Thursday, July 23, 2015

How LGBT Assimilation Is Hurting The LGBT Community's Most Vulnerable

While the advances in gay rights since I came out in October, 2001, have been amazing, not all in the LGBT community have benefited equally  in the advances, particularly those living in still anti-gay red states and those from minority populations and/or less affluent backgrounds.  I complain at times about life in Virginia - which remains far from the bright center of the LGBT universe in many ways - but overall, the husband and I have it far better than many others, including LGBT individuals stuck living in rural areas of Southwest Virginia or what's called "Southside" to the west of Hampton Roads.   The contrasts are huge and may be growing.  We find ourselves socially acceptable and in professions where our sexual orientation seemingly is less and less of an obstacle to success.  A mere 100 miles to the west, it's a very different world (recently visiting the Farmville, Virginia, area, my comment was that if I had to live there, razor blades might seem like an attractive option).  The same holds for those in minority communities.  Hopefully, this will change in time, but for now the divergence is growing.  A piece in Huffington Post looks at the phenomenon.  Here are excerpts:
On the evening of June 28, two very different celebrations took place to mark the most historic New York City Pride week in decades. 

The flashier of these celebrations was the iconic Dance on the Pier. . . . .  Complete with laser lights, multiple jumbotrons, fireworks and a legion of half-naked go-go dancers, the event was a brazen testament to the newfound trendiness of urban gaydom. Admission started at $80, but that didn't stop 10,000 enthusiastic fans from snatching up tickets to what organizers billed as one of the world's top-tier LGBT events.

[A]cross the Hudson to the north, they may have seen the outline of the Christopher Street Piers, where a celebration of a very different kind was taking place. Here, a motley crowd of queer homeless youths -- who definitely could not afford admission to Dance on the Pier -- decided to throw an impromptu party of their own. With the bass from the Ariana Grande concert pulsing in the background, the youths -- male, female, cisgender, transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, black and Latino -- drank, smoked, sang, vogued and played cards under the dim light of the street lamps.

Both parties paid homage to a common past by celebrating Pride and the decades of struggle it commemorates. Both parties acknowledged a common present by sharing space on the Hudson River Piers, the heart of New York's LGBT community. But the extravagant Ariana Grande concert and its upscale audience could not have seemed more out of place among the piers that have served as a safe haven for the queer community's most marginalized -- mostly queer homeless youth of color -- for decades.

While the gay rights movement in the United States has achieved a remarkable string of successes over the past several years, including the invalidation of the Defense of Marriage Act and the legalization of gay marriage, not everyone within the LGBT community is equally positioned to take advantage of these successes. 

After all, although marriage is a declaration of love, in many ways it is also an expression of interpersonal stability, economic security and social respectability -- attributes that many marginalized LGBT people do not have. So while love may have won for middle and upper class gays, many transgender people, queer people of color and queer homeless youths instead find themselves left behind by a community that has become increasingly defined by the interests of its white, cisgender, middle and upper class members.

Marriage is an institution of respectability. The fight for gay marriage suggested that the gay community had grown up, left its radical past behind and was ready to join mainstream society as a reputable partner.  . . . . It was also an assertion that the gay rights movement had reached an important milestone, transcending basic issues of health, safety, economic security and social stability.

But the problem is, it hadn't. Over 20 percent of all LGBT youth are homeless, and 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT. 58 percent of queer homeless youth have been sexually assaulted. 64 percent of transgender people make less than $25,000 per year. 41 percent of transgender people and 62 percent of queer homeless youth have attempted suicide. And 10 transgender women have been murdered in the U.S. so far this year. 

Is this to be the brave new gay world?  A world in which the public face of the queer community -- the gay, the white, the cisgender and the wealthy -- take their place among society's elite, leaving the transgender, the non-white, the poor and the homeless to fend for themselves?

A world where queer youths are disowned and thrown out on the street by their families
, only to find that they are also considered second-class citizens in the community they reach out to for love and acceptance?

[A]s the gay elite have become increasingly integrated into the power structure of society, many have used their newfound influence not to alleviate the inequalities within the queer community, but instead to cement their position at the pinnacle of an expanding LGBT hierarchy.

Instead of collaborating with queer homeless youth to recreate the old Village's culture of diversity and acceptance, many residents of this new Greenwich Village -- many of them gay and lesbian -- have sought to "clean" their streets

And instead of protecting queer homeless youths from harassment, the Christopher Street Patrol has increasingly hounded them for petty quality of life infractions, a strategy eerily similar to that of the anti-gay vigilantes the patrol was in part founded to combat. As one black transgender youth put it, "The damage comes from our own community. You'd think we'd be safe on our own piers."
But the worst part about this trend is that because the discrimination is perpetrated at least in part by our own community, it is given a sense of legitimacy. After all, it can't be homophobic if it's queers versus queers, right?!

With the stunning advances in gay rights and growing prosperity of America's LGB community over the past decade, it's easy to forget that the very groups we are now marginalizing are the ones who launched the queer rights movement at a time when being gay was still a crime.

If queer homeless youths, black drag queens, transgender women and gay hustlers had not risen up against oppression at Compton's Cafeteria and Stonewall over 45 years ago, we would not have gay marriage today.
So as long as LGBT youths sleep on the street, transgender people fear for their lives, and queer people of color live in poverty, my new right to marry will be diminished.The LGBT movement still has a long way to go . . .
The author is correct - there is a huge amount of work still to be done and anti-gay discrimination (much of it generated by foul religious denominations) needs to be fought and crushed at all levels of society and across America from the big cities to small rural towns.  Never ending activism is exhausting, but there is still so much to be done.  The fight must continue.

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