Pushing Queer Rights Beyond White Homonormativity
By Thao P. Nguyen
March 27, 2013
The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday (Mar 26) on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage. Just 5 months ago, in the November elections, Maryland, Maine and Washington states were the first in U.S. history to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote (1). Before last year's election, marriage rights for same-sex couples were won in the courts or by legislative action by lawmakers (in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington DC). Also in November 2012, Minnesota voters rejected a proposal to limit marriage in Minnesota's Constitution to heterosexual unions (2). Hooray! Success! Progress! I remember how devastated I was when Proposition 8 passed in 2008. And here we are, only four-and-a-half years later, passing three laws that legalize same-sex union, striking down one that constitutionally bans it, and running along the edge of making marriage legal for gay men and lesbians a nation-wide reality.
Same-sex Marriage and Marriage Equality. Popular opinion is changing (for me, both quickly and not rapidly enough at the same time). And there's more work to be done. Same-sex marriage continues to be the beacon of the Lesbian and Gay Rights Movement, monopolizing our time, money, and attention. But same-sex marriage is not the same as marriage equality. Great! Now, in a handful of states, two cis-gendered women can marry and two cis-gendered men can marry. What about transgender folks? What about people who do not fit in the gender binary that arbitrarily divides "feminine" and "masculine" or "woman" and "man"? What of the gender-queer and gender-fluid? What about people who are building relationships and families that do not mirror heterosexual coupling?
Marriage Equality and Equality. Similar to how same-sex marriage is not the same as marriage equality, marriage equality is not the same as equality. As we funnel more and more money toward the issues of "same-sex marriage" and "marriage equality," we also inadvertently shunt funds away from other issues that are often literally matters of life and death -- hate crimes, criminal justice reform, health care, housing, and education. Kalil Cohen, a trans activist with Trans Equality LA, says that "these are issues that have really taken a backseat to marriage equality. And that has harmed the most vulnerable members of our community ... Whereas, marriage equality is what’s helping the people who are already doing okay, who are mostly affluent, mostly white gay and lesbian folks" (3).
Who is Left Behind? What (or who) are we sacrificing by focusing so intently on the "same-sex marriage" issue? Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC) are consistently, disproportionately, and more negatively affected by inequalities in health, law enforcement, violence, and education.
Hate Crimes. In a 2012 report about hate crimes in the U.S., the National Coalition of Anti-violence Programs revealed that hate violence continues to impact transgender people, people of color, and transgender people of color disproportionately (4).
- Queer undocumented immigrants were 2.31 times as likely to experience physical violence.
- QPOC were 3.13 times as likely to experience injuries as compared to overall survivors.
- Transgender people of color were 2.38 times as likely to experience police violence and 1.85 as likely to experience discrimination.
- QPOC under 30 were 2.06 times as likely to experience police violence.
Health Care. Access to health care sometimes feels impossible (and even dangerous) to those of us who face heterosexism AND homophobia AND sexism AND racism. I imagine it's even harder for my friends who are also facing transphobia and genderism. We still have a health care system, that consistently pushes birth control pills on women who only have sex with women. We still force trans people to become "diagnosed" with "Gender Identity Disorder" or "Gender Dysphoria" in order to gain access to some healthcare services. The QTPOC communities face language and cultural barriers to culturally appropriate and effective services because they "must navigate additional layers of discrimination based on racism, ethnicity, and language" (5).
Criminal Justice. We know that "people of color continue to be disproportionately incarcerated, policed, and sentenced to death at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts" (6). And we know that incarcerated Queer people experience higher rates of physical violence, emotional torment, and human rights violations by the hands of the prison staff and the other inmates (7). Queer prisoners are denied spousal visitation rights (7) and access to health care. Moreover, Queer communities are being painted as "criminals" in the media, by law enforcement, and in court decisions in ways that mirror the strategies used criminalize Black communities in the United States (8). The intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia in the prison industrial complex result in QTPOC being targeted for imprisonment and targeted for increased violence and degradation once imprisoned.
More than Marriage. In the face of these racial and gender inequities and injustices, we need to think about how we are spending our time, money, and effort in the "same-sex marriage" debate. Are there ways for us to bring in conversations about protecting people against gender and sexuality discrimination at their jobs? Can we connect access to health care with marriage rights? As we gain more and more success toward marriage equality, can we begin to drop the seeds now and in a widespread way about prison reform? I believe that every state will eventually legalize same-sex marriage, and, dare I say it, the federal government will acknowledge it too in my lifetime. And while that fight is happening, we have to be careful to ask -- On whose backs are we winning those battles? There has got to be a way for us to leverage these successes in marriage equality to set us up for future ones fighting other injustices. After all, these issues are ultimately interrelated and have the same root causes.
An Eye on ENDA. In April, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a federal effort to protect LGBT people in the workplace, is expected to be reintroduced in the US House of Representatives. Currently, in 29 states, LGBT people can be fired from their jobs or evicted from their homes without any cause. ENDA "has been introduced in Congress nine times since 1994 – and has never made it into law" (9). Let's make sure that this time, while ENDA is being reintroduced and rewritten, it protects more than gay men and lesbians. Contact your congresspeople and tell them that it is important to you that the language of the act includes protections for trans people and intersex people. Contact Congressman Jared Polis (polis.house.gov), the lead author of the bill, and demand that he also take gender, race, class, and ability into consideration while redrafting this bill. Together we can watch out for each other and for the most vulnerable among us.
Thank you for reading.
Reference List and Links:
(1) Honan, E. (2012, November 7). Maryland, Maine, Washington approve gay marriage. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/07/us-usa-campaign-gaymarriage-idUSBRE8A60MG20121107
(2) Condon, P. (2012, November 7). Ban defeated, gay marriage could come to Minnesota. Associated Press. Retrieved from http://brainerddispatch.com/news/2012-11-07/ban-defeated-gay-marriage-could-come-minnesota
(3) Goodman, A. (Producer & Host). (2012, February 9). LGBTQ rights activists on victories for marriage equality in California and Washington. Democracy Now: The War and Peace Report. [Television and Radio Broacast]. New York, NY: Pacfica Radio. Retrieved from http://www.democracynow.org/2012 /2/9/lgbtq_rights_activists_on_victories_for
(4) Dixon, E., Jindasurat, C., & Tobar, V. (2012). Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV- affected Communities In the United States in 2011. New York, NY: The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Retrieved from http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/ Reports/2012_NCAVP_2011_HV_Report.pdf
(5) Mollon, L. (2012). The forgotten minorities: Health disparities of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered communities. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 23(1), 1-6.
(6) Kerby, S. (2012, March 13). The top 10 most startling facts about people of color and criminal justice in the United States: A look at the racial disparities inherent in our nation’s criminal-justice system. The Center for American Progress. Retrieved from http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/ race/news/2012/03/13/11351/the-top-10-most-startling-facts-about-people-of-color-and-criminal-justice-in-the-united-states/
(7) Wolfe, Z. (n.d., retrieved on 2012, November 29). Gay and lesbian prisoners: Recent developments and a call for more research. Prison Legal News: Dedicated to Protecting Human Rights. Retrieved from https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/displayArticle.aspx?articleid=20578&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1
(8) Mogul, J., Ritchie, A., & Whitlock, K. (2012). Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
(9) Farago, J. (2013, March 26). Gay marriage matters - and it can help us defeat discrimination. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/26/gay-rights-marriage-matters-jason-farago