The Language of Queer Liberation

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At the National Equality March, there was a lot of different propaganda distributed, offering different points of view on the issues. None of them adequately describes everyone at the march, but each offers a perspective vital to the march.

I’d like to share with you one of the handouts I received from the Gay Liberation Network (Chicago-based) and Queer Liberaction (Dallas-based). These are both direct action groups who have a vested interest in applying pressure beyond mere words (an attitude Dan Savage also seems to share). Though the language is strong, I chose to share this flier because I do think the language is fair and respectful, and probably reflects a lot of the attitudes of the people who marched (as opposed to the attitudes of folks like Barney Frank who opposed it).

Here is the language of their flier in full, but all emphases are mine.

To Make Genuine Change, We Must Make Demands on BOTH Parties.

For too many years the LGBT movement has been the plaything of the Democratic Party. Courted for money and votes when they needed us, abused and disrespected once they’re in power.

Indeed, some of the worst attacks on our community have come when the Democrats controlled most of the levers of power.

Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell was introduced into Congress by none other than Barney Frank, and passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress and Bill Clinton. The Defense of Marriage Act was signed by Bill Clinton, who went on to boast about that fact with paid commercials run on rightwing Christian radio stations.

The only times we’ve gotten even minor concessions out of President Obama have been when we’ve loudly protested. Thus, when our community ripped the selection of pro-Prop 8 activist Rev. Rick Warren for Obama’s inauguration, the incoming administration hastily “balanced” him with gay Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson. And when LGBT activists raised a flurry of protest over the administration’s vicious, anti-gay brief in favor of DOMA, the administration hurriedly introduced some minor improvements in benefits for federal workers.

Clearly, making demands is the way to make civil rights gains. But rather than make demands of President Obama, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Equality March organizers evidently would rather placate him with speaking invitations so he can sooth [sic] us with flowery rhetoric while delivering next to nothing in practice. In doing so, they are giving a pro-gay cover to the President’s inaction on our issues, and implicitly telling Obama and his party that our community can be bought off very cheaply, say, with a fancy cocktail party and a  few jobs for A-List gays.

HRC has been sucking in millions of dollars and building a fine headquarters filled with finely paid executives for years now, lobbying and cajoling the rich and powerful while winning practically no pro-LGBT legislation at the federal level. By contrast, street activist organizations like ACT UP in its heyday, with far fewer resources, won major gains like the Ryan White AIDS Care Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act, in the teeth of opposition from the first Bush administration.

We don’t need this president coming to fancy banquets to tell LGBT people how much he loves us. We need him to tell the rest of America that he will push hard – and expend real political capital – to not only pass an inclusive ENDA, but to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to make sure that the pro equal-employment-rights message seeps into every town in America, thereby creating not just legal change but, more importantly, social change.

Some in our community continue to make excuses for President Obama – “give him more time” to help us, they say. But this ignores the fact that not only has the President backed away from many of his promises to the LGBT community, he has repeatedly stuck us with bone-headed moves like featuring anti-gay Rev Rick Warren at the inaugural. When he was an Illinois State Senator, he backed equal marraige rights. But on the eve of winning his U.S. Senate seat in a landslide victory, he junked his commitment to equality, saying that his “Christian beliefs” dictated that he oppose equal marriage rights. The cravenness of march organizers’ allegiance to the Democratic Party can be seen in their issuing a speaker’s invitation to a rally for legal equality to a man who opposes it for same sex couples. Even former Vice President Dick Cheney is far more progressive than Obama on the issue!

If we are going to make civil rights progress today we need to learn how previous generations have made sweeping gains. They did it not by becoming beholden to either party but by making demands on both parties. As the great anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass put it, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

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