President Obama's public support of marriage equality has opened a window of new possibilities for LGBT communities. The positions of support being taken by groups and individuals in the black community, such as the NAACP, are an important step in frustrating the efforts of right-wing groups to create conflict between black and LGBT Americans. Some LGBT groups are responding by making common cause on issues that are of particular concern to racial and ethnic minorities. All of this strikes me as a reason to feel some glimmer of encouragement in what is a generally depressing political landscape.
Unfortunately, there are individuals in these groups that are trying to form connections who seem to feel that cooperation poses a threat to their positions of privilege. This is not limited to conservative black preachers who are holding on to their opposition to marriage equality. It also includes some middle-class gay white men who see themselves as self-appointed pundits with a mission to preserve the purity of the movement. As a middle-class gay white male I think that it is my task to try to deal with these pundits and let the black community deal with the preachers.
We have long had problems with inclusiveness within the LGBT world. That is why I use the word "communities," in the plural. The same pundits whom I am talking about frequently express concern that the gay quest for respectability will be tainted by association with transgender folk. Racism within the gay community has a long and shameful history. I have had many opportunities to witness the harassment and abuse firsthand.
What inspired me to take up this issue was a post by John Aravosis on America Blog Gay, "Should HRC be working on (straight) immigrant workers rights?" In it he writes:
There are serious questions about how far off the mission our groups should get. As I argued here the other day, I think you have to support sister movements if you want their support in turn (i.e., if we want black groups supporting marriage then we need to support black groups when they ask for our help). But at some point, you risk becoming GLAAD and the AT&T/T-Mobile merger all over again, if you don't watch it.
Aravosis has a long history of this kind of pearl clutching. He has often butted heads with the trans community, voicing his "concerns" that their demands are obstructing to road to gay progress. He is by no means alone in it. On various gay blogs, with great regularity, you can see comments that reek of putting up the barricades. Arovosis is one of the more visible advocates of such conservatism.
It is inevitable that in any movement there are people who are unwilling to change with the times. I am of the older generation of gay men. There seem to be men of this generation who think that there is a holy grail of gay equality that, once discovered, will admit them to the world of white male privilege from which they have been so unjustly excluded. Part of the conflicts with trans folk seems to be connected with a fear that being too closely associated with them will undermine the effort to cultivate the image of red-blooded American masculinity.
As far as I am concerned, we are queer, and we always will be. We can make the law treat all people with equality, but we can't totally control what other people think. We need to be seeking and forming alliances with other groups that are excluded from the privileges of the elite.
There is presently a window of opportunity open for doing that. It is not guaranteed to remain open. Historically, it has been white gay men who lead the beginnings of the gay-rights movement. However, we do not have a perpetual franchise to control it. It comes down to leading, following, or getting out of the way. In both the black civil-rights movement and the LGBT-rights movement, there appear to be some folks whom we are just going to have to leave sitting on the veranda.