Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer.
Who gets to decide the goals and the strategies of the “LGBT Movement”?
To a very significant extent, people in positions of relative power make these decisions. That doesn’t mean such people are always wrong, or that other voices are never heard. But it’s a fact of advocacy that with every layer between decision makers and grassroots residents comes the greater possibility of differences in how issues are identified and understood. The further removed from mainstream Queerdom, the more unrecognized you are.
I want to give you the opportunity to hear from two long-time advocates within the LGBT communities. For some similar reasons – they’re both women, for one thing – and for some different reasons, their words don’t fit into the “approved” way of talking about LGBT equality.
First, Laura Flanders recently interviewed Amber Hollibaugh, co-director of Queers for Economic Justice and author of the book My Dangerous Desires. Hollibaugh describes herself as a “working class, white trash, incest survivor, high femme, lesbian, sex radical, … mixed race.” The transcript, with an introduction, is posted by Flanders at Truth Out, “An Erotic Politics: What’s the Future of the LGBTQ Movement?” The lack of “fit” with the mainstreamed LGBTQ views is obvious.
‘It’s important for those of us that are in the LGBTQ movement who come from those kinds (working class, etc.), of backgrounds, to step forward and say that the vision that we’ve got is very much embedded in the histories … (of) where we came from. … This is a history of poverty, of racism, of fear and of hunger. …
‘Being respectful of extraordinary work that has happened in the last thirty-five years is not the same thing as it reflecting my values. I’m not sorry that we can now enter the military and I’m not sorry that we can marry, but frankly I come from a moment in time … that never made marriage or the military my criteria of success. …
… QEJ works a lot on places like shelter systems where in a traditional LGBT analysis, you would never know that there are queer people who are homeless, … that there are low-income people that are LGBTQ … .
In some ways, the challenge of staying political is to stay a dreamer at the same time.
She talks about her own experiences, including involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, when being a lesbian wasn’t something she could acknowledge. And including the fact that for a time, she supported herself as a stripper. She really doesn’t “fit” the “good gay” model, but for the same reasons, she’s able to see the LGBTQ’s who are often invisible to mainstream organizations.
(We’re in) … a moment where … there are political organizations, but there’s no movement really, there’s no kind of broad activism (although Occupy certainly has some of that …) … .
There’s a profound price to the incorrect assumption that LGBTQ movements are white, male and wealthy. …(T)here’s a certain kind of demographic ignorance that means that the rest of the LGBTQ world doesn’t get seen.
And from another long-time activist, Gloria Nieto, guest posting at Blabbeando, “When Pride alone is not enough.”
In The Life, the national LGBT newsmagazine airing on PBS, is doing an episode, ‘Orgullo Latino,’ on Latino/a LGBT people during this month of Pride. I am in that show because of my involvement with what used to be the national LGBT organization, LLEGO. … Unfortunately, it no longer exists.
I was also featured in a recent report on NPR’s All Things Considered about long-term unemployment. I am now three-plus years without a job with no change in sight. … I have all the basics one would think an employer would want: marketable skills, a history of success and even awards.
But I am fifty-seven years old. … As I said in the NPR interview, I am looking at the prospect of never working again in my life. …
Celebrating Pride is a challenge when you’re unemployed, when there is no national organization focused on your experiences, or as Hollibaugh puts it, when “economic justice” – with all the connecting factors of class and race and age – doesn’t exist. Nieto continues:
In my previous life as a member of the Democratic National Committee, I was able to have conversations with candidates like John Kerry, Howard Dean, Tom Udall, Bill Richardson, Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin. I was part of a small meeting with President Bill Clinton in the White House. …
I don’t expect our national organizations to represent my experience as part of the broad advocacy of the LGBT communities. I do, however, expect to see Latino representation at all levels in every organization. I think this has been missing for a while.
… some of us who are unemployed and have a rich history of success … are still ignored. Somehow we are no longer valued in so many different places, and all our skills are wasted … . We continue to seek to show our Pride in whatever way we can in the limited ways we can do it. …’
Of course, the sort of disconnect that can happen when the layers separating movement decision makers from the “different from them” members of the same movement or group isn’t unique to Queerdom. Among other things, what these two women reveal is how the “income inequality” stressed by Occupy can have a direct impact on who is heard, and who isn’t, within advocacy movements.