Here is a piece that I co-wrote with fellow organizers in Democracy Insurgent, a anti-war/Middle East solidarity group at the University of Washington:
Pride is not a white flag
Democracy Insurgent Statement on Prop 8
Democracy Insurgent is an anti-war Middle East solidarity group based out of the University of Washington, Seattle. We are guided by principles of anti-racism, democracy, third world feminism and queer liberation.
On Nov 4th 2008, Proposition 8, the California ballot proposition that called for the definition of marriage to be limited to a union between a man and a woman, was passed. This measure eliminated the right of same sex couples to marry. Recent debates around Proposition 8 have centered about the apparent disproportionately homophobic nature of people of color. Some racists, including Seattle’s own Dan Savage, had suggested that African-American voters were responsible for the passing of Prop 8, implying that they were not reciprocating the favor of the white vote for Obama. Despite the failure of Prop 8 campaigning efforts to reach out to the communities of color, many of whom were newly registered voters inspired by the Obama campaign, the blame still fell on the voters, not the campaign organizers as it should. These organizers were extremely conservative in their methods; they often refrained from even using the terms “gay”, “lesbian” or “queer” in their messages, and failed to advocate an alternative vision of family relations that could speak to the grievances and aspirations of oppressed queer folks, including people of color.
We do not deny that there is homophobia in communities of color. Many of us have experienced it and continue to challenge it. However, the failure of the white middle class leaders of mainstream queer organizations to embrace an anti-racist, working class agenda contributes significantly to the continuing division between communities of color and queer communities. When gay marriage, isolated from other social demands, becomes the main focus of the queer movement, it ignores the lives and struggles of working class queers of color. This division is unsustainable.
We believe that all people should have the right to choose the forms of family they desire. We should reject the right of the heterosexist state to determine the kinds of families that we can have. It is for this reason that we should defend gay marriage against right wing attacks like Proposition 8. However, we should also keep in mind that gay marriage, as sanctioned by the state, is simply one among many forms of families that exist.
All too often, gay marriages have been used by the white middle class queer community to assimilate into straight society. The rhetoric that queer people are not any different from straight people except for who we sleep with is reactionary and conciliatory, because the vision of straight society is often racist, patriarchal and oppressive.
The idea of a happy nuclear family in the suburbs, where a housewife takes care of two children while the dogs lap around happily in the backyard, is a romanticized and unrealistic picture of a typical American family. This vision of a picture perfect family, to which every other family is dysfunctional in comparison, was born from the 1950s, at the height of vicious repression against communists and homosexuals. The US government was trying to project an idealized vision of American society in order to shore up the American nation against the turbulence of post-war anti-colonial movements occurring worldwide, as well as labor insurgencies against automation. As a result, homosexuality and communism were scape-goated as deviant threats to the social order of the nation.
Implementations of heterosexist male and female roles, with men working over time and women happily providing free reproductive labor (housework, child-bearing) to maintain the upkeep of the family, also served to sustain capitalism. Heterosexual, child-bearing, private families took on the task of bringing up and educating a new generation of workers, all on their own paychecks, separated from the public realm. This conveniently left the capitalist state and companies free from the economic burdens of having to foot the bill for reproducing their future employees. Yet, even as this version of a self-sustaining, private and nuclear family remains the dominant in ideal in the American imagination, the reality is that in fact, only a small fraction of American families fit this formula.
Our families have always been a little queer when compared to the white middle class norm. Many families of color, both immigrant and non-immigrant, rely on extended friendship and family networks to sustain ourselves. With resources stretched thin by the pressures of white supremacy and capitalism, our mothers have often taken up the slack by juggling work both inside and outside of our homes. In times of migration or hard financial times, our families have supported non-blood related children of friends, raising them as our own. For a long time, families of color have been criticized for not being “normal,”- our family structures were blamed for the disintegration of our communities, when in reality, the destruction was brought about by white supremacist and imperialist structures that were attacking us, from racial profiling and incarceration to invasions and bombing of our homelands. For many of us, our families were one of the few survival mechanisms we could count on. We have built bonds not based on blood, but on solidarity and kinship. This is what has kept us alive.
The mainstream queer movement fails to connect the dots between the struggles of queer families that stretch beyond state sanctioned gay marriages, with the battles against white supremacy and class oppression in our communities. In its racial and class prejudices, the mainstream movement fails to reflect the realities of communities of color.
Seattle Prop 8 rally, Mayor Nickels and the War
On Nov 15th, Seattle saw a huge turnout of supporters against the passing of Prop 8. 6000 people showed up at a rally in Capital Hill with signs, chants and lots of energy.
Despite our excitement at seeing so many queers politicized and rightfully enraged by the heterosexism of Prop 8, we were disappointed by the presence of Mayor Nickels and the warm welcome he received from the crowd. The cheers he received from the audience appeared to exemplify the class divisions within the queer movement.
It is not a mystery that many queer youth have been displaced onto the streets, kicked out by the homophobia of their hometowns and families. Mayor Nickels has presided over the rapid gentrification of Seattle, leaving these queer youth, and people of color and working folks out on the streets or pushed out of the city. Nickels has also been at the forefront of displacing homeless encampments in the city (see http://www.realchangenews.org/2008/2008_09_17/drwes_v15n39.html). His cops have been infamous for cracking down on homeless youth and adults. When Mayor Nickels attacks homeless queers, how is he supporting queer liberation?
How much does it really mean to working and/or homeless queers that he declared Nov 15th Marriage Equality Day in Seattle? Does this compensate for the crackdown on Nickelsville and the increasing loss of jobs? We certainly do not think so. Nickels is clearly giving middle class queers lip service, while he has not made any moves to legalize gay marriage in this city or state.
Queer liberation cannot stand alone
The separation of the Prop 8 rally from all the other social issues in the country is also stark. On the one hand, this speaks to a possible lack of concern of queer liberation by many other activist groups. It is a reality that many groups that confront other forms of social injustices fall into the same trap of patriarchy and heterosexism. On the other hand, the racist propaganda emanating from the organizing efforts of white middle class queer interests may have turned people of color and working class organizations away from the rally. Clearly, the rally organizers in their choice of speeches and literature, made no concerted effort to address and condemn the racist overtones of some anti-Prop 8 people.
As an anti-war and queer liberation organization, members of Democracy Insurgent are dedicated to building a group that confronts the monopoly of white middle-class queers who claim to represent all of the queer community. For those of us who are queer people of color, we aim to confront the war efforts that the heterosexist, imperialist US empire is waging in the Middle East. We aim to present an anti-racist and anti-imperialist alternative to mainstream queer activism. Mayor Nickels will not bring us queer liberation, any more than US empire will bring queer people of color and women in the Middle East any salvation.
We are not alone in our attempts to build an anti-imperialist queer liberation struggle, or a queer-friendly anti-war movement. Across the country and especially in California, people continue to see the bankruptcy of the reformist gay rights organizations and a younger generation is beginning to organize autonomously from below. This opens up new possibilities, making it even more important than ever that we foreground an anti-racist, working class perspective in the movement.