Giving The Majority the Power to Speak Up

I have often framed the queer rights movement as a sexual/gender transgressing minority fighting for civil rights in a heteronormative world. I've recently found myself at a loss for seeing the utility of maintaining this framework. More expansive manners exist of defining our movement, in political, artistic and economic ways. I seek a way of defining the queer movement for myself in a way that integrates more with my feminist identity. I believe I found that ideal blend of my identities when I discovered GenderPAC.

Gender PAC's mission statement (gpac.org) best portrays my new framework of understanding queer culture and activism:

<blockquote>The Gender Public Advocacy Coalition works to ensure that classrooms, communities, and workplaces are safe for everyone to learn, grow, and succeed – whether or not they meet expectations for masculinity and femininity.</blockquote>

More after the flip.

If you think about it, as hard as passing legislation on marriage equality can be, at least legislation and court cases have the possibility of material victories. You cannot however, claim victory on legislating to society a more expansive view of gender and gender roles. Those things must be constantly taught and re-taught on a one on one basis. Not discounting legal and legislative fights for our rights, it is the more subtle gender conformity in our society that remains the biggest obstacle for queers, feminists and really everyone in society.

<blockquote>Depending upon our sex, each of us labors under a powerful expectation, even demand, to be masculine or feminine, practically from the moment of birth. How we negotiate this has personal and
lasting effects on us. It is central to our humanity and it is impossible to be fully human – or to fully participate in human society – without it.

Yet the truth is, few of us really fit narrow gender norms.

And most of us have experienced ostracism, ridicule, harassment, or even assault simply because we didn’t meet someone’s ideal of masculinity or femininity.

Gender stereotypes cause real, profound, and pervasive harm. They figure in dozens of murders, thousands of
unfair terminations, and tens of thousands of school bullying assaults in the US each year. They are deeply
implicated in social problems that range from homophobia and sexism to transphobia and school bullying.</blockquote>

This framework of thought exists has existed in queer activist circles for decades, so this is nothing revolutionary. Many of us, myself included, are familiar with the viewpoint. To see GenderPac so succinctly express it in a few short paragraphs however took my breath away. I sense power in spreading this message. I see the spread of this framework as a way to re-include those activists who have been turned off by what they see as the overemphasis on marriage equality in our movement. I see this framework as a powerful way to empower our allies to a whole new level in the queer movement. Most importantly, years from now (I dare hope not decades), when marriage equality and other equality bills have been legalized/passed throughout the country, this framework offers a step in the direction of something to keep the movement alive.

We should have reason to worry about the decline of the queer rights movement after national marriage equality victories and other high profile long standing demands from our community. I'm not naive, we're many, many years from that stage, but I'm an activist that feels more secure thinking much more in the long term. Wayne Santoro wrote in the journal "Social Forces" an analysis of past social movement. Queer movement activists should consider his conclusions as we plot the future of this contemporary civil rights movement:

<blockquote>Initial policy victories facilitate movement decline because they demobilize activists who believe that the movement's goals already have been secured and because new goals generate less broad-based consensus within the movement community (Chong 1991). When the women's movement secured suffrage in 1920, for instance, the movement fragmented in part as a result of the lack of a unifying goal (Klein 1984).</blockquote>

Some would argue that we're already seeing fragmentation different from the usual discordant arguments within differing queer/trans communities over representation and place in the community. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act fight, where some activists thought it wise to leave out gender identity/expression protections from the national bill and pass sexual orientation first, may have been a beginning point of such fragmentation. I should preface that I fell squarely in the came of keeping ENDA fully-inclusive of both sexual orientation and gender identity protections.

My personal feelings in this debate were worn raw, where I became involved with bigger arguments with fellow activists over ENDA more bruising than any I ever had with a traditional social conservative. The community was truly divided, although I would say it was divided along the few moderate queers that control most of the money in the movement and the large number of movement  grassroots queer activists who do the hard work often without extravagant funding.

A certain degree of fragmentation can be very good for the movement. Post-ENDA, I've noticed a transgender community at levels of organization higher than has ever been witnessed in contemporary America. In the end however, I pray that over the long term the LGBT community finds a way to negotiate the coming era when our "easy" victories, passing equality bills and winning in the courts, are replaced with the much more nuanced task of fighting subtle societal biases about gender roles. Marriage equality of course will help us immensely in redefining gender roles, the two are not mutually exclusive, however winning marriage is just a component to a larger strategy we need to fight gender stereotypes, our biggest ingrained obstacle. Like I've said continually, this scenario is many years, if not a decade or two, from now.

I've seen some promising developments. LGBT American media has given a lot of attention to a recent British court case which found that a straight man can indeed be victim of homophobia (http://www.365gay.com/news/court-straight-man-can-be-victim-of-homophobia/):

<blockquote>Britain’s Court of Appeal has reversed a lower court ruling that had said a man was not entitled to file a homophobic harassment case against his former employer because he is heterosexual.

Stephen English says he was forced to quit his job at an awning manufacturer because the company refused to stop workers from calling him a faggot and other gay slurs.

In a 2-1 landmark ruling the court said that a person can  be “harassed” by homophobic remarks even though he is not gay, is not thought to be gay by his fellow workers and he accepts they do not believe him to be gay.

Writing the majority opinion Lord Justice Sedley said it did not matter whether English was gay or not.

“[The] calculated insult to his dignity” and the consequently intolerable working environment were sufficient to bring his case within the regulations.” Sedley wrote.

“The incessant mockery created a degrading and hostile working environment, and it did so on grounds of sexual orientation,” the judge said.</blockquote>

This story got me thinking about how straight men, and straight people in general, suffer directly from queerphobic slurs and bullying. It reminded of a shocking crime that happened <a href="http://www.gpac.org/violence/news.html?cmd=view&archive=news&msgnum=0331">last year</a>, in which it is believed the man was mistaken for being gay after being seen holding a purse:

<blockquote>On July 29 [2008], Willie Houston, a 38-year-old African American, was shot on his way from celebrating his engagement. He was helping a blind friend enter a Nashville men's room, and had been holding his fiancé's purse.</blockquote>

Another <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/14/nyregion/14ecuadorean.html?n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/Subjects/H/Hate%20Crimes">more recent crime</a> caught the headlines of NYC's major queer papers and received mention in hispanic media and NYC newspapers as well:

<blockquote>An Ecuadorean immigrant who was brutally beaten with a bottle and baseball bat last week by men said to be shouting anti-gay and anti-Hispanic slurs has died, a family spokesman said on Saturday night.

The victim, Jose O. Sucuzhanay, died on Friday night at Elmhurst Hospital Center as his mother was traveling from Ecuador to see him one last time, said the family spokesman, Francisco Moya. Mr. Sucuzhanay’s family had kept him on life support in anticipation of his mother’s arrival, but on Friday, his heart stopped.

The attack occurred about 3:30 a.m. last Sunday as Mr. Sucuzhanay, 31, and his brother Romel were walking home from a bar, arms around each other, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

Mr. Sucuzhanay, the father of two children who live with their grandparents in Ecuador, came to the United States a decade ago in search of work, family members said. He was a waiter for seven years before he got a real estate license three years ago and started his own agency, Open Realty International, in Bushwick.

</blockquote>

It is important to elevate the visibility of queer victims of homophobia/transphobia but also equally important to make sure straight, cisgender victims of gender stereotypes are made visible to the larger community.

As our movement progresses we have many important strategic decisions to make. Pretty much the biggest mistake we could make was to keep all decision centralized with our D.C. LGBT organizations. They have a role to play, but our grassroots have atrophied for far too long. Queer people and our allies need to reconnect  with the movement. Highlighting the impact homophobia and transphobia have on straight, cisgender people is only one avenue of exploration, Just because I chose to write about this avenue today does not mean this is the only strategy option for our movement. I hope that, moving forward, our movement will proceed in a way the utilizes the resources at our disposal.

We have every reason to be optimistic about our fight. It's that optimism which sometimes breeds complacency. Queer rights are not inevitable, as any queer living at the end of the Weimar Germany Republic can attest. Keep up the good fight.