Berkeley, and the larger Bay Area, is home to a flourishing queer culture. UC Berkeley has tripled in its LGBTQ+ identifying student population since 2008; Gender Equity Resource Center is a robust LGBTQ+ support center on campus.
The White Horse Inn on Telegraph Avenue is the oldest continuously operating lesbian and gay bar in the United States; San Francisco Pride is internationally recognized as one of the largest Pride events.
Despite this queer presence, there has never been a sustainable queer politics; any such happening started and ended during the AIDS movement. However, the residents of Berkeley and the larger Bay Area should be more concerned with a queer politics for queer livelihood.
Queer rights are continuously undermined, anti-queer violence is emboldened by anti-queer rhetoric and legislation and there is a disunity of community activism.
Let’s examine the Bay Area. San Francisco saw anti-queer hate crime increase by 50% in 2021, according to the San Francisco Police Department. On June 11, a drag queen storytelling hour in San Lorenzo was interrupted by a group suspected of being a part of the Proud Boys, a far-right group. Panda Dulce, the drag queen host, was harassed by men who wore shirts reading “Kill your local pedophile.”
Monkeypox cases in Berkeley currently tally at six, and San Francisco has reported almost 400 cases as of press time — a majority being among men who have sex with men, or MSM. The attention paid to monkeypox and MSM is reminiscent of the anti-queer rhetoric that existed during the AIDS crisis and the slowness of global leaders to respond.
Headlines such as those from the Daily Mail that read “US records first two CHILD monkeypox cases: California toddler and an infant in D.C. were likely infected by ‘household contacts’ and both had contact with gay or bisexual men, CDC chief says” have already been exploited by anti-queer commentators and politicians to mean that Monkeypox is a “gay” disease and that queer men are child predators.
Queer livelihood is under attack, but there has been little community calls for strategic action among queer people. With an expansive queer population in the Bay Area, one must ask why a queer politics remains disjointed?
Recent anti-queer incidents become more troublesome when we look outside of California, and with mass communication and radicalized ideologies, these incidents are not isolated.
In Arlington, Texas, a group of Proud Boys targeted a 21+ drag brunch and blocked the entrance, claiming a “citizen’s arrest” as they verbally harassed attendees with anti-queer insults.
On June 11, members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front were arrested near a Pride in the Park event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in what is believed to be an attempted riot. The same day in Jacksonville, Florida, a neo-Nazi group called NatSoc Florida protested outside a Hamburger Mary’s — a drag-queen-themed restaurant — with shirts that read “Fags groom kids.”
The depiction of queer people as groomers has existed for decades to demonize queer men during the AIDS crisis, to justify hate crimes and to criminalize same-sex marriage and sodomy. It is a universal scare tactic.
On the forefront of this anti-queerness agenda are right-wing groups and politicians. Libs of TikTok, a popular right-wing TikTok account, has been one of the most engaged in spewing anti-queer rhetoric, but it is accompanied by people such as former Republican congressional candidate Mark Burns, who said “transgender grooming” is a “a national security threat,” and that parents who advocate for queer rights should be executed under laws of treason.
The presence of queer bodies is treated as a national danger by way of the imagined perverted gay man. Queerness becomes seen as something to be extracted from society, justifying anti-queer violence.
Anti-queer legislation and violence has always existed. Indeed, there were more than 250 anti-queer legislation bills introduced in the United States this year. Twenty-eight percent of queer youth reported experiencing homelessness. Self-harm and suicide are still high among queer youth.
Almost half of U.S. states have no laws banning conversion therapy. Forty-two states still have laws that legalize the Gay/Trans Panic Defense. Yet, the U.S. House of Representatives has put its efforts into passing a bill that recognizes same-sex marriage at the federal level, and while this offers some hope, one has to wonder why not focus resources on the actual challenges to queer survival?
We need a queer politics for queer lives to be taken seriously.
I offer a nonexhaustive list of queer actions that we can all take toward a queer politics:
- Speak up: The erasure of queer bodies and the acceptance of anti-queer knowledge productions is queer violence, to resist is to recognize queer bodies, especially for nonbinary and transgender people. Within an intersectional framework, we must dismantle all forms of oppression.
- Support queer community centers.
- Contact elected officials to support legislation that benefits queer people.
- Resist queer assimilation: Queer people must question how their goals align with queer liberation, and refuse to participate in and conform to institutional structures of oppression.
If UC Berkeley is committed to queer rights, and we are the supposed “change makers” of the world, supporting a community-based queer politics is how we can make a real difference.
James Crawford is a senior at UC Berkeley studying political science.