Tag Archives: queer politics

Weekly Rant: On Queer Progress, Part 2

A few days ago, I wrote about the dangers of downplaying all of the progress that we have made in the fifty year since Stonewall. As I noted, queer people now enjoy unprecedented legal, political, and cultural representation. Companies now court us openly, popular culture shows us ourselves (in some forms, at least), and politicians talk about us on national stages (and one of us is actually running for president!) While this is a mixed blessing, it is nevertheless a sign of just how far we have come, and how powerful the campaign for visibility has been.

Now, I’d like to talk about the flip side of that equation, about just how endangered we are, and how fragile are the gains that we have made. There is no question that now, in the era of men like Donald Trump and Mike Pence, that queer people are in increased danger. For many, it is literally a matter of life and death.

Since I wrote that earlier piece, I’ve come to NYC for the celebration of World Pride and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. While wandering through the exhibitions of Stonewall at the New York Public Library and the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, I was struck by the power of what I was seeing. These were the people who sacrificed a great deal, who fought tooth and nail for their equal rights, and I was sometimes moved to tears at the bravery that it took for them to do so.

What really stood out to me, however, was how very quickly the clock seems to be turning back, how the the hard work that those brave people put in is being jettisoned. For make no mistake, it is as bad as you’ve been to believe, if not worse.

We now live in a world where, according to recent polls, people are increasingly willing to express their distaste for queer people. A new Harris poll, for example, showed that even among millennials a startling number of people would be uncomfortable learning that a family member of teacher was LGBTQ. Another recent poll by the PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) revealed a staggering number of people were willing to accept that small business owners should be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people if doing so was in accordance with their religious beliefs. If we thought that the arc of justice bends inexorably toward justice, and if we thought that we had won the war of public opinion, we were very much mistaken. There is much work that we have to do if we do not want to lose the progress that we have made in terms of public acceptance.

We now live in a world where a tragic number of LGBTQ+ youths seriously consider suicide. What kind of country are we building if so many of our young people no longer consider their lives worth living? How can we live with ourselves, if we know that our queer children see no place for them?

We now live in a world where trans women of color are murdered at a truly alarming rate. The fact that this isn’t cause for outrage, that we are not out in the streets every day demanding justice for these women, says something very depressing about how we, as a collective, devalue their lives. People are dying, and it is incumbent on each and every one of us to not only remember their names, but to fight for justice.

We now live in a world where the Supreme Court of the United States, which granted queer people the right to marry, is in control of the conservatives and where one of them has publicly hinted that he thinks that Obergefell should be overturned. Given the fact that the Trump administration–aided and abetted by Mitch McConnell–has radically reshaped the federal judiciary, and given the unrelenting assault that Republicans across the country have lodged in an attempt to undercut marriage equality (to say nothing of access to reproductive care), it is not hard to imagine a future in which same-sex marriage is once again a state issue. In fact, though it might be a bit alarmist, it’s not hard to imagine a resurgent far-right movement attempting to codify their anti-LGBTQ+ animus in law.

So, what’s to be done?

2020 is hurtling toward us like a freight train. If all of us–old and young, queer and straight, moderate and radical–join together to cast out this crop of Republicans who have done so much to turn back the clock. For make no mistake. If Donald Trump wins again in 2020, and if the Republicans maintain their control of the Senate (to say nothing of state legislatures and governorships and the House), we could very well see the complete and total unraveling of everything that we have worked so hard to gain. And if you are foolish enough to think that things can’t get any worse, let me assure you that they most definitely can. When Trumpers scream “Make America Great Again!” they mean nothing less than that they want to see us shoved in the closet. Or, in the darkest scenarios, obliterated entirely.

Fifty years after Stonewall, we have much to be proud of, but there is much that we have yet to do. The most vulnerable among us are daily battered by the awareness that the state and our culture are gradually turning against them, and it is up to those of us who occupy positions of privilege to continue speaking out on behalf of those who do not have that privilege.

However, as I stood outside the Stonewall Inn tonight, on the fiftieth anniversary of that momentous event, I was overcome with feelings: of hope, of joy, and of fierce pride in what we’ve done and what we can do. These are dark days, and we shouldn’t hide from that, but we can bring light back into the world. We must always remember that we are powerful, and we can do anything.

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Weekly Rant: On Queer Progress

Look, queers, we need to have a talk.

When Taylor Swift’s new music video dropped, I only heard about it tangentially at first, mostly because I’m not a huge fan of her pop music (I know, I know, I’m a monster). However, then I watched it, and I found myself caught up in its utopian delights, with its queer stars, its addictive rhythm, and its vivid colors. And, of course, there was the note at the end encouraging viewers to petition the Senate to pass pro-LGBTQ+ legislation.

There were, of course, the explosion of think pieces taking down Swift for any one of the following: appropriation, shallowness, false pretenses, etc., etc., etc. For many, it was far too simplistic, and to see it as some sort of mark of progress for queer people–or, for that matter, to celebrate Swift’s embrace of her queer fandom. To many, it was just another way that popular culture had appropriated and misused queer identity.

To my mind, the logic underpinning these critiques is flawed for two reasons: one, it’s a music video. By a pop star. OBVIOUSLY it isn’t going to be some masterful polemic. Two, and more importantly, it’s followed by a call to political action. While, of course, it’s unclear just how effective that might be, it seems to me that Swift deserves at least a little bit of credit for encouraging her listener’s to become more politically engaged (considering how young those listeners are, and how many of them there are, this seems to me to be very important).

This takedown of Swift is, of course, part of a broader trend within certain circles of queer left activism that I find troubling for both philosophical and political reasons. There are some who find the recent inclusion of queer people into capitalism and the military (as well as other facets of mainstream progress) a problem because it buys into the system rather than overthrows it (to be replaced with…IDK. Nor do I know how, exactly, such an overthrow would take place).

However valid those criticisms are, to my mind they obscure the progress that has been made and how meaningful that progress is, especially for young queer people. I think it’s a good thing that, in some places, the police are actively embracing the queer community (I, for one, would rather have them on our side than against us). And sure, one can be cynical about the ways in which corporations are now cashing in on Pride Month, but again, I would much rather have them in our corner than otherwise (I also love rainbow swag, but I digress). These things are cultural capital, and it matters that we’ve accrued them.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is a lot of room for reform in the world of policing, and I am not by any stretch of the imagination a military apologist. However, I am not in favor of abolishing the police, nor do I think we gain much by relentlessly vilifying them even when they are doing the things that they are supposed to be doing and acting in good faith. To do so, I would argue, de-incentivizes such groups from helping us when we need it most. Why should they feel the motivation to help us in our times of need when we are so intent on demonizing them even when they don’t deserve it?

I would argue that it is more important now than ever to make sure that those who have power (both real and symbolic) understand and embrace our struggles. Every victory we win makes it easier to continue advocating for the bigger goals that we have. The more the mainstream grows comfortable with various aspects of queer identity–even if that’s just seeing rainbows in a store window–the safer and better our lives become.

Nor is this take-down phenomenon limited to the specifically queer left. We have seen time and time again how politicians who, after deep reflection and after processing input from their constituents, have changed their stance on issues only to be reprimanded for doing so. Hillary Clinton Barack Obama, Joe Biden…all of them changed their tune on LGBTQ+ issues for the better, and they were often criticized for doing so. Because, of course, in this hyper-partisan, puritanical and deeply, pathologically cynical age, anything that smacks of flip-flopping or political expediency must in fact be a sign of some inner moral turpitude and is grounds for expulsion from the herd.

Again, this begs the question: why should we expect our elected representatives to change their positions based on our wishes if, when they do, we then reprimand them for doing the exact thing we supposedly wanted them to do? Obviously, we must continue to hold them accountable, to remind them who it is that they serve, but it also bears repeating that we definitely hurt our chances of politicians taking our needs seriously if we insist on scourging them even when they do the things that we ask them to do. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how anyone thinks that this is a winning strategy.

I suppose the takeaway from all of this is that, as few who know me will be surprised to learn, I’m a radical in philosophy but a moderate in practice. That’s because I accept the reality that, whether I like it or not (and I don’t), there are a myriad of people in this vast country whose views about these issues don’t align directly with my own. Having come to that realization some time ago, I now recognize that, if we really want progressive policies to move ahead in this country, we have got to learn how to talk to people who don’t agree with us. We must remember that, for many people, marriage is fulfilling. For many people, serving in the military is a means of financial survival or a genuine act of patriotism (or both). For many people, seeing Pride merchandise is a reminder of just how far we’ve come.

If I could go back in time to a scared 13-year-old T.J., who scoured the world of popular culture for signs of queer existence, who despaired of politicians ever openly declaring their support for LGBTQ+ (let alone seeing an openly-gay presidential candidate!), who wanted to know that it was okay to be who he was, I’d tell him to that yes, it does indeed get better.

I hope that young queer people coming of age today realize how fortunate they are, and I hope that the world continues its march toward progress and equality.