The concept of an "ally" within the political and social spectrums of LGBTQ individuals seems to be in a constant state of redefinition. Over the past year, we have seen the rise of the corporate "ally" in wake of Chick-Fil-A's very public disavowal of same-sex relationships. We have also seen the celebritizing of support for gay marriage, with a massive number of famous individuals partaking in campaigns such as "NOH8" and the "It Gets Better" project. Now, as citizens that identify with strict understandings of "gay" and "lesbian" slowly become folded into life and are beginning to be dealt more life chances, we are seeing the impact of this reality interweaving with other great political battles of our time.
The significance of this shift cannot be understated; the very real possibility it presents for coalition building is an incredible opportunity for people identifying as LGBTQ to expand our potential for effective political action. That is, the prospect of utilizing our political gains thus far in a way that can reach back and aid some of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised of our population.
One very tangible example of this can be evidenced through a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll that found more Americans support than oppose permitting foreigners married to gay and lesbian Americans to be sponsored by their partners for U.S. residency. Though Republican lawmakers have cited support for same-sex couples within immigration reform to be an insurmountable source of conflict, this poll articulates one extremely important fact: our culture is rapidly changing. Gay and lesbian identity are becoming institutionalized in such a way that their impact is being considered within the framework of other political battles.
However, what are we to do as our identities are solidified politically and our place as citizens legitimized? Do we celebrate our gains as members of the LGBTQ community and relish in our own progress narrative? Or, is it possible that we could now become allies ourselves?
Over the past decades, the mainstream LGBTQ movement has received an immense amount of criticism in terms of what many claim to be a focus on single-issue politics. A significant amount of individuals continue to question why and how marriage equality and the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" became positioned as the final frontier battles for the creation of a more equitable society. As a result, many activists and scholars have fractured off from the movement itself, citing the corporatization and nonprofitization of "LGBT rights" as corrupt and not representative of the life experiences of all individuals that identify as LGBTQ.
Within this framework, polls such as the recent one conducted by HuffPost/YouGov articulate a very different perspective about the potential for effective political action invested within coalition building alongside those most marginalized by power and privilege. As a result, this poll raises a crucial question: if we are truly committed to the creation of a more equitable society for all individuals and a world that we all actually want to live in, where do we turn our focus from here?
We need to build coalitions with the most disenfranchised of our society, those who are often left without a voice or representation: immigrants, people with disabilities, HIV-positive people, victims of institutionalized racism, poor people, young people, elderly people, victims of the prison-industrial complex, and trans people (or individuals whose gender identity falls outside of cultural intelligibility). The visibility of these groups in terms of political and social representation is limited at best, and usually typified in such as way that the reality of their situation is minimalized. The place of these people on the margins of society is institutionalized in many ways, and often collectively sustained unintentionally through the larger population. We must begin to question why these individuals lack a voice or representation, seek to understand their disenfranchisement, and deconstruct the systematic processes that hold them within their marginalized status.
When I discuss this sentiment about pushing activism further, about not settling merely for a resolution surrounding the single-issue focus of mainstream LGBTQ activism, I am often met with a resounding "Why?" Why build coalitions outside of group consciousness and refuse to be idle when it comes to achieving legitimate citizenry and recognitions for these groups, many of which have no surface-level relation to sexual identity?
Because for decades thousands of straight-identifying people refused to be idle when it came to making the world a more equitable place for LGBTQ individuals. And that, truly, is being an ally.