August 15, 2014 at 11:01 am EST | by guest columnist
LGBT success comes from diverse communities
Edith Windsor, white men, gay news, Washington Blade

Edie Windsor spoke outside of the Supreme Court following oral arguments in her case. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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.

  • The authors should re-read the article. They have seriously misconstrued Robert Raben’s remarks. He did not say that only white men can secure progress. He was noting the power of white privilege, not (to say the very least!) endorsing white supremacy. He is known as someone who continually spends his privilege to empower all. During our community’s preparations for passage of marriage equality in DC, which we won five years ago, Robert was as clear as anyone about how crucial it was for our city’s effort and its public voice to reflect the diversity of our community. He must have gasped at being so badly misunderstood by these writers, whose interpretation is approximately the opposite of what he and his firm uphold.

  • Heather Cronk

    While I appreciate what Robert might have been trying to say, we weren’t the only ones who were shocked at the way he expressed it. While he very well might have been trying to point out the fact that the LGBTQ movement is rife with white and male privilege, saying that our movement has only begun to win since white gay men got involved is a seriously problematic way to make that point.

  • Michael Bedwell

    You know I luv you, Heather, but Mr. Rosendall is right about the misreading of Raben’s remarks. And, with respect, many of us who have called for years for the President to keep his 2008 promise to ban LGBT discrimination by federal contractors neither were nor needed to be “inspired by the pressure exerted on the president by DREAMers,” as wonderful as they are, any more than the marriage equality movement was started by Edie Windsor and her lesbian attorney, as wonderful as they are. Finally, your last sentence should read: “the countless queer and trans people of color who have [HELPED lay] that groundwork and continue to [HELP] do the work of liberation.” Thank you.

  • BTW, I am aware of the inadvertent hilarity of a bunch of white people talking about the contributions of people of color. They are quite capable of speaking for themselves. An ally of whatever color must be just that, not act like the noble (and decidedly ahistorical) FBI agent in “Mississippi Burning” who comes to the rescue of black characters robbed of their agency. Freedom is won by being asserted and demanded, not some gift to be benevolently granted as if by a superior. Frederick Douglass is eloquent on this point. Respect must be earned, and true collaboration among diverse communities must be worked at. By their fruits shall ye know them. The respect for a longtime activist like Robert Raben is grounded in what he does, not merely what he says. And as Michael Bedwell suggests, our collaborations have been going on for quite a while.

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