Acceptance? Tolerance? Assimilation?
This is an unusual time to be LGBT or queer identified.
The queer liberation movement, started as a vilified and victimized movement of people coming together to fight for their right to live and love, appears to have finally reached the mainstream in undeniable ways. Where at one time the idea of politicians taking up the cause of marriage equality and other reforms for gay people seemed impossible, the Democratic National Convention has confirmed that marriage equality, for some the holy grail of LGBT rights, will be one plank of their platform in this election year. From an e-mail sent out to supporters by Barney Frank:
I want you to be one of the first to know: After a unanimous decision on Sunday, the drafting committee for the Democratic National Convention embraced marriage equality as part of our platform for the 2012 Convention.
The next step will be for the full platform committee to vote on it, after which it will be presented to the delegates at the Convention in Charlotte for a final vote. Make no mistake: This is a historic step toward fairness for all. Once again, Democrats are fighting to move this country forward.
Please stand with Democrats today and support marriage equality for all Americans.
When President Obama became the first sitting president to support marriage equality, Democrats stood shoulder to shoulder with him. I still remember that day. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Now, it’s up to us to speak up for what he has called a simple proposition: that every single American deserves to be treated equally.
Add your name today and say you’re with Democrats as we fight for the right of every American to marry the person they love:
Thank you for standing up,
Congressman Barney Frank
This, fast on the heels of Barack Obama’s “evolution” on marriage, has seemed to clinch it for our communities: we are the mainstream now.
Of course, I’m not particularly a fan of assimilating into heteronormative institutions, so I’m not as jubilant as some. However, this move seems to clearly indicate that even the political elite are willing to work for issues that big gay organizations and activists have been pushing for years. This move most likely has the votes of those gay folk who participate in electoral politics in the bag.
This isn’t the only indication of inclusion, however, and while I may roll my eyes at this latest attempt by Democrats to get my vote, there are far more disturbing trends, tell-tale signs that it’s not just politicians attempting to sway our support in exchange for inclusion. Have you seen this ad?
Well, well, well. In a move that some are viewing as the redemption of a corporation caught giving funds to anti-gay candidates, Target is advertising a same-sex wedding registry. One gay writer even referred to the ad as “kinda awesome.” So we’re all good, right?
Supporting Our Causes? Nah. Probably Just Greedy.
My quintessential objection to this sort of thing is pretty basic and easy to understand: corporations are not activist organizations. If they make stands like this, it is because it is safe and because they want to make money. Let me repeat: corporations are in the business of making money, not fomenting social change. If they are paying to have this ad, it’s not to support our community, but because they want us to buy Target’s goods.
Some may not object to this, of course, but when it comes to the choice of buying at Target or at a local store whose money stays in circulation in the local economy, I’ll buy local every time. This ad actually is not beneficial to those we love nor ourselves. They essentially are asking us to put our money directly into a bank in a city on another place of the planet, which will then get funneled into a CEO’s paycheck, never to be seen in our hometowns again. They’re not supporting our communities with ads like this! They are instead persuading us to leave our communities at a disadvantage in the capitalist rat-race against big corporations.
So why are we happy about this?
Rewarding the Repulsive
This is only the latest misstep by the LGBT community in its quest for acceptance. Far worse and more detrimental, recently GLAAD gave Wells Fargo their “Corporate Leader” award, presumably for having equality in its advertising.
Yes. They got an award for trying to get our money. Er, hooray?
This is way more problematic than even our tacit endorsement of consumerism as promoted by Target. Wells Fargo, as is now common knowledge and was at the time of the award, is a heavy investor in the prison industrial complex‘, an industry that profits by locking up people of color, to include queer inmates such as the horribly victimized CeCe McDonald (click here for my analysis of why prisons shouldn’t be supported). This award, given to Wells Fargo, actually is thanking a terrible banking institution for attempting to take our money– which would then be invested in part in locking up queer youth and queer people of color.
This is beyond wrong.
Addiction To Money
How is it that these companies– whose activities it has been clearly demonstrated to have a negative impact on our communities– get by with a pass simply because they now view us as a demographic to be capitalized on? We are thanking the people who are ruining our lives and the lives of those we care about. Why?
One reason, of course, is corporate sponsorship of our events and causes. Seattle’s Pride parade this year was an endless series of big corporations who had paid to march in the parade. Gigantic advertisements crawled through downtown, hijacking a holiday of liberation in order to attract newer, gayer customers.
It’s not just our parades. The capitalists in charge have designated certain causes that they will contribute to, political fights like marriage equality and employment non-discrimination. Many queer activists’ hands are tied; they are unable to speak out against these mammoth companies without risking losing the funding for their fights. This led prominent gay activist Cleve Jones to declaim to Boston Edge that the gay community was addicted to corporate money:
“One of the most important and central questions is whether or not we are a progressive movement and whether we care about other communities and other issues,” said Jones. “The big philosophical question is what kind of movement we want this to be now that we appear to winning. A movement that seeks to advance only its own members is going to accomplish little. I want to be in a movement that transforms the lives of millions of people.”
Jones said he worries about corporations that pour large amounts of money into the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other national LGBT organizations. Citing HRC’s appointment of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein as a spokesperson for its national marriage equality campaign, he expressed fears that LGBT groups have become beholden to corporations.
Jones said the move shows HRC is “either remarkably tone deaf, is incredibly cynical or it was maybe bought and paid for.” The activist also pointed to the brouhaha over the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s initial endorsement of AT&T’s decision to merge with cell phone service provider T-Mobile.
Behind the scenes, LGBT activists snorted at such “unrealistic” statements. Of course we need corporate money! We can’t get the work that we want to accomplish done without those funds!
This is simply not true. Yes, we can accomplish goals through pouring money into the political process. Do we have to? No! If they were alive today, we could ask the organizers who won us the 40-hour work week and minimum wage how to do it– after all, they did it without the support of the political establishment and certainly without corporate money.
Not the Same Movement, But Bringing It Back Old School
I lament these things not just because I am anti-capitalist or even because I am a grump (both being equally true). I lament these things because I’ve seen the queer movement, even during my short lifetime, change from a grassroots-organized expression of rage and liberation to becoming stooges for corporate America. Would ACTUP have rewarded Wells Fargo?
Luckily there is a resurgence in radical queer politics. Here in Seattle we have GLITUR (stands for the Grand Legion of Incendiary and Tenacious Revolutionaries. We were drunk when we came up with the name.), while in San Francisco Gay Shame and ACTUP have made a reappearance at their own Pride Festival, accompanied by great actions by QUIT! (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism).
I’m not the only one speaking out; there is a resurgence of radical queer organizing in this country, and when we view Target’s ad, we are almost universally nauseated. As we become the mainstream, we cannot give up our consciences.
Just because corporations– if you’ll excuse the pun– target us and our money doesn’t mean we have to participate in the destruction of our communities through corporatism. I reject that as well as I can. Will you?