By FELIPE SOUSA-RODRIGUEZ & HEATHER CRONK
A recent Blade article quoted Robert Raben as saying that “the single most important variable” in recent successes by the LGBTQ community “is the presence or absence of white men.” He went further to say, “I believe LGBT issues have mercifully done so well in the last 20 years because so many white men are affected by it, and they have exercised their money, their access and their establishment orientation to fight for our rights, and white men basically get what they want in this country.”
We believe that it’s important to set the record, er, straight. While Raben’s perspective, identity (as a gay white man), and experience might lead him to conclude that the mobilization of gay white men has been the key ingredient to recent LGBTQ successes, our perspective is very different.
Success doesn’t come from any one group of people — it’s acquired through a broad array of activism and access. The Windsor case that won before the Supreme Court last year was brought by a woman and was chiefly argued by a woman — both openly lesbian. The LGBTQ federal contractor executive order that was signed last month was only signed after years of pressure by both insiders and outsiders, which was inspired by the pressure exerted on the president by DREAMers who eventually secured Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) back in June of 2012. DACA was won not by white men in D.C., but by thousands of undocumented young people who were unwilling to listen to conventional political “wisdom” and unafraid to put their bodies on the line for what they believed in.
The idea that only white men can secure progress is cynical — and the kind of “politics as usual” that keeps D.C. at a standstill. That mindset might work for Republicans. But it ignores the changing demographics that comprise today’s emerging progressive movement — the very movement that elected our first African-American president. And it holds us back from building powerful cross-identity and cross-issue coalitions that can really win big fights. Ascribing recent LGBTQ successes to the presence of gay white men without giving credit to the countless queer and trans people of color who have laid that groundwork and continue to do the work of liberation is irresponsible and inaccurate.
Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez is deputy managing director of United We Dream. Heather Cronk is director of GetEQUAL.