- Category: Feminism & Sexuality
- Created on Friday, 09 December 2011 02:29
- Written by Voice Collective
"Freedom is an understandably contagious idea...
"We want straight people reading this article to understand that the liberation of LGBTQ etc. people is not just about some 'others,' but is about their lives too. It is about expanding the realm of freedom and possibility that they live in along with us.
"We’re not trying to carve out a little spaces of tolerance in existing society. We’re trying to overthrow the existing society and create a new one, because the same existing society that is crushing queer people as queer people is crushing just about everyone else, and the planet to boot! This is the same society that is perpetuating imperialist war after imperialist war, or locking people up by the millions!"
The following interview conducted with several participants in the Kasama project and the Voice Collective who have been active in queer politics within Louisiana.
The interview was conducted by a reporter for a university newspaper in Louisiana. It focused on the efforts repeal of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA is a federal law which seeks to legally limit marriage and the rights associated with marriage to couples made up of one man and one woman. The attempt to repeal that bill is, therefore, an effort to advance the legalization of marriage between same-sex couples.
* * * * * * * * * *
Why do you believe there is so much support behind the new bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?
First off, it’s just over a month since the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the U.S. military’s formal policy of discrimination against people with marginalized sexualities. So there may be some general momentum at this particular moment.
And the Democrats behind this new bill have their own complex agendas (the 2012 elections are coming up). But we think that the most important thing to be emphasized here is that this is part of a great historical tide. Like the fight for amnesty for undocumented immigrants, the LGBTQ etc. movement is one of the great, original social movements of our time (and there are similarities between them). The fact is that a global sea change has already occurred, which is proof that when people rise up and organize, the world can change.
Those who are against equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersexed people etc. are losing!
Despite all the pessimism about backwards and apathetic youth in the United States, perhaps a majority people under 30 are reasonably sympathetic to equality in this realm. And there’s quite a few people over 30, too, who don’t exactly have a Victorian sensibility about all this.
For many young people now, our society’s suppression of same-sex relationships is as absurd and outrageous as our society’s long-standing suppression of relationships among people of different “races.” The culture is changing, and there’s probably no way to put the genie back in the bottle.
Will the repealing of the DOMA affect gay marriage, turning it into a states' rights issue? Will this sway states to recognize same-sex couples as married and how?
It’s not hard to imagine that the repeal of DOMA would initiate sharper battles over same-sex marriage in individual states.
It is noteworthy that although president Bill Clinton (a Democrat!) signed DOMA into law in 1996, the District of Columbia and six states have recognized same-sex marriage since then.
In other words, those sharp battles over social norms are already being fought within the states, and by removing the federal law which has created severe fetters for those struggles, we could possibly see an intensification of similar struggles at the state level. As for whether this repeal would lead to a state-level recognition of same-sex couples as married, we cannot be too hasty in our predictions. But we think it’s important to note here that these battles are not just for lawmakers and non-profit elites.
A lesson we draw from history is that the force, popularity, and duration of people’s struggles from the bottom up seem to be the decisive factors any time that there is a battle for liberation from systemic injustice. Our hope—not just as queer people but as part of humanity—lies in ordinary people getting organized on a mass scale.
Can this start a trend which sees same-sex marriage accepted not only lawfully, but by a social majority? How and why?
This trend is already occurring, and a repeal of DOMA would further accelerate that.
We also think that it is very important to understand that this trend is part of a broader historical process, and has implications for people who don’t consider themselves to be LGBT.
The oppression of minority sexualities is deeply intertwined with the oppression of women, and the rise of women’s liberation movements is closely connected with the movements for the liberation of sexual minorities. And in turn, women’s liberation is part of an even bigger modern historical project of human emancipation.
The defeat of slavery in the U.S., for example, and the rise of the civil rights movements, the black power movements, and movements to free people from capitalist oppression and exploitation are all part of that project of liberation.
There’s a graffiti slogan from the revolutionary uprising in France in 1968:
"The liberation of humanity is all or nothing!"
We need that kind of outlook now more than ever. Liberation is not limited to the assertion of a small minority’s rights against everyone else—it is an unfolding process and shows that the recognition and embrace of the now-marginalized provides a glimpse of a broader liberation.
If the demonized have a right to “be”—suddenly, it opens a window of possibility and escape from the suffering that most people endure in intimate life. Freedom is an understandably contagious idea.
The French Revolution and the Enlightenment ideals it represented helped spark the 1791-1804 revolution in Haiti that overthrew slavery.
We want straight people reading this article to understand that the liberation of LGBTQ etc. people is not just about some “others,” but is about their lives too. It is about expanding the realm of freedom and possibility that they live in along with us. We’re not trying to carve out a little spaces of tolerance in existing society. We’re trying to overthrow the existing society and create a new one, because the same existing society that is crushing queer people as queer people is crushing just about everyone else, and the planet to boot! This is the same society that is perpetuating imperialist war after imperialist war, or locking people up by the millions!
How do you feel this is being supported in Louisiana?
We really are not in a position to gauge the atmosphere of LA in a precise way, but we hope that it is favorable. As part of the big historical movement we were talking about earlier, people here have a higher degree of consciousness on these matters than they used to.
But getting equal legal rights for queer people would certainly be an uphill battle. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that anti-sodomy laws are unconstitutional, but still in Louisiana people who are convicted of offering oral sex for money are prosecuted as sex offenders rather than for prostitution. In effect, already vulnerable people (often women of color) who are pressured by their life situations to do sex work end up facing the legal repercussions and stigmatization that a child rapist would, and it sets off the spiral of misfortune that one would imagine—all because oral sex is labeled unnatural in a 205-year-old legal statute. That’s unfortunately part of what we’re up against.
Some oppose the DOMA as unnecessary or unfair, but are still unsure of their stance in regards to same-sex marriage. What does this signify?
This fact, to the extent that it is true, is indicative of so many things. It signifies the obscene nature of politics today. It’s obscene and perverted to steal liberties away from informed consenting adults for things that they do with their bodies.
Of course, those who oppose same-sex marriage will claim that the obscenity lies in the bedroom of same-sex sexuality. But what they miss is the fundamental perversion that this thought presupposes: what is truly obscene is their obsession with the non-oppressive sexual relations of other people in their own privacy. It is voyeuristic and bordering on pornographic.
It signifies a bad political system that has lost touch with the pertinent and the ethical.
Why is it that what people do with their genitals, as informed consenting adults, is a cause for concern, but where we are dropping bombs or the very fact that we are dropping bombs goes more or less unnoticed? Why does politics intervene where it shouldn’t (in consenting adults’ bedrooms) but not where it should (ending aggressive warfare)?
It signifies that the alienation inherent in the current education system, and in the wider series of social systems, has taken roots in these people’s minds. Here we are following social theorist Slavoj Zizek who remarked that philosophy is a very useful tool for solving practical everyday questions. And when people who have been alienated from their own ability to reason clearly and discern just from unjust, they indeed find themselves in such positions of uncertainty, which you have referenced in your question.
What so many of us need today is good philosophy, honest conversation, and the objective study of the relevant facts. The uncertainty and confusion around so-called political issues today is comparable to the great parables of Jesus when he said
“because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.”
The alienating representation of our world and these issues through the education system and the mass media have stolen our eyes and ears of reason. It is precisely good philosophy that is the way out of this bad situation.
Also, consciousness is always subject to uneven development. This is irreducible. Ideas develop unevenly both within individuals and among them. One thing which is important to remember here is that ideas are also tied to a time and place, and the sea-change in favor of same-sex relations is the result of many years of people’s movements. Once the movement for queer liberation got underway, nothing would ever be the same. People made leaps in startlingly short periods. We should expect bigger upsurges in our own time to push people’s consciousness further. That’s up to us as a generation.
Should the repeal of DOMA pass? Will it pass and why?
It should pass. Access to marriage equality and all the benefits associated with it is a just demand; precisely as the struggles for black people to get to vote and for undocumented workers to not face police repression and deportation are just.
At the same time we must appreciate that achieving these demands is not in itself liberation. For that to transpire, we need profound social transformation that would get rid of all social oppression and exploitation. And for this to take place, the broad masses of the population have to organize themselves and start to think about the question of taking power from the elites who currently run things.
We can’t forget this at any step along the way. But whether this current bill will pass is a good question, and it will have a real impact on people’s lives and the future terrain we fight on in the struggle for liberation.