It’s Pride season, and everywhere and everything is festooned with rainbow hues. The colors carry symbolic meaning, representing the diversity of the queer community. While watching the Boston Pride 2015 Parade last week, I was struck by the scale of this diversity. The parade featured nearly all identities of the movement – trans* community, white and racial minorities, differently abled. It was heartening to see signs of ‘Black Trans Lives Matter’ being borne right before the delegation from the Union United Methodist Church. It was a moving experience, to feel the sense of community that prevailed in that space, and hear the crowds cheer and support all the different identities of the queer community.
But by now, you should know that I rarely write happy, positive pieces. While it is truly amazing that inclusive spaces such as Pride exist, this is not a daily reality for the queer community. It always saddens me to think that a movement that has experienced the pain of exclusion and stigma would dole out those very things to their own. The queer community has much to do in terms of tackling the sexism, racism, transphobia, and other forms of prejudice that exist within its ranks.
I once wrote an article about gay cis-men and their male privilege. In it, I discussed the privileges that gay cis-men take over women and their bodies, infringing on their bodily integrity by critiquing their fashion, appearance, and diet in a non-consensual manner. It is worrisome that this trend extends to sexual harassment, with gay men groping women at bars and clubs and using their sexuality in order to trivialize their actions. The fact that sexual harassment has little to do with sexual desire and everything to do with power assertion means that gay men contribute to sexism as much as the rest of society. In another article – an interview of faith-based LGBTQ+ advocate Judy Hanlon – I was shocked to report the blatant racism that she and the LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in her care had experienced. To take for granted the legacy of queer communities of color, such as Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Audre Lord, Angela Davis, and Alice Walker, is to do a disservice to the legacy of the queer community itself.
Another dimension in which this insularity occurs is in the trans* exclusion that prevails in certain sects of the queer community. The Human Rights Campaign recently came under fire when one of their staffers asked an attendee at the Proposition 8 Supreme Court hearings to remove a Trans Pride flag, on the grounds that marriage equality is not a trans* issue. As the key group supporting marriage equality initiatives across the country, the organization’s trans* exclusionist policies has led to a stifling of trans* perspectives in this issue. As of 2013, the organization did not have any trans* individuals in their staff and they did not include the letter ‘T’ in their use of the LGB acronym until 2004. Most troublingly, they have supported transphobic policies, such as in 2007 when they supported a version of the Employment Non Discimination Act (ENDA) in Congress that did not extend the same protections for discrimination on the basis of gender identity as sexual orientation. It seems that there are those within the community who have forgotten the ‘T’ in our label, and don’t find as much meaning in the diverse colors of the pride flag as they should.
One of the major problems with the mainstream queer culture is that it has become assimilationist, adopting a white, middle class, cis agenda at the expense of identities that don’t fit into this mold. Consider how the hallmark LGBTQ+ issue of the modern day – the one that is debated by hopeful politicos and the Supreme Court – is marriage equality. Violence against LGBTQ+ identity still exists, as is demonstrated by the statistic that queer youth are twice as likely as their peers to experience violence. 73% of youth are more comfortable being honest about their sexuality online than in the real world.
Employment discrimination on the basis of sexual identity is yet to be criminalized in 29 states. And yet marriage equality has become the seminal topic of queer rights. What is most disturbing of all is that marriage equality is commonly referred to as gay marriage – which fails to be inclusive of many queer identities – representing how its poster child would be a gay, white, cis-male couple. It is signs like this that point to the insularity of mainstream queer culture, and the many ‘isms’ that exist within its midst.
It is important for the queer community and its allies to force these conversations, discuss these issues, and attempt to rectify the mistakes that we’ve made. For if not, Pride would cease to be any kind of meaningful symbol to the queer community and the world at large.