By DREW AMBROGI
Last month at rallies outside of the Supreme Court, the Human Rights Campaign asked protesters to move their trans pride flag from behind the podium and censored a speech given by the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP) so as not to reveal the immigration status of the speaker.
Later, HRC, GetEQUAL and United for Marriage issued public apologies for “offending” those groups, and reminded them that they are committed to their issues. But this is more than a matter of unintentional “offensive” incidents. These are people being told that they must conform or get out of the way. These are people being told that their needs and experiences aren’t relevant to those making decisions in their communities. Yet this is nothing new for the mainstream gay rights movement.
Our most effective arguments for marriage equality have been ones that mirror the values of those who are in a position to give us access to the rights we seek. We seem overjoyed to explain time and time again that, just like them, we too believe in the supreme value of marriage and the nuclear family. In order to support this argument and present ourselves as a non-threatening community of good citizens, we’ve actively excluded and suppressed those of us who depart from the values of the heterosexual majority, leaving our most marginalized brothers and sisters behind.
The actions of HRC, GetEQUAL, and United for Marriage at the rallies last month reflect these strategies, and remind us that in selecting marriage as its priority, the gay rights movement has also told us what issues should take a back seat.
Talking about marriage as if it is the most important issue for the LGBT community silences those of us with needs that access to marriage will not address. Marriage won’t provide adequate health care to those of us who are without it. Marriage won’t address the domestic violence many of us face in our relationships. It won’t save the one in four LGBT youth who are homeless, and it won’t help those of us living with HIV as crucial assistance programs face budget cuts. It won’t address the routine violence faced by trans people and it will do little for LGBT people who are undocumented. And it will probably make things more difficult for those of us living outside of nuclear family formations.
As non-heterosexual people, our existence is a fundamental threat to the organization of society. For decades we’ve lived in the margins where we’ve drawn strength from our difference and from our diversity as a community. As we built families on our own terms, we recognized the necessity of fighting oppression in all of its manifestations, and we envisioned radical alternatives to a society that wanted nothing to do with us. How have we come to see our uniqueness and our diversity as blemishes we must cover up while we try to win the respect of our oppressors?
As a goal, marriage equality reflects the needs of the members of our community with the most power and privilege — those who have access to resources that allow them to emulate the heterosexual lifestyle. As HRC, GetEQUAL and United for Marriage demonstrated, the rest of our concerns are merely distractions.
The priorities of our movement’s self-appointed leaders reveal their self-interested motivations. You can’t help but wonder whether they’ll still be around to help the rest of us out when marriage equality becomes a reality. In their apologies, all three groups promised that they are committed to issues beyond marriage. In the weeks, months, and years to come, we must hold them accountable to this claim.
Drew Ambrogi is a student at American University.