments that designate an entire class of people as permanently barred from a legal right and constitute nothing short of state-sanctioned persecution. It's the kind of thing that, if allowed to stand, inevitably leads to more extreme forms of discrimination and persecution.

But according to the radical queers, we should simply sit back and allow these amendments to pass and stand because marriage is a right-wing, neoliberal, patriarchal, oppressive, white, male, cisgender blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. And while we're at it, we should also leave in place state-sanctioned discrimination in the form of GLBT people being banned from serving openly in the military on account of injustices in American foreign policy.

The central crux of their argument is that GLBT people -- "queers," as they like to say -- are so very different from everybody else that we should strive to remain separated from the rest of society. DADT is okay because "queers" shouldn't be serving in the military; anti-marriage amendments are okay because "queers" shouldn't be seeking to get married anyway.

When you look at the three largest-scale civil rights movements in the U.S. over the last 100 years -- the movements for women's rights, African-Americans and gays -- you consistently see that they have found the most success in their efforts to win mainstream acceptance for a group of people historically denied it. At the same time, at least among the black and GLBT rights movements, there have always been small pockets of people who see outcast status not as a consequence of oppression, but as the natural order of things. So while the black civil rights movement fought to end Jim Crow, there were still people like Malcolm X arguing for racial separatism. Now, we have radical queers who are "against equality" and who argue that GLBT people should strive to remain as social outcasts.

Please send me a copy of that memo where Queer Folk who care about the sizable (and growing) number of other Queer Folk who do not have reliable access to food, shelter, and rudimentary health care are now officially labeled "Radical Queers". There is nothing radical about helping other humans survive and recognizing that as social creatures, humans will find alternate ways to organize when the usual structures break down. No one mentioned or suggested separatism in the piece; nor did anyone really even criticize marriage; or mention patriarchy, privilege or any the other blah-blahs that magically materialized in your comment.

Sassafras' comments about the amount of money spent losing political fights in various arenas, are exactly the same criticisms that many "Conventional Queers" are leveling at mainline queer rights organizations. The word "accountability" is appearing in the press, and new media with great frequency lately; and that is as it should be.

A plea for recognition that resolution of the marriage issue is NOT going to change the basic social equation in huge areas of OUR country is rational and should be heeded. One can and should support the push for marriage rights, for those who want them; and we can and should be helping to save lives. Messages about one should never eclipse messages about other.

{Radiqueers vs Conventiqueers. Coming soon to a Arena Near You.}

AJD, you say "it is quite possible to donate money to a marriage campaign and then donate the same amount of money to an organization for homeless GLBT teenagers and/or to do equal amounts of volunteer work for both."

And yes yes, on this point I completely agree!!!

But wait -- here's the problem: that's not happening. For example, let's take a look at California, where the initial Prop 8 ballot measure incurred $20 million of spending on each side -- let's keep in mind that that's just the beginning, but unfortunately I didn't see anyone spending $20 million or more on homeless queer youth -- but wouldn't that be a great start? I challenge any gay billionaire or multi-multimillionaire -- David Geffen, James Hormel, Rosie O'Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres, or whomever -- to throw down that kind of money for -- let's say, maybe a collectively run queer youth shelter/community space/permanent housing institution -- bring it on!

The problem is that all of the resources funneled into marriage are actually taking money away from queer youth services, AIDS funding, drug treatment, sex education, eldercare, and so many other services desperately needed right now.

Prop. 8 was a more immediate concern for a lot of people, which probably explains the large surge in funding at the time.

But if you think that funding for other GLBT causes is inadequate, then why not try to solicit donations for them? Instead of writing on some little blog that you "challenge any gay billionaire or multi-multimillionaire" to support a shelter for homeless GLBT teenagers, why not actually write to them and ask?

Like it or not, marriage is still a very important issue for a lot of GLBT people, and attempting to persuade those of us who do desire marriage equality that we should simply give it up and allow state-sanctioned discrimination against us in order to devote every cent of funding to homeless GLBT youth, care of elders and so on is futile.

That's not to say that people who want marriage equality don't care about those things, but we do recognize that state-sanctioned discrimination in the form of constitutional amendments is an extremely dangerous precedent in this country for GLBT people and everybody else. The people who would like to see us "die or disappear" are the same ones responsible for Proposition 8 and the other amendments, and anti-gay amendments are a big stepping stone in achieving that ultimate goal.

So while the causes you mention are certainly important, so is preventing and eliminating discrimination against us. You don't have to like the military or U.S. foreign policy (and I should state for the record that I'm a fan of neither) to recognize that DADT is indefensible, and you don't have to be someone who practices monogamy or wants to marry to recognize the dangerous implications of constitutional amendments against us and also recognize the sinister intentions of the people who get them passed.

Alaric (who now goes by AJD),

Re: "why not actually write to them and ask?" We have, we do, and we're continually denied funds when we don't focus on gay marriage. As you know, having been a regular on my, Mattilda's, and Ryan's blogs, and having made your exact same points countless times, here, exactly on this "little blog," which you read assiduously and respond on constantly, that's exactly what we've been writing about for a couple of years now. If you listen to Alex's interview with me and Ryan, we make those points.

That does not, of course, preclude a critique of the non-profit-industrial complex which takes pressure off the state to begin providing basic benefits which should go to all people regardles of marital status. Instead, Gay Inc. has decided that we should go the route of neoliberal privatisation and hinge everything on marriage.

Just to refresh everyone's memories, people should go to Ryan Conrad's brilliant piece on funding (and Mattilda's comment above points to the same issues),which is published in our recent anthology, Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage. It is the first and the only research-based piece out there that shows how the funds are being diverted. Amy Sueyoshi's also discusses the same. The pieces, "Against Equality, in Maine and Everywhere" (Ryan's) and "Inequality in the Marriage Equality Movemen" (Amy's) can be found here: http://www.againstequality.org/ Just click on the "Marriage" tab. Better still, check out our fabulous book.

I don't think there's anyone here who would deny that DADT and marriage amendments are indeed a form of discrimination - and I challenge you to find one word, just one, where someone says, "Oh, that's not discrimination, that's love." Or anything to that effect. To articulate critiques of Gay Inc's obsession with these causes is not to endorse discrimination - it's to point out the many complex issues that get erased as a result of the excessive focus and the very great material losses that result.

To keep beating that straw man about how we just want to be big meanies about gay marriage and why can't we just let marriage be is to clumsily and, I might add, ineffectually, attempt to distract from the very great force of the critiques of the gay marriage movement. As Seana points out, "The word "accountability" is appearing in the press, and new media with great frequency lately; and that is as it should be." The horse has left the barn. The straw man has been trampled underfoot.

And here's a response from an audience member at at AE book tour stop in Maine this past week at the Maine College or Art, October 2nd, 2010.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3U-EKR7O1CU

I think this person says it best.

"Prop. 8 was a more immediate concern for a lot of people" If marriage is more of an immediate concern for you than food, shelter, and physical safety, then your priorities are seriously fucked up. Oh, wait, you meant more of a concern for rich white cis people. Go on then...

And if you think that's what I was saying, then you're illiterate.

Like it or not, marriage is still a very important issue for a lot of GLBT people, and attempting to persuade those of us who do desire marriage equality that we should simply give it up and allow state-sanctioned discrimination against us in order to devote every cent of funding to homeless GLBT youth, care of elders and so on is futile.

I don't think anyone is advocating "every cent" should go to those causes. That's a straw man/woman/person.

So while the causes you mention are certainly important, so is preventing and eliminating discrimination against us. You don't have to like the military or U.S. foreign policy (and I should state for the record that I'm a fan of neither) to recognize that DADT is indefensible, and you don't have to be someone who practices monogamy or wants to marry to recognize the dangerous implications of constitutional amendments against us and also recognize the sinister intentions of the people who get them passed.

Isn't that making the argument you called a "straw man" above, where you said no one actually believed that marriage was more important than youth having food and shelter?

I'm concerned because the way LGBTQ people have forgotten youth is deplorable, although entirely understandable. "It gets better" means we get away, we build nice little bubbles to live in, and we forget about those traumatizing experiences of our youth. More importantly, the constancy with which the "Queers want to molest children" message gets beaten into us makes many of us loathe to help youth at all for fear we'll be fulfilling that stereotype. To add to all of that, only a small percentage of LGBTQ adults have children, putting them in infrequent contact with that age group.

But whatever the reason, recent events have shown the need for us to pay more attention to queer youth (especially queer youth that's been kicked out of their home or don't have homes for whatever reason). I'm working on a post about that for later today.

This is very bad economics. The funding for queer causes isn't a zero sum game. The large sums of money given to gay marriage is mostly the result that middle class gays and lesbians want to marry and are willing to contribute money to get there. It's nonsense to say that if we hadn't spent the money on Prop 8 it would have been used for worthier gay causes. Donors give so much to marriage because they care about that issue. Yes, we all should care more about homeless youth, but don't pretend that this money would have gone to homeless youth, it needlessly pits gay marriage against other gay issues.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 21, 2010 4:46 PM

The utterly bankrupt idea that underlies many of the comments is the wrongheaded idea that the fight for same sex marriage is "a stab in the back" for the GLBT movements. That's untrue. The very large amounts mistakenly donated to No on 8 were based on a resurgence of militancy and expectations at the end of a long period of demoralization following the equally long string of defeats of same sex marriage on the state level at the hands of agressive bigots like Bush and Clinton.

The $43.3 million donated to No on 8 didn't come just from people who wanted same sex marriage. There just aren't that many of them - 15-20,000 in California by most estimates. The money came from unions, large individual donations and millions of donations from working class (not middle class) LGBT folks around the country many of whom wanted vengeance for the defeats they suffered under Bush.(1) The money to defeat same sex marriage came from the far right and others who oppose same sex marriage.(2)

Those huge funds were mistakenly donated to a group - No on 8 - which squandered them on ineffective ads and salaries while running a eurocentric, racist campaign that ignored the fact that 'minorities' are the majority in California.

The question of how to allocate resources can't be solved until we have an internally democratic, externally anti-Democratic/Republican national assembly and organization of militants and activists with a mass action approach and an elected leadership.

(1) No on 8 donors
1. California Teachers Association, $1,300,000
2. Human Rights Campaign, $2,057,981 of which $2,105.000 came not from HRC's huge coffers but from Bruce Bastian who gave $1,005,000 and David Maltz, who gave $1,100,000. The real contribution from HRC was $47,019, no doubt about what Solmonese spends on tux's every year.
3. No on 8 - Equality California, $1,250,000
4. Robert Wilson, $1,200,000.
5. David Bohnett, $600,000.
6. Tim Gill, (Gill Action Fund), $350,000.
7. James Hormel, $350,000.
8. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), $250,000.
9. Center Advocacy Project Issues PAC, $234,000.
10. Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Service Center, $225,000.
11. National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, about $215,200.
12. GLAAD, $100,000.
13. Horizons Foundation, $100,000.
14. Apple, $100,000
15. Google, $100,000


(2) Yes on 8 donors
1. Knights of Columbus $1,400,000.
2. Howard Ahmanson, $1,150,000.
3. John Templeton, $900,000.
4. National Organization for Marriage, $785,750.[35]
5. Elsa Prince, $650,000.
6. Fieldstead & Company, $600,000.
7. American Family Association, $500,000
8. Focus on the Family, $411,000.
9. Doug Manchester, $125,000. (Owner of the Manchester Hyatt where anti-union scab and anti-LGBT bigot Bill Clinton crossed picket lines to collect his "thirty pieces of silver"

(These figures don't specify the substantial contributions of the Mormon cult.)

Thanks for your comments everyone and to Mattilda and Bilerico for including me in the conversation.

Folks who want more information about the Kicked Out anthology can visit us online at http://www.KickedOutAnthology.com

And, yet another shameless plug, here's the recent interview Alex did with Ryan and me:

http://www.bilerico.com/2010/10/interview_with_against_equality.php

We talk about these exact issues, including the matter of funding.

I think the big question that's often overlooked is "Would the money spent on marriage have gone into homeless gay youth?"

While I agree that the amount of money spent on marriage battles is absolutely atrocious, not all of that money would have gone to this issue. Not everyone who's interested or wants to be married cares about youth housing and homelessness. It's sad, but it's true. They'd have used that money on causes that are close to their hearts - and sadly that doesn't often include the poor.

Bil, I think you're absolutely right -- all that money would not have gone into helping queer youth, homeless or otherwise, because yes the gay marriage movement is not particularly concerned with anything other than marriage (and military, and hate crimes legislation).

Let me give a few more examples from San Francisco -- the only queer youth shelter recently closed due to funding cuts -- I think the amount they needed to stay open was less than $1 million a year.

New Leaf, the only agency in San Francisco dedicated to low-income therapy for queers, and around in one form or another since the 1970s, recently closed due to funding cuts -- this was a huge agency interwoven with city and state bureaucracy -- they mentioned that if they had found an "angel" donor to give $3 million per year, or something like that, then they could have stayed open.

Both of these agencies are part of the city bureaucracy, and therefore dependent on city, state, and even federal contracts to stay open, and so there are a lot of other issues involved (like systemic corruption), but I do think they serve as stark examples of the priorities of gay people with power.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 19, 2010 9:52 AM

The recent wave of suicides and the ongoing campaign of the christer-judaist-islamist cults to trigger thug violence are proof positive that we've failed fail our LGBT children and youth miserably.

We lack a national and well publicized program to emancipate them from the ignorance, superstition and increasingly belligerent bigotry of their cult infested families.

We need a national effort by legal groups like NCLR, Lambda and the ACLU and by youth advocacy groups like The Trevor Project, GLSEN and PFLAG to emancipate GLBT youth and to offer them alternative families through adoption or semi-independent living arrangements. (Fostering for LGBT youth can be a horror story.) Those same groups have to begin suing the perpetrators of violence - the cults - the same way SPLC sued the KKK and broke it's back.

All the new families that want to adopt young people can begin with homeless GLBT youth. Forget trying to impress straights that you 'care' and concentrate on protecting and nurturing GLBT youth and children.

Beyond that we need a campaign to demand that the feds and state governments provide housing, job training, education and socialized medicine for LGBT youth tossed out of their homes by bigoted families.

Donations, charity and the 'social work'-'community organizing' approach are totally inadequate to deal with the scope of this problem, especially given the efforts of the Democrats to de-fund GLBT programs that address HIV/AIDS prevention and programs that deal with youth betrayed by their families and society. It's good to contribute to them but they can't handle the problem - it's way too big.

--------------------------------

The purely defensive fight for same sex marriage is neither a betrayal nor a conspiracy. It's a self-protective fight against the rancid bigotry of the Clintons, the Bushes and Obama who use it as a tool against LGBT communities.

In the absence of a national, left wing GLBT activist assembly with a mass action approach. internal democracy and external independence from Democrats and Republicans it's going to be next to impossible to decide on priorities. In terms of same sex marriage they're being imposed on by Obama.

It's time to turn the tables and demand passage of ENDA or an inclusive CRA as a constitutional amendment and constitutional amendments guaranteeing jobs, housing, trade union wages and benefits for workers, students and retirees, full and free job training and education, socialized medicine for GLBT folks (and all working people) and repeal of DOMA and DADT.

That will become a fight for socialism, which is the only real way to solve these problems.

Bill, I do agree that encouraging independence/emancipation for queer youth is certainly part of the solution -- so much of the gay establishment focuses not only on marriage but parental rights, ignoring the plight of queers and others living in abusive families.

And as for housing, food, shelter, health care, etc. -- for everyone everyone everyone, yes indeed!

Oh, and yes -- the "charity" model is hideously corrupt -- especially when so many of the agencies require homophobic, transphobic,racist, classist, misogynist, ableist, and on and on and on discriminatory procedures as part of their "service."

social workers are not all oppressors! | October 19, 2010 2:56 PM

Which agencies? The church certainly. But every social service I have worked with has anti-oppression policies and have for years! Can you give names of these other places you mention? Also, what is the "gay estaliblishment"! Such an old fashioned term! Funny.

Not all social service agencies are charities, and those are what are specifically being referred to here. Furthermore, not all social service agencies have anti-oppression policies in place - one person's individual experience does not account for the totality. As for the gay establishment - see, well, the "movement" as a whole. Sadly, not an old-fashioned concept. For evidence, check the guest list of any HRC/NGLTF benefit.

With all the faith based funding by Washington someone should be questioning the open discrimination by religious based homeless programs towards lgbt homeless.I don't believe that a "homeless shelter" that would turn away anyone should be allowed to call itself a homeless shelter.