- Category: Feminism & Sexuality
- Created on Friday, 22 June 2012 09:43
- Written by ish
Kasama received the following contribution. It also appears on the blog The Cahokian.
by ish It's gay pride season. This weekend is New York City's big Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Parade.
I've gone almost every year since I've lived in New York City, over thirty years. My first Pride was 1977, before I lived here. In the middle I went to Pride in Chicago. I marched many of those years. For a while I was even a member of the official planning coalition, before it became a nonprofit corporation. Back in those days we called it a Gay Pride March.
The gay world has been abuzz with what would seem to be a slew of victories. The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) has brought Gay Pride to, of all places, the Pentagon, where the masters of war plot how to subvert and attack people around the world. Apparently they will be taking a few moments from piloting child-killing drones over Pakistan and Yemen to celebrate "our rich diversity," as the flyer [right] reads.
Later this year there will be a celebration of the end of DADT at the Intrepid, the aircraft-carrier-turned-museum floating in the Hudson off a New York City pier. That is, if they can swab the decks free of the bloodstains of thousands of Vietnamese killed by the Intrepid's planes in its period of service in the American war of aggression against Vietnam in the 1960s. Look! A Rainbow Flag!
Corporate sponsors are big news this year: A whole bunch of dubious corporations from Wells Fargo to Target have rolled out those rainbow flags, and the gay community rejoices, apparently turning a blind eye to the actual, you know, business practices and social role of these corporations. Hey, they're pro gay!
And speaking of taking time off from piloting drones, President Obama, er, came out in support of marriage equality. Well, he came out personally as a supporter of gay marriage. The day after the lesbian and gay community of North Carolina was devastated by a brutally anti-gay referendum that the President failed to comment on. Did I mention he thinks marriage equality is a states rights issue so his personal opinion doesn't mean he will intervene in such state struggles in the future? Oh sure I understand the limits of his executive power. He has certainly made clear the limits of his moral authority. It might come as no surprise that the gay community, deeply distrustful of Obama, immediately jumped full force on his reelection bandwagon. Seemingly, the only gay voices continuing criticism of the president are those on the right tainted by the dogwhistle racism of the Republicans.
Oh and a new book came out, which I can't imagine myself reading, by a heterosexual woman I'd not heard of before named Linda Hirshman entitled "Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution."
Yes, it seems we have won. The struggle for our civil rights is over! No doubt we are now approaching the same state of grace as all of "post-racial" America.
This needs to be said:
This is not gay liberation.
I'm finding myself surprisingly pissed off this year.
Lesbian and Gay Pride always seemed like an opportunity to take our star turn: to celebrate our place in the fabric of the city, in the fabric of society. To walk about openly without worry, armed with great numbers in mutual solidarity. It seemed to me that while it was not always an overtly political event, it certainly had the political subtext of bringing our own struggle for social justice to the same field of battle where all the other struggles are waged.
But this year it feels to me like the gay community is saying, "Hey, we got ours!"
I think the community understands the threat from the religious right: It's clear a large minority of people in the United States have no love for the gays.
But I think the gay establishment, and hence a large segment of the community, has also been utterly seduced by those fluttering rainbow flags. Gay Pride has literally been sold to corporations. And those who question the sale, or suggest that a pink-washing sleight of hand is at work, are being silenced or marginalized.
What a sham it is that corporations are waving rainbow flags at the same time they're busting unions, taking back basic benefits like paid healthcare and time off, and generally engaging in the looting of society for their own financial gain.
For me, "gay liberation" has always been intimately tied to "the Revolution."
That is, one social justice struggle among many that got at the core nature of capitalist society and its divide-and-rule strategies and materially-based oppressions inherent in that politico-economic system. I always argued that victory for our struggle as gay people — deeply connected to the role of women in capitalism — was not possible in a capitalist society. I don't feel equipped to address that huge question head-on in this essay, but I have to say that what the gay community is experiencing right now doesn't feel like a victory to me. I suppose the end of certain forms of legal discrimination are an advance for a certain privileged layer of the community that may benefit many gay people up and down the class spectrum, but something feels hollow.
While semi-covert gay organizations quietly existed for years before the legendary Stonewall rebellion, the mass gay civil rights movement has its roots in the social uproar of the 1960s and the radical movement against American involvement in Vietnam. It's no accident that the first militant gay organization, the Gay Liberation Front, was named in the spirit of the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front, more commonly known as the Vietcong. At its beginning the queer movement was a revolutionary movement. Perhaps the theory was undeveloped but the impulse was clear. One early group was even called STAR, or Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. And in its earliest days gay liberationists united with others who recognized the connections. While shamefully some forces on the left were slow to embrace the gay struggle, black and Latino revolutionaries in the same gritty urban centers as the multi-racial gay community understood a natural alliance.
The Occupy movement neighborhood assembly I work in, Occupy/Ocupemos Sunset Park, just showed the extraordinary documentary film "Palante, Siempre Palante" about the Young Lords Party, roughly the revolutionary Puerto Rican equivalent of the Black Panther Party.
The film tells how the Young Lords openly and proudly supported gay liberation.
The gay movement went on a long journey toward moderation and respectability. A trans-class movement, it's no particular surprise that today's mainstream "LGBT" organizations are solidly in the pocket of the Democratic Party. But when I see today's pride parades built around corporate sponsorship or the narrow focus on "what's good for the gays" to the exclusion of any other social justice concerns, I am reminded over and over that it hasn't always been this way. Once upon a time gay people were protesting militarist monstrosities like the Intrepid. Now our political leaders are throwing a party on it.
It's not widely enough circulated, but back in 1970 the Black Panther Party's Huey Newton gave a speech in which he touched on the women's and gay liberation movements. The Black Panthers are sadly maligned in historical memory: virtually massacred by government COINTELPRO terrorism, the Panthers are misremembered as being violent, misremembered as some kind of glorified retrograde gang. Nothing could be further from the truth and Newton's far-thinking words from 1970 help reveal this:
"Remember, we have not established a revolutionary value system; we are only in the process of establishing it. I do not remember our ever constituting any value that said that a revolutionary must say offensive things towards homosexuals, or that a revolutionary should make sure that women do not speak out about their own particular kind of oppression. As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite: we say that we recognize the women's right to be free. We have not said much about the homosexual at all, but we must relate to the homosexual movement because it is a real thing. And I know through reading, and through my life experience and observations that homosexuals are not given freedom and liberty by anyone in the society. They might be the most oppresed people in the society.... And maybe I'm now injecting some of my prejudice by saying that "even a homosexual can be a revolutionary." Quite the contrary, maybe a homosexual could be the most revolutionary. When we have revolutionary conferences, rallies, and demonstrations, there should be full participation of the gay liberation movement and the women's liberation movement."
The whole text is quite remarkable, far more advanced than the politics of much of the left at the time. This history of connected revolutionary struggles needs to be revisited.
In New York and San Francisco #OWS contingents will be marching in the parades. They'll be pointing out all the corporate pinkwashing that's going on. Mainstream gays have already suggested this act of elementary and obvious political education is "disruption." They have accused Occupy people of being "outsiders," as if no actually queer person could possibly reject the sale of gay pride to corporate America.
Fighting civil discrimination is good. But fighting for the liberation of society is better. Let's not lose sight of the prize at the end: it's not about queer people being free just to be like suburban "middle-class" heterosexuals, it's about freeing society from all forms of oppressive relations.
The celebration of that victory will take place on the ruins of the Pentagon and at the site of the Intrepid being broken down into scrap.
Happy gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer pride. The struggle continues.