Today’s Gays

I’ve more or less finished Stonewall (rereading some bits; I decided that my new quest to read a lot should include the pile of books I bought for a seminar last spring and didn’t end up reading because the class in question was so lame) and probably won’t be reading the final bits, since I’m not all that interested in a catalogue of various GLBT activisty groups. The narrative structure of the earlier chapters is great and very readable, and I appreciate that Duberman at least attempts to acknowledge differing viewpoints of what really sparked the Stonewall riots.

That said, I just learned that Larry Kramer (most recently author of The Tragedy of Today’s Gays) will be speaking nearby in a couple of weeks. Loyal readers may remember that Kramer got me all fired up this summer for a time, and the ideas his book germinated are still growing (very, very slowly) in my brain, even if I haven’t put them to paper yet. As I was thinking about the possibility that the lottery for tickets will end in my favor, I pondered the kinds of questions I might ask (provided he even has a question and answer period). My first inclination would be to find out his opinion on the whole marriage issue.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m disgruntled with the current emphasis on marriage rights among LGBT activist groups (particularly the larger, more visible ones, like HRC) . Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled that I live in the one state in the union that currently legally recognizes same-sex marriages. I recognize that a lot of the rights associated with legal marriage are important ones, and I would never argue that LGBT individuals shouldn’t enjoy those rights should they choose to marry. My problem, rather, is with the attention (and time, and money) the issue receives at the expense of other important issues.

I know that this may sound like the ol’ “Why can’t you focus on the important issues?” argument I so despise, but it’s not; I don’t think people should stop fighting for marriage equality. I even hesitate to hierarchize the issues at all–who am I to say that workplace rights are more important than marriage rights? I’d just really like to see other LGBT issues getting the same kind of national attention that same sex marriage has enjoyed (although, given the results of the 2004 elections, it’s hard to say if “enjoyed” is really an appropriate word).

Consider some words from LAMBDA Legal:

There is no federal law that expressly forbids workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Less than half of all states specifically ban workplace discrimination in the private sector based on sexual orientation. Only a handful of states ban discrimination based on gender identity, but many courts have held that transgender employees are protected under sex discrimination laws.

Want more?

About half of all states permit second-parent adoptions by the unmarried partner of an existing legal parent, while in a handful of states courts have ruled these adoptions not permissible under state laws. This leaves parents in many states legally unrecognized or severely disadvantaged in court fights with ex-spouses, ex-partners or other relatives.

And let’s not forget the (lack of) transgender rights:

There is no federal law explicitly prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in employment, housing, public accommodations or any other area of law, although many courts have held that transgender employees are protected under sex discrimination laws. Only a handful of states have laws specifically prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression.

Yet in 2004, when much of the nation was once again glued to television sets watching the returns come in, we weren’t eagerly awaiting the results of workplace discrimination laws, same-sex adoption laws, or transgender discrimination laws in 11 states. I’ll be willing to bet money the case will be the same in 2008.

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5 Responses to Today’s Gays

  1. alden says:

    i definitely have mixed feelings about kramer- on the one hand, of course, he founded both gay men’s health crisis and ACT-UP- but on the other, he makes the sort of criticisms of the gay rights movement that the mainstream press loves to echo, but is afraid to say itself.

    also i still think that you’re wrong on marriage. the question of marriage rights is central, and the lack thereof legitimizes other oppression. by failing to recognize other-than-straight relationships as legit, the state marks other-than-straight people as defacto second class. were marriage expanded to ‘any two people, not cousins’ it would set a precedent that would make other fights, say, adoption rights, much much easier.

    i think the fundamental problem of big gay rights organizations is not the fights they choose, but the company they keep. the democrats (at least the party proper) jumped in with bush and the GOP in supporting every single piece of anti-gay legislation. and yet, the strategy of the bigger groups (HRC, etc) is always around unconditional support for the democrats. john kerry said the same stuff as bush, only that somehow state prohibitions on same-sex marriages were a-ok, but a federal amendment was no. what an ally!

  2. pandanose says:

    Well, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem, isn’t it? I mean, is the state more likely to recognize same-sex relationships if it already recognizes non-heterosexuals as a protected class, or vice versa? I mean, tell me where I’m wrong on marriage. I never said that we shouldn’t be fighting as hard as we are for marriage equality. I just think the marriage fight currently overshadows pretty much all other LGBT fights.

    As for Kramer- I think I share your concerns. Plus there’s the fact that at least in the writings I’ve read he chooses to totally ignore lesbians.

    And strange bedfellows- no kidding. I’m not totally up on the matter, but MassEquality has taken a lot of flak lately for supporting pro-war candidtates.

  3. alden says:

    yeah it is a bit chicken or egg- the mass sjc decision was due to the preponderance of existing legislation. however, that decision let (for a while) a bunch of cities try to leap-frog and start issuing marriage licenses, before getting shut down by GOP-fearing local governments.

    i guess it’s not so much that i think you’re wrong per se. just some of the way you phrase the question reminds me of some arguments i heard in spring ’04 when, unfortunately, a number of folks were quite dismissive about the question of same-sex marriage for, i think, reasons of class. that is, not getting the economic plight that the lack of marriage rights can create for working class same-sex couples.

  4. pandanose says:

    I don’t want to be dismissive about marriage and marriage rights- that’s not my intent at all. It’s worth noting that mainstream debate about same-sex marriage tends to ignore a lot, though, like marriage hurdles for transfolk, and the way marriage fits into immigration issues. The economic plight you mention is a serious one, clearly, but so is the plight of, say, the chronically un- and under-employed transfolk, or non-heterosexuals in more than half the states who can’t be assured they won’t be fired (or will be hired) in the private sector based solely on their sexuality.

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