It's Time To End The Gay Rights Movement As We Know It!

Ellen pic

Gay conservatives. Gay credit cards. Stonewall commemorative neckties. Mass obsession with gay marriage. Clinton as "our best hope." Diamond-studded red ribbons for sale at Tiffany's. Professional lesbian and gay "leaders" charging exorbitant speakers fees. Proclamations of the "end of the AIDS epidemic."

If this is the "gay rights movement," it's way beyond reform. To use the rhetoric of the day, it's time for an overhaul, for a sea change. It's morning in queer America. And it's time to end the gay rights movement as we know it.

Whoa, sister. Isn't that a little extreme?

Actually, no. Healthy, vibrant, effective movements acknowledge their mistakes, and reinvent themselves accordingly. They are capable of consistent self-critique. They are willing to take risks. They imagine a future which seems unreachable, but which is impossible to stop fighting for.

Instead, the national gay/lesbian leadership throws its weight around Washington on lightning-rod issues that it deems critical for the rest of us, while grassroots groups across the country continue to struggle in relative isolation and with almost no resources. This gulf between queers has resulted in a process where resources are channeled into assimilationist fights about marriage and the military and away from the more difficult fight for social transformation of a more fundamental nature.

Nationwide, the fight for universal health coverage (whether you're married or not) has been all but forgotten. Queer youth are three times more likely to commit suicide than straight youth. HIV infection rates are skyrocketing among heterosexual women, gay and bisexual youth, and gay and bisexual men of color (not to mention groups overlooked completely by CDC studies). In New York, new zoning laws push the sex industry out of city limits, closing down anything from sex shops, to strip clubs, to bookstores. In Utah, all extra-curricular clubs at the high-school level were banned by state legislation in order to stop a three-member lesbian/gay student group from meeting. HIV+ immigrants have repeatedly been threatened with deportation and denial of health care. And in Washington, Clinton signed welfare reform legislation which not only guarantees that more individuals will live in poverty, but also specifically targets young women who have children, preventing them from getting TANF (Temporary Aid to Need Families, AFDC's replacement) if they are too young or have too many kids – legislation which is a clear regulation of sex lives.

Meanwhile, we are inundated with gay merchandise catalogs, ads for rainbow salt and pepper shakers and log cabin Christmas lights. As the gay movement becomes a gay market, the dreams, resistance, humor and fighting spirit that animated gay liberation politics have been diluted into pricey accessories, and sold back to us as empty symbols that many of us can't even afford. While this may have led to increased "visibility," it has not translated into social power for most queers.

If local and national "leaders" took direction from the grassroots, they would find that transgender people, bisexuals, lesbians, and gay men, like all other people, have complex lives, interests, and desires, not all of which are addressed by lobbying legislators, marketing queer paraphernalia, hosting ritzy benefits and electing lesbian/gay politicians. Our local and national organizations should redefine their notions of what constitutes a "gay issue," and begin to redirect their/our resources accordingly.

And we have some suggestions. As a start, they should: demand and financially support the fight for universal health care; launch effective campaigns against laws which criminalize and penalize immigrants and in favor of laws which grant political asylum to queers whose lives are threatened in other countries; fight for the implementation of needle exchange programs and affordable AIDS drugs; work to promote a queer, cross-cultural curriculum which includes sexuality, safe-sex education, and queer teen suicide prevention; fund queer grassroots organizations which are comitted to working on the above issues, and more!

A focus on narrowly-defined "gay" issues, to the neglect of all others, obscures the complexities of L/G/B/T people's identities and lives. Firstly, lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, and transgender people are  immigrants, people on welfare, people of color, women, people with AIDS, and people in prison. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the institutions and systems of thought that allow some to decide who has access to health care and who will remain in poverty are the same as those that relegate queers to a socially and sexually deviant status. It is imperative that we take risks and expand the queer agenda in recognition of these connections.

If that means ending the gay rights movement as we know it...



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