I've been invested in sustainable living and environmental issues since I was in Jr. High. Ecology was how I got involved in activism. In fact, to be clear, marijuana legalization was my first activist issue. To my parents chagrin, I was the 14-year-old little christian girl writing all her papers in school on how marijuana needed to be legalized. It is a plant (cannabis/hemp) that could save the planet. It is also an amazing medicine and has about a million other uses. At the time, marijuana legalization was not the hip mainstream cause that it is today. It was the neo-hippie stoner environmentalist issue. Because of pot, I found out about peak oil, beach and waterway pollution, companies stealing water from municipal water sources, mountaintop removal and much more.
Over time, I became more active in LGBTQ activism. When I was married, my ex-wife was seen as the environmentalist in the family and it cracked me up that people seemed to think I wasn't on board with environmental concerns; I probably identified as an environmentalist before she did. Though my actions and dedication has never wavered, this year I have become vocal again about my concerns about the end of the earth as we know it. And, honestly, I might be at a tipping point in my activism. I am becoming more and more concerned about fighting for the protection of the earth and I want to encourage other queer people to get loud as well.
At the bottom of my emails is a quote from Judith Butler, "There is no queer without anti-racism and anti-colonialism." I would add, environmentalism to her list. Being queer is being intersectional, so being queer is being someone who puts the earth first. As a buddhist, I have learned that putting me first does not mean at the expense of others, it means to treat people, including ourselves, equitably. We all need attention. To me, the earth is a representation of that equity. By "putting the earth first" I am valuing all life.
I recently made a commitment to discuss the environment at all of my LGBTQ talks because there will be no LGBTQ people (in fact, no people) if we fail on the earth. It is the most pressing issue of our time.
Gay identity is becoming more and more associated with rampant consumerism as parts of our community assimilate. According to Simmons Market Research studies in 2008, LGBT people spend $600 billion nationwide and have a median household income of $94,000. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal noted that "[There has been conservative push back] Nonetheless, from J.C. Penney Co.'s high-profile hiring of openly gay Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman, to Target Corp. selling same-sex greeting cards, retailers are trying ways to cozy up to a community that by one estimate is as much as 16 million strong and has almost double the disposable income of the average American--some $49,000 per capita compared with the $26,000 average."
Matthew Eichler writes in his article "Consuming My Way Gay", "LGBTQ individuals turn to the marketplace to seek information about their sexual and gender identities. [...] how coming out as a queer man is shaped by consumptive pedagogy--that is, learning through consumption. First, material goods are explored as the signifier of sexual orientation." What does it mean to find our identity through consumerism? What does this mean for the world, as we know it?
Sustainability is about our personal choices as much as it isn't. Our choices shift what is produced and what resources are used. If anyone knows the power of groups working together it is LGBTQ folks. From Coors to marriage, as a group we have changed the state of the nation and business, for better, or worse. When you choose to buy that plastic item, you are choosing non-renewable oil based products. Many of us don't get gas at a Mobil station or buy our pizza from Dominos, but we buy tons of plastic and don't compost. We wrap our organic produce in 15 plastic bags at Whole Foods with little thought of where those plastic bags go when we are done. But our own choices are not as big as the corporate and national responsibility. Pollution and destruction of the earth are happening systematically on a large scale. The US grows more food (often GMO) than we use because of subsidies to corporate farms. And, the seeds cannot be saved. The little consumer choices are one thing, what about taking a bigger step?
Eco-warriors are putting their bodies on the line for the earth. Blocking the tar sands pipeline and burning deadly GMO crops. They are saying that it is time to take a stand. Time to do more than recycle. Farmers are committing suicide in India because of the debt they come under when they cannot save Monsanto's GMO terminator seeds. They see no option out, because without collective action, there is no way out. It is truly apocalyptic.
Anti-oppression work is queer work. Environmental activism is anti-oppression work. The UN says, "Everyone has the right to live in an environment free from pollution". Environmental justice says that no one should take on the environmental burden of the privileged few. Low income communities, and communities with a high number of people of color disproportionally suffer from asthma, diabetes and cancer as a result of environmental pollution. What are we, as a collective doing about it? What are we, as queer identified people, doing about it?
For me, queer is how I live. It is my life. I am diving more and more into radical gardening, or as I like to call it , "micro-farming" growing your own food, raising chickens, and other small livestock, living in harmony with the environment. This can be through community space or on "private land." To me, queer is mutual aid. Though I grow food on land that the bank owns and that I am legally responsible for, I see the fruits as a community resource. They are not any more mine than yours. Through this space, I am building community and making a statement about how we can live. Knowing that not everyone has the time and resources to grow their own food, I share what I have. Not just the gleanings but the first fruits as well. This is not to say that I am "super cool" but that this is our joint responsibility.
Nature is part of my understanding about queerness. Nature is why I am against marriage, for everyone. In "Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution" by Peter Kropotkin, Kropotkin illustrates the phenomenon of cooperation. After examining the evidence of cooperation in nonhuman animals, in pre-feudal societies and medieval cities, and in modern times, he concludes that cooperation and mutual aid are the most important factors in the evolution of species and the ability to survive. If we are to survive as a species, we must cooperate. There is nothing traditional about the "traditional" nuclear family. Throughout history families lived in and were communities. Gay people trying to emulate "traditional" families are adding to the oppression of all, including the earth. Marriage is not progressive, marriage is exclusionary and says that what is mine is mine, and my kinfolk, not yours.
In the past queer people came together in chosen families. These chosen families came about out of necessity but they were radical. We were changing what was expected from adults. There were lesbians and Radical Faeries who lived on communal land (a very small number still do). These were not necessarily ideal communities as many were separatist and were especially exclusionary to trans* people but, the model was part of what made queers outside of the societal norm.
Cooperation needs to be not just within the queer community but also across identities. We must all work together to save the earth. According to 350.org, "Make no mistake--getting back to 350 [the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide--measured in "Parts Per Million" ] means transforming our world. It means building solar arrays instead of coal plants, it means planting trees [and hemp] instead of clear-cutting rainforests, it means increasing efficiency and decreasing our waste. Getting to 350 means developing a thousand different solutions."
Right now, for me, talking about protecting and reviving the earth is almost more important than talking about gay and lesbian rights. Stopping the tar sands pipeline, stopping mountaintop removal, clear cutting, oil production, increasing solar, wind and geothermal as energy sources; this is way more important to me, right now, than marriage, lifting the ban on trans people in the military, and hate crimes legislation. In fact, all three of those issues are destructive to the queer community and not intersectional. Don't get me wrong, I am still advocating for safe restroom access, prison abolition and employment non-discrimination. But, if we build a world based on mutual aid for all, these issues will be naturally addressed.
I don't want to assimilate, I want to stand for the safety of all; and that includes the earth.