LGBTQ, Politics

How the “Love is Love” Mentality Can Erase Queer Political Struggle

Source: Wikimedia Commons


When a niche culture gets into the mainstream, there is always the risk that it will be diluted, overrun or misrepresented. In the case of LGBTQIA+ people, I feel like I’ve noticed two ways (one overt and one subtle) in which queer people are being sidelined in their own movement.

The first is through “rainbow-washing,” which basically describes companies that create rainbow-or-Pride-themed products in correlation with Pride month in order to get people to give them their business. They can do this with vague promises of “donating” certain portions to LGBTQ groups, but recognize it for what it is: companies deciding that queer culture is something they want to cash in on.

Second is the subtle, and this is something I’m only beginning to notice and vocalize myself, so I apologize if it seems clumsy. I’m going to say something controversial – I think that there are well-meaning straight people culturally erasing queer identity from Pride. Using the “love is love” surface mentality of LGBTQ Pride, straight people are removing queer people from the narrative and celebrating sanitized and wholly unpolitical general “love.”

I first noticed this with people across my timeline: people who I have known (obviously this is not the end-all of their sexual and gender identities) to be straight celebrating Pride, largely with other straight friends, and using it as an excuse to get drunk and wear rainbow.

First, let’s be honest: I have gotten drunk and worn a Golden Girls t-shirt to Pride (and looked amazing). I’m not advocating that we all stay sober on the day of the parade, and solemnly stand in libraries. But I think that there are straight people who go to Pride parades, and other queer events, thinking that pride is just that and justifying their participation in these events by saying that they are celebrating “love.” I’m not advocating for the banning of straight people from Pride events, but I think that the risk we run by making it open to everyone in the mainstream is the re-marginalization of the original message.

Heterosexual people celebrating Pride under the “love is love” banner kind of sanitizes and erases queer people from the narrative entirely. Yes, love is love and everyone is entitled to love whomever they want, but it is not just that. By straight people saying that Pride means celebrating Love, they are eliminating the fact that Pride was actually birthed from the political struggle for queer equality. It is, at its inherent core, a political act.

LGBT Pride originated after the Stonewall riots, June 28, 1969, marking the start of the modern queer rights movement as we know it. It was the result of a series of increasingly violent and aggressive police raids against the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the Village. The clientele were queer people: gay and bisexual men and women, gender non-conforming people, drag queens, male prostitutes. These were people who came to the Village for the safety of its anonymity, because they were, in their essence, criminal in the 1960s.

During these police raids, the cops would arrest anyone dressing in the clothing of the “opposite” gender, anyone seen touching the same sex, any woman who was not wearing at least three pieces of “feminine” clothing. The police raids were a part of a larger effort to remove, penalize and arrest queer people. In the early 1960s, then-mayor of New York City Robert F. Wagner Jr. launched a campaign to rid the city of all gay bars. Police officers used “entrapment” methods (soliciting sex and sexual favors from men and then arresting them) to “catch” queer men. These methods ranged from police officers grabbing men they assumed to be gay in the crotch and seeing how they reacted, to engaging men in conversation and arresting them if the conversation veered towards going somewhere else or getting a drink.

Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were two of the first people to fight back after the police raided in the early hours of the 28th, and are credited as some of the earliest proponents of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Rivera, a transgender activist and drag queen, went on to co-found the Gay Liberation Front (the first gay organization to use “gay” in its name) and the Gay Activists Alliance. With Johnson, she co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

The rainbow flag was created by Gilbert Baker, an artist, gay rights activist and drag queen, as a new queer symbol. After being elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and the first openly gay man to assume public office in California, Harvey Milk asked Baker, his friend, to create a new queer symbol as an alternative to the pink triangle, which was used to identify gay men and women in Nazi concentration camps.

That same pink triangle was used by Nike on sneakers as a part of its “BeTrue” Pride campaign, a clumsy misstep that they addressed in their PR release as having a “complex past,”: “Originally used to identify LGBTQ individuals during WWII, the triangle was reclaimed in the 1970s by pro-gay activists and was later adopted by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in their memorable 1980s-era “Silence=Death” campaign.”

Baker created the rainbow flag as a political act and a unifier for all queer people: “A flag fit us as a symbol. We are a people, a tribe if you will. And flags are about proclaiming power.” Baker refused to trademark the flag, seeing it as his life’s work and his gift to the queer community.

Everything about Pride is political. It is not just about “love is love,” because anyone can love. Pride relates specifically to the economic, social and political equality that queer people strive towards and will continue to strive towards. I think that we have been lulled into the notion that because same-sex marriage is legal, and because more mainstream society is accepting us more, that the fight is over. I think that there are many straight, well-meaning people who believe that this is just a chance to celebrate, wear cute clothes and drink. That is not true.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, trans people are unemployed and homeless at rates three times more than the national, country average.

In 2017, according to National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 44 percent of anti-LGBT homicides were committed against transgender women; more than 60 percent of the victims of anti-LGBT homicides were people of color. Almost 65 percent of the victims were under the age of 35.

According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, a quarter of LGBTQ respondents had experienced some form of workplace discrimination within a five-year period. There is no federal law against employment discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual identity. In 28 states, there are no explicit prohibitions for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state law.

I’m not saying that every single person at Pride needs to be able to rattle off a list of statistics about the treatment of LGBTQ people; I didn’t even know all of this until I spent the time researching it. But what I’m saying is that we are not yet at a place where we can afford a “love is love” chill vibe. Recognize why you are here, whose space you are occupying, and what this means. Things are dire for a lot, if not most, queer people. To dilute that, or to paste over it with a general and vague “let’s celebrate” mentality, is not just annoying or stupid to queer people, but dangerous to our lives as well.

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2018, celebrity, LGBTQ, Politics, social media

AM I A BAD GAY PERSON FOR NOT CARING ABOUT JOY REID’S BLOG POSTS?

I’m young, and I love my computer, so I didn’t come across Joy Reid, an MSNBC host, from her show, A.M. Joy, or guest-hosting on other programs. I discovered her through Twitter, when I noticed that several writers and journalists whose opinions I respect retweeted her. I scrolled through the profile, enjoyed what she had to say, and hit the follow button.

She remained largely out of my mind except for the occasional tweet in my timeline. Her opinions were always valid, sharp when needed, and seemed to be well-researched and reported.

Then, the first story popped up – a Twitter user posted screenshots of blogs using homophobic rhetoric written between 2007 and 2009 on the Reid Report, a now-defunct blog of Joy Reid. I felt disappointed, like “Ugh, someone I liked did something bad.” But I didn’t unfollow her, because I still trusted her political opinion, and expected the story to blow over. There are plenty of journalists who I personally might be annoyed by, but whose reporting proves valuable, so I didn’t give it a second thought.

Until the next story popped up. More screenshots, more homophobia. More crassness.

When I say that this story does not matter, I do not mean, “It does not matter if someone is homophobic.” It does matter; and it matters very much to me. But in the context of everything else going on, I find that I care very little about what Joy Reid said about gay people a decade ago. She does not make policy; she is not in charge of any government programs or bodies. She is not promoting active anti-LGBTQ laws. If she were a lawmaker, or campaigning on a platform of equality, then yeah, it would be good information to know. But she is not. She is a journalist, she had an opinion, she said that opinion. A decade later, that opinion is seen as ugly and inappropriate.

I do not agree with the words she used; I do not agree with her trying to out people, or the way she spoke about Ann Coulter, or Lindsay Graham or Charlie Crist or any of it. I think it was offensive, petty, hurtful and mean-spirited. I think it was a shitty thing to do, even in the social climate in which it was written.

For the record, I also don’t believe Reid’s claim that she was hacked. I think she said those things, and she’s embarrassed now, and because the internet trolls would have a field day if she admitted that. I am not defending her; she was and is an adult who wrote those things, regardless of whatever excuses she’s using now. I think it’s stupid that she’s lying, but I also think this entire thing is stupid.

I also recognize that I, as a white, cisgender, able-bodied queer person, largely have the ability to say, “This story does not matter.” I’m sure it matters to other members of my community, and I do not diminish that, their feelings, or their reactions.

But to lampoon Reid for thoughts she had a decade ago would require us to go back and lampoon every single thing like that. In the early 2000s, most people in the mainstream media were not doing a good job talking about queer issues. Because, frankly, Will & Grace was homophobic – it was femme-shaming and white-centric. Modern Family portrays Mitch and Cam more like platonic roommates than a couple. Golden Girls had a gay cook that mysteriously disappeared after the pilot episode. I will never forget you, Coco (his name was Coco!).

The reason I care about this (and why I’ve spent 700 words saying I don’t care) is that there are queer stories that desperately need to be told. And while I think it’s nice that support has rallied around Reid – no one should be an island – I resent that this still is the story that’s rolling around in everyone’s head. In a world that already prioritizes everything above queerness, there seems to be precious little bandwidth dedicated to covering queer stories. It’s like arguing about the curtains when the house is on fire.

For instance, it’s been a year since news broke that, in Chechnya, gay and bisexual men were being targeted, persecuted and abused. There were stories of concentration camps, luring and violence via social media apps, and many victims are still missing. There has been no significant response from the Russian government, and the leader in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied the allegations by simply stating that there are no gay people in Chechnya. Other than outlets that specifically traffic in queer stories, such as NewNowNext and the Advocate, and papers such as The Guardian, there has not been significant media coverage.

Stateside, there are still seven states with “No Promo Homo” laws on the books – “local or state education laws” that expressly prohibit the “promotion of homosexuality” and, in some cases, “even require that teachers actively portray LGB people in a negative or inaccurate way,” according to GLSEN.

The Human Rights Campaign reported that, in 2018, eight transgender people have already been murdered. Transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, are disproportionately affected by fatal violence. Insider recently reported on the health gaps that the LGBTQ community faces in receiving medical help.

These might seem like separate issues, and you could argue (rightfully) that reporting on Joy Reid’s past blog posts does not mean that we cannot also report on other things affecting the LGBTQ community. And you’d be right, except that that’s not always the case. Too often, we focus on click-driven news, too often we focus on things on little consequence.

What do Joy Reid’s past writings have to do with the very real risks that the queer community is facing today? In reality, very, very little. So why does this continue to be a story? Report on it, lay it all out there, and then move on.


Header source: Vimeo

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LGBTQ, Politics

TRUMP’S BAN ON TRANSGENDER PEOPLE IN THE MILITARY

Some research on exactly how transgender military personnel play into the larger scheme.


On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump used Twitter to announce a reversal of the Obama-era policy that allowed transgender people to serve openly in the military.

In the three tweets, Trump wrote, “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allowTransgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelmingvictory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.

The decision caught officials at the Pentagon “off guard,” according to a New York Times article on the subject. “They had been studying, per the orders of Mr. Mattis [Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis] how transgender troops in the military affect other service members, but not with a view toward removing transgender people from the military, several defense officials said.” Mr. Mattis was on vacation when the president made his announcement, and it’s unclear if Mattis was aware that Trump would be making this decision.

Mattis, a retired general, had recently requested a six-month extension on the implementation of the plan to update “medical standards to accommodate transgender service members.” However, Mattis said that the extension did not presuppose a ban on transgender military personnel, according to a Washington Post article. 

From the track record and history of Trump’s tendency to lie (from the size of his inauguration crowd to his belief in voter fraud), the immediate reaction when reading these tweets is not to believe that this is a decision based on hours of careful, rigorous research.

So, in approximately five minutes, I was able to come up with the numbers of how exactly transgender people serving openly affects the military. Now, the breakdown.

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Politics, Thinkpiece

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Header Image Source: CNN


Public figures like Caitlyn Jenner and Ivanka Trump are shying away from disclosing their political activities.

While promoting her new book, Secrets of My Life, Caitlyn Jenner sat down with Andy Cohen at Sirius XM Radio for a town hall-style meeting Wednesday, April 26. Jenner made headlines when she came out as transgender in 2015. In their discussion, Cohen steered the conversation towards politics—Jenner is famously a conservative Republican. Jenner said that she had been making trips to Washington, D.C. but that her influence in politics would be private and unseen.

It was a reiteration of the point she made the night before on CNN with Don Lemon. She said that she would not take up President Trump’s offer to go golfing after he revoked the former administration’s protection for transgender students. However, Jenner said she would go golfing with President Trump in private, because if she did it in public, her community would “go nuts” and ostracize her.

Besides the puzzling contradiction of going on public television to say that you will golf with President Trump in private, Jenner’s statement that much of her involvement in politics would be behind closed doors is troubling at best and dangerous at worst.

Jenner is markedly tone-deaf when it comes to issues of LGBTQ equality. On The Ellen Show, she did not express complete support for same-sex marriage, and that it was an issue that she used to be completely against as a self-identified “traditionalist.” Instead, she said that if “the word marriage is so important to you, then I can support that.” She claimed that the hardest part of being a woman was picking out “what to wear.”

These can be dismissed as tragically unfortunate choices of words, but the root of the issue is that Caitlyn Jenner is a person of immense privilege who wants to speak for, represent and negotiate on behalf of arguably the most disenfranchised and least privileged subsection of the U.S. population.

According to a 2016 Reuters article, “almost 60 percent of transgender Americans have avoided using public restrooms for fear of confrontation, saying they have been harassed and assaulted.” According to the Office for Victims of Crime, one in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime. 13 percent of African-American transgender people surveyed were sexually assaulted in the workplace, and 22 percent of transgender homeless individuals reported assault whilst staying in shelters.

And while Jenner is transgender, it cannot be denied that for 65 years she presented as a white, privileged man. And after she transitioned, she had unfettered access to the best surgeons and doctors, a private Malibu estate for recovery and no monetary restrictions. Some transgender people choose to not go through surgery, but for those that would like to the costs are usually prohibitive.

Jenner has also been largely isolated from the daily discomfort that many queer people experience every day—catcalling, harassment and discrimination. All of these things, combined with her inexperience with politics and her position as a conservative Republican who voted for Trump, make me uncomfortable that she might be the touchstone for Republicans and the representative of the LGBTQ community. That she would do it with no cameras, at private dinners and meetings behind closed doors is even more concerning.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Ivanka Trump in her interview with Gayle King for CBS News. “I don’t think that it will make me a more effective advocate to constantly articulate every issue publicly where I disagree,” she said. “And that’s okay. That means that I’ll take hits from some critics who say that I should take to the street. And then other people will in the long-term respect where I get to. But I think most of the impact I have, over time most people will not actually know about.”

This idea of silent impact does a few things. Firstly, it absolves people like Trump and Jenner from any responsibility. If you don’t know what they’ve done, you can’t blame them. Secondly, it’s impossible to hold them accountable for anything. If they never pledge any sort of action, it’s impossible to keep them in line. Lastly, it’s difficult expect them to operate within a rational, ethical framework because you have no idea what they’re doing.

And lastly, as a person with unparalleled influence and platform, you don’t get to be private. If Ivanka wanted to operate as a private citizen, she shouldn’t have moved to Washington, D.C. and taken a position in her father’s administration. When she made that deal with the devil, she gave up the right to be private. When you’re operating from the most powerful building in the world, the American public deserve to know what you’re up to. If Caitlyn Jenner wanted to remain private, she shouldn’t have dropped the tantalizing tidbits that she was taking meetings in Washington.

You can’t have it both ways. If you want public power, then you don’t get to wield it privately.

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