Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Where Does the Gay Rights Movement Go in 2014?

A new year dawns over Hampton Roads harbor - Norfolk Naval Base is right of center

In many ways, 2013 was a momentous year for gay rights with the addition of more states granting marriage equality and, of course the ruling in United States v. Windsor, which has led to the federal government and its agencies recognizing gay marriages regardless of couples' state of residence.  Here in Virginia November saw the election of a slate of Democrats to statewide office all of whom endorse full gay marriage.  Yet in 29 states, LGBT citizens can still be fired at will from their jobs and left with little legal recourse.  Here in Virginia, even state employees continue to lack statutory protections from summary firing.  And we continue to see anti-gay bullying fully sanctioned by numerous hate groups masquerading as "family values" organization underscoring the fact that religion - fundamentalist religion in particular - in general remains the enemy of LGBT equality.   Socially, in urban areas, gays are increasingly accepted as demonstrated by the neighborhood New Year's Eve party we attended along with a dozen other gays (some Republicans at the party were brutal in their comments on the Christofascists).  So where do things go from here?  A piece in The Daily Beast ponders on this question.  Here are excerpts:

“On one level, our movement has been a staggering, if controversial, success; yet on another level, gay and lesbian people remain profoundly stigmatized, struggling against the same crises—in health, violence, discrimination and social services—that have plagued us for decades.”

These words were written not in 2013 but in 1995, in Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation, a seminal text by prominent activist and intellectual Urvashi Vaid.  But the words ring true today.  Here we are, ending what some are calling “the greatest year in gay rights”—and yeah, it’s been a big year from the unprecedented legal breakthroughs, especially in marriage equality, to the cultural markers of more and more celebrities and sports figures coming out of the closet. And yet it’s not just that declaring victory in the culture war, or even in skirmishes, feels premature—as though minimizing the enduring and infectious influence of the right-wing backlash. Even more, with 2013 over, we should ask whether all the achievements so far—and the path on which the LGBT movement is headed—indeed add up to true equality and liberation.

I always thought I was fighting for the right to be different from straight folks, not the same—that the quest of liberation meant that I should have equal rights and treatment regardless of those differences, rather than accessing basic rights and equality only if I conformed to a heterosexual norm.  In other words, my family should be recognized and respected whether my partner and I get married or not.

[T]he more interesting question at this juncture is whether the attainment of hetero-normative rights leads to homo-liberation and social justice more broadly.  On the one hand, ending bans on gay folks in the military is arguably a form of co-optation that serves to reinforce a military-police industrial complex that has historically been hostile toward “deviant” sexuality. . . . On the other hand, does the lovable mainstream Ellen DeGeneres being on television make it possible for the trans actress Laverne Cox to be on television?  Arguably.  And arguably both make it easier for LGBT folks across the country and around the world to express their identities and their desires. 

We should certainly celebrate the great leaps forward for gay rights in 2013, in marriage equality but also with cultural markers and especially polls showing that the public is becoming more accepting. But in 2014, we must revisit the guiding philosophy of the gay movement and whether our strategies and tactics are pursuing liberation for all—gay and straight, black white and brown, women and men and trans—or merely some. . . . . If 2013 was the year that Americans of all stripes and social movements joined the careening bandwagon for gay rights, may 2014 be the year in which the LGBT movement returns the favor with a vision of liberation for all.
Here in Virginia huge amounts of work needs to be done.  Homophobia remains rampant in the black community and in rural areas.  Virginia still lacks any meaningful anti-bullying laws.  And the foul hate group, The Family Foundation, continues to push the Virginia GOP to oppose rights and dignity for LGBT Virginians.

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