by Troy Williams
In our queercentric universe it’s become standard to focus our political capital on issues that mainly impact the gay population. For example, instead of fighting for universal healthcare we’ve spent the past few years asking corporations to provide partner benefits for domestic partners. The argument goes to the incrementalist, who proclaims that we need to win little chunks before we win big. This logic has flaws. When health reform debates ignited across the country, the national LGBT organizations were nowhere to be heard. We were not organized in such a way that could have assisted proponents of single-payer and universal coverage. The battle was over and we were left with an arguably weak, industry friendly bill that couldn’t even muster a public option. Millions of underemployed Americans (many of them queer) could have benefited from true health reform, but for now that moment is lost.
In our decision to work exclusively on issues that only impact the queer population, we are missing opportunities to channel our activist energies into a true world changing force. We know that all issues are intimately interconnected. When feminists enjoy legislative victories, queers are elevated. When economic reforms that benefit the poor are won, queers everywhere benefit.
But not all issues are equal. And in fact, there are many social justice causes that are – dare I suggest – a greater priority than gay issues.
Case in point: I contend that ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a greater priority to the world than repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We should be under no illusion anymore as to our true motives for war. The U.S. invaded the Middle East, devastated Iraq’s infrastructure, eliminated their public sector, and sold off reconstruction as well as their natural resources to multinational corporations. Our purpose was to remake their economy into a free-market neo-liberal wonderland. Today, 64 percent of all Iraqi oil reserves have been sold off to multinational oil interests. Their tax and finance laws have been restructured to benefit U.S. interests. We’ve made Iraq our bitch. This is not a cause any soldier should die for. I say bring the troops home now and then let’s talk about ending our military’s discriminatory policies.
Second: Climate Change is a greater priority than gay marriage. The oceans and earth are revolting against our constant exploitation. Over the past weeks new spills have emerged in the Gulf, China, Michigan and here in Salt Lake City. Temperatures are heating up. Species are vanishing. Our entire way of life may be lost. A gay bridal registry at Target is going to be useless on a scorched planet. As we work toward federal protections for gay families, let’s also focus on federal protections for Mother Earth. I’d love to see a carbon neutral green Pride Parade next year!
Third: Fixing our economy is a greater priority than passing the Employee Nondiscrimination Act. Those paying attention recognize a coordinated assault to the successful New Deal programs begun under Franklin D. Roosevelt and advocated by queer economist John Maynard Keynes. The ascendancy of the Tea Party brings a familiar chorus that we’ve heard from Reagan to Bush; Government is the problem. Cut social services, “starve the beast”, deregulate corporations and privatize every possible corner of the planet. The safety nets that have become so valuable to so many of the most vulnerable populations are in great jeopardy. This is why I have no patience for Log-Cabin Republicans. I don’t care if you are gay – if you hail to the god of free-market capitalism and are determined to undermine the very social programs that provide public education, HIV funding, libraries and social security, then we are not batting for the same team. If you tell me you’re “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative” I will respond that you are willfully naïve to the plight of the poor and underprivileged. Passing ENDA will be a great triumph for everyone. But let’s also remember to preserve protections for those with no employment whatsoever.
Fourth: Undocumented Latino immigrants are being terrorized by vigilante groups, witch-hunts and hostile legislation. They need our support. Arizona’s harsh laws (which Representative Stephen Sandstrom wants to implement in Utah) will destroy more families than Proposition 8 ever could. It’s important to recognize the history of economic “free trade” policies that have contributed to this crisis. NAFTA and CAFTA devastated the economies of small farms in Mexico. Millions of farmers have been displaced from their land. Desperate to provide for their families, workers risk great peril to cross the border. And when they arrive, our free-market is always ready to employ. We exploit them in our shops, enjoy the cheap labor they provide, and then sit back silent as they are vilified by pundits and politicians. Instead of challenging the policies that have exacerbated our immigration problem, Tea Party xenophobes and right wing militants have focused their attacks on people, families and communities. The same voices attacking undocumented Latinos also attack queer Americans.
All of these issues are connected. Social justice is full spectrum. One cannot be isolated from the other. As Equality Utah and others begin their endorsement process we should consider not only where a candidate stands on queer rights, but also on broader social justice issues. Just because someone might be “with us” on some gay issues doesn’t mean that they are then ipso facto, good for the state or country.
We mythologized Harvey Milk in gay culture. We laud his accomplishments but often we ignore what he did. Harvey Milk practiced Full Spectrum Social Justice. He worked with labor unions, ethnic communities, churches and the elderly. He learned what issues they were in need of, and then rallied the gay community on their behalf. And when queers were targeted by The Briggs Initiative, the other justice communities rallied to our defense.
The only way we are going to win equality for queers is to fight for the emancipation of all oppressed people. When we stand in defense of the poor, the undocumented, the environment and those ravaged by war, we will find that our own allies will grow. We will finally have the numbers required to mount a sustained resistance to the corporate oligarchy that is dividing and plundering our nation. We must imagine a world of justice greater than our own. And we must stand together. The world is anxious for us to act.