What Does the 2012 Election Mean for a Burgeoning Queer Movement?
As I read some of the big “LGBT” movement voices celebrating their victories for marriage equality last night, and talking about how much easier the road ahead will be, I want to encourage my peers to refocus our energies for the next four years on sustainable radical change that is beneficial to queer and trans people–not only the gays and lesbians in traditional families.
I’m glad that we’re pushing ahead on certain grounds. I have many friends in Maryland who are extra-legally married or plan to marry now that Question 6 has passed, and I’m happy for them. I’m glad that we have a lesbian Senator, and more pro-equality representatives at different levels around the country. But since I’m pretty sure the marriage equality has its feet and its dollars and will push on no matter what, I want to make sure we use this momentum to also push forward goals that benefit a broader queer constituency.
Race & Immigration: The more research we see on LGBT populations, the more we learn about the needs and barriers of LGBT people of color. People are certainly talking about this–one example is the ARC’s Better Together initiative. But I want to make sure that racial justice is seen as an inherent part of the queer movement, not a fringe issue. I want to make sure that we’re more nuanced in how we think about identity and also that we practice what we preach on the ground. I want to see queer people fighting the concentration of environmental toxins in low-income neighborhoods and on reservations, and I want to see us putting our best foot forward on immigration. I want those of us who call ourselves queer activists and are white to do more work on racial justice and to ask ourselves hard questions. I was inspired by Ignacio Rivera’s speech at Transcending Boundaries two weeks ago to think hard about what being an ally means–as they explained, it’s not just the big pushes or the little things you do but it’s about consistency over a lifetime, and this is what we need to do as white queer individuals and as a multiracial queer movement.
Prisons: We’ve been talking a lot about prisons lately, since the release of the PREA final rule in May. I’m glad to see that a number of groups are gearing up for training and education around LGBT prison populations, and especially trans populations. I want us to also keep doing work around prison abolition, and to work in coalition with other movements to revolutionize how we treat crime in this country. We need to look at the school to prison pipeline and also at how trans people of color and other homeless queer youth are fed into the system. We need to look critically at policies on sex work. One of the saddest things for me this election was that Californians did not vote in solidarity with sex workers, but I’m hoping we can move the ball on that issue. If you’re curious about what stake the queer movement has in prison abolition, check out the newest and final book in the Against Equality series, Prisons Will Not Protect You.
Trans Rights: I’m relatively optimistic about the work that will be possible in the next four years around trans rights with the Obama administration still in power. I’ve been impressed by how quickly the ball is rolling on administrative victories that may seem small, but in fact have a significant impact on trans people’s rights to privacy, housing, and health care. But these are still not central issues, and one of the big things a queer/trans movement can do right now is push hard on making trans rights a central plank of both liberal politics and American values. We also need to do the dirty work of implementing federal policies in our local communities, and of pushing for more local ordinances and state laws that protect trans people. There’s also plenty of work to be done on awareness of trans people and the range of trans identities, whether you’re a blogger or a journalist or simply someone who can sit down and have a conversation on the topic. The goal is not only to pass laws and regulations, but to shift the conversation so that anti-trans discrimination isn’t something you can argue for in polite conversation anymore. Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet.
Local Organizing: At Transcending Boundaries I presented a workshop with Stephen Ira called “Marriage Is Not the Movement,” where we discussed the potential of a queer/trans youth movement and talked about alternatives to the heavily funded national marriage movement with local organizers and ordinary queer folks. I was struck by a point that V, a trans person living in Boston, brought up about micro-local organizing and institutions. V’s experience is that Boston itself actually has a lot of really good institutions for, say, homeless trans youth, but one or two towns away it will be a vastly different picture. I’ve also noticed that a lot of the really fabulous, radical organizations with amazing models for leadership and sustainability are tiny and micro-local, maybe five volunteers serving 100 people in a given neighborhood. I don’t think this is a bad thing. Perhaps a successful queer/trans movement strategy necessarily combines these tiny efforts with innovative ways to share resources and network online, rather than working from the top down.
Sustainability: Finally, I think we have to consider the big green elephant in the room. Any movement needs money. All the energy, creativity, and innovation and the world can’t make change out of absolutely nothing, though a lot of us are wizards at doing it dirt cheap. The problem as I see it is that this is a fractious movement. We have people in national offices who know about traditional non-profit organizations and development, and we have a lot of people at the local level who don’t have those skills and are disillusioned with the big organizations for good reason. There are a lot of ways to fund a queer/trans movement, and I think we can do it in a diversified way. Those with skills can lend them to their local communities, whether it’s a knack for moving money through building relationships or writing small grants to get projects done. Creative people can work on new ways to fund and sustain work that don’t rely on big money. One thing I’m personally working on is getting together a queer/trans resource wiki, where people can advertise the skills/space/stuff/time they have available to other members of the queer/trans community and avail themselves of the resources others have to offer. If you want to get involved with outreach on this, just let me know!