This Pride weekend, there is a lot of “what’s next?” talk in LGBTQ-land: in the streets, in the press and in our inboxes.
Frankly, we are not used to winning. Oh yes, a battle here and there … but this was “The War.” Suddenly, LGBTQ people are being told by our national organizations that we have won “The War” for social and economic justice in America. All we have to do is sue each state one by one based upon the DOMA ruling.
I’m not buying that bucket of leadershit. There still is no cure for AIDS. Our youth are still killing themselves. Too many of us are homeless. We can be fired, for no other reason than we are who we were born to be, in 30 states. Transgender people seem to be completely left out of these “conversations. “
This does not feel like victory to me.
Let’s remember one thing during these conversations. Pride celebrations, which are at the root of grassroots LGBTQ politics, were started nationwide to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Riot in New York’s Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969. People fought for the right to be free of police violence and surveillance of queer spaces — to be themselves without having to be seen as acceptable to anyone else — gay or straight. They didn’t riot for three days to be able to get married nor because they wanted to become a market segment for future Pride corporate sponsors. They were proud to be themselves.
Our movement’s emphasis on marriage equality during the last 10 years has been hard to watch from the sidelines if one is not teetering on the threshold of marital bliss. It has threatened to divide us in a way that feels like could undo 30 years of coalition building with other progressive movements. It splinters any “what’s next” conversation into a class division: It privileges those who can afford or even want marriage versus those who can’t and don’t. Being married gives you class and privilege in the LGBTQ movement. And never forget that those who hate us love the idea of us being divided along class and privilege lines: the everlasting divide-and-conquer technique.
However, let’s not forget that we are held to Harvey Milk’s challenge: “Ya gotta give ’em hope.” One of the defining traits of our movement is that we don’t give up. Thank you, ACTUp.
On June 27, I discovered a little bit of hope in an article written by Greg Fields for the Bakersfield Law Examiner. In it, he interviews Whitney Weddell, chair of Bakersfield LBGTQ, which is the local Pride organization, and Cindy Smith of the Gay & Lesbian Center of Bakersfield.
“Weddell was struck by what she saw as the duplicitous nature of the conservative bloc on the Supreme Court when it came to DOMA and the Voting Rights Act. They argued DOMA was legislation that was democratically passed by Congress and signed by the President and preached deference to that process. But that was also the same process that enacted the Voting Rights Act. Overwhelmingly bipartisan Congressional action was taken based on a solid case for the continued need of the Voting Rights Act. Weddell hopes Obama has the chance to appoint more liberal members to the Supreme Court before his term ends. Otherwise it’s up to the Legislature.
‘I certainly hope Congress will fix the problem. But I’m sorry it’s been left to this Congress to deal with it,’ Weddell said. ‘Everybody should have the most basic of rights and that includes voting.’
Cindy Smith of the Gay & Lesbian Center of Bakersfield said the fight MUST continue for marriage equality and voting rights activists.
‘This shows us to always be vigilant. Be careful not to take anything for granted,’ Smith said. ’Always be aware that justice is very carefully nurtured and preserved.’”
Smith and Weddell live in Bakersfield, a place where they will immediately feel the intersection of changes to DOMA and the Voting Rights Act. They are the ones who will have to figure out a way to engage local LGBTQ marriage activists in a larger conversation and inspire them to take action outside of their class and economic comfort zones.
Our leaders need to respect the work being done in places like Bakersfield. That’s where the “what’s next” answers lie. We will not be defeated. Nor divided … if we so choose.
Leslie Ewing is the executive director of the Pacific Center for Human Growth. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected]