Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rage Against the Gay Machine

Photo from HERE.

After publicly criticizing some of my peers for being so dismissive of LGBTQ people of color's desire to add brown and black stripes to the Pride flag, I've been making an extra effort to listen -- as I suggested others do -- to what concerns are being raised.

But after reading a handful of essays and countless social-media exchanges -- all of which sounded something like the one below -- I finally felt the need to weigh in.

MR wrote on a friend's Facebook page:
I'm not saying I 100% agree with Getequal and nojustice no pride [which has protested Gay Pride parades around the country] but I would like to point out it was born in some ways out of response to a lack of an inclusive movement. That if we had truly built a big tent focused on ending oppression for everyone or at least limiting the harms we might not be in this situation. Yes we've come a long way and had some major gains but those gains haven't been equal. And both groups need to own their part. The young ppl we need to know the history and appreciate some of the sacrifice that was made. But the under older crowd needs to acknowledge who they left behind on the margins in their march toward equality. That wasn't truly equal. It's going to take an intergenerational response to really move the needle. 
To which I replied:
I am very open to what you and others have to say about lack of inclusiveness (and inequality) within the LGBTQ community. So far, though, I have heard little in the way of evidence or examples of what you mean save for some overheard racist comments from a bartender that have little to do with the real issues here. 
The gains the "older generation" fought and died for are in fact extraordinarily inclusive as they apply to ALL of us -- marriage equality; hate-crimes legislation; the right to serve openly in the military; greater visibility in the media; workplace and housing protections, legal-document equality and Medicaid coverage for trans people (where we've been successful), as well as the cocktail to stop HIV from killing people in no time at all, just to name a few. (Not to mention the life-altering drug PrEP, which allows people to have sex without the constant fear of death, something every gay of a certain age never experienced during his 20s, 30s and 40s. Many still can't even today because of PTSD.) 
Where inequality and discrimination still exists -- and there's no shortage of it -- is overwhelmingly a societal issue that continues to see a gross disparity in wages, quality of education, access to health care and housing, police treatment as well as voter disenfranchisement. But very little of this is the LGBTQ community working against its own, brown or otherwise. We do not hold the levers of power to inflict this pain on anyone -- nor would we want to -- much less on members of our own tribe. 
It almost feels like these new activists are angry for the right reasons. (I'm pissed, too.) But they have chosen to attack so-called establishment gays -- who are so "privileged" to have come out at a time when it frequently cost us our family or livelihood, as well as giving us the "honor" to watch thousands of our best friends and lovers be wiped out by the plague (if we were so "lucky" to have survived) -- because we are low-hanging fruit that can be easily attacked and are more likely to be receptive to criticism, even if it's not entirely warranted. (For example, use your critical-thinking skills for a minute to try to figure out why having the police and corporations want to be part of Pride celebrations is a GOOD thing. A little hint: they used to shun us or physically assault us, and now they're courting us and giving their employees/officers LGBTQ sensitivity training. This is called progress, not a reason to protest OUR OWN parades.) 
None of this is to dismiss out of hand legitimate concerns that I am sure exist and would love to learn more about. But I think this new breed would be better served by fighting back against voter-suppression efforts, income inequality (corporations have been logging record profits since the Great Recession yet wages for the 99% have remained completely stagnant), police brutality and serious attempts to further cut access to health care instead of trying to pick a fight with those of us who have spent a lifetime trying to lift everyone up.
MR responded to me:
I mean let's look at the HIV the movement in general. The fact that black gay men have always been one of the most at risk and most hardest hit piece of unequal access to medications to insurance to access to basic services is a prime example. The money has never gotten too these men. Yet we try to claim progress in mass. And the fact that the most deaths in the trans community happen to trans ppl of color. The list goes on. It's hard to say we are building an inclusive movement when the outcomes are not equal across the board. If we truly care about moving a more progressive agenda for it then we have to realize that our community the LGBT population across all racial groups and ethnic minorities which means we have to care about the issues and treatment of other people. Justice can't be just us. And one more time I will say that I don't necessarily think what they're doing is the right strategy but I do think it calls into question some problems that do exist. It doesn't snow good to imagine a world that's better when it is only better for a select few in those select you end up being white. Have a really created better or we just the same representation of the problematic system that put us here in the first place
Horrifying statistics. But again, these are societal issues, not ones unique to or being perpetrated by the LGBTQ community. 

Read HERE.

Read HERE.

So much of the rhetoric I'm hearing from queer Gen Y activists -- of all backgrounds -- sounds hauntingly familiar to the 2016 presidential campaign, when so many wouldn't take yes for an answer. Now might be the right moment for some of you -- and some of you geezers, too -- to take responsibility for your decision to hand the White House to Donald Trump when you knew perfectly well that the Democratic nominee was committed to expanding access to health care -- that includes HIV medications and coverage for queer people of color -- and to appointing judges who would lock in President Obama's LGBTQ legacy because you were so busy feeling self-righteous, railing against her for giving speeches to Goldman Sachs (with the money often going to charity!) and having once sat on the board at Wal-Mart, the backstory of which you probably know nothing.

To reiterate what I said about the flag: If queer POC think there's a problem, then I accept that. Period. And if changing the flag in Philadelphia will help make people there feel more included -- and help start a dialogue -- I'm for that. I'm truly heartened that so many young people are angry. But ACT UP didn't accomplish what it did by being angry and sloppy. (The phrase "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" frequently comes to mind when I hear budding activists illogically blurt out "transwomen of color" and "white privilege" any time they're challenged with facts or asked to elaborate.) It's high time for all of us to be angry -- but let's be angry at the right people for the right reasons.

UPDATE: A Facebook friend addressed something I was hesitant to include, but I think is at play for some here:
Regarding no-fems, no-Asians[/blacks] profiles on hookup apps… it's stupid and immature. But it's also way past time that we tell people who they should or shouldn't be sexually attracted to. We aren't talking about housing or jobs. There is no "right" to have EVERYONE willing to hook up with you.
I agree, but I can also see why this kind of racist language would create a hostile environment for the people being singled out. I'm writing to the owners of the various hookup/dating apps to call on them to ban this type of behavior, if they haven't already. Now if only we could create a less hostile environment for non-hung, non-ripped, non-masc guys ...


mwk said...

So you want examples of LGBTQ-Specific issues for POC? The issue is that the racism of the "outside world" as you have delineated in your post, is as bad, if not worse among LBBTQ people. The Gay POC who are complaining about it, who wanted the colors added to the flag, are saying that the LGBT community needs to rise above the general culture's issues of racial inequality and poor treatment. The whole brouhaha over the flag, is but one example of an LGBT-specific issue, where gay POC have been thrown under the bus by the White Privilege of the rest of the community. Then there's the whole "no Blacks, Asians" issue on so many social media profiles. That's all part of the issue that is specific to LGBTQ people that needs to be addressed.

Anonymous said...

the flag was created with colors representing universal values that apply to all nationalities, genders, and races:

life (red), healing (orange), sunlight (yellow), nature (green), harmony/peace (blue), and spirit (purple/violet).

adding specific colors to represent a subsection of any population destroys the original intent for the flag to be all-inclusive, universally, for everyone.

while racial divisions exist within the community (as they do everywhere), and exposing them should continue to be addressed as a top priority, working to see them end, changing the flag's universal meaning is not the answer, and only creates further division.

Adam said...

I always cringe when I see white gay men explaining how their plight relates to POC. (White gay man here, btw.) It's the equivalent of mansplaining. Sometimes it's best to just listen.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

@Adam: And I always cringe when I see a straw-man argument!

To reiterate what I said before, if queer POC say they feel excluded then I accept that at face value. I've never told anyone they DON'T feel that way. I've never told anyone they SHOULDN'T feel that way. But merely blurting out "transwomen of color" or "white privilege" when faced with statistics or asked to elaborate doesn't make something false true or end the discussion. (I've listened a lot and as a longtime LGBT advocate don't think it's out of line to point out fallacies and illogical arguments, especially to younger people who flaunt their lack of knowledge of our history.)

HRC isn't ordering the execution of transwomen of color. GWM aren't ordering God's Love We Deliver to skip Newark but deliver to Scarsdale. Callen-Lorde isn't stockpiling HIV drugs exclusively for "cute white guys."

Again, I'm open to hearing about people's experiences and working toward a solution. But scapegoating longtime activists for the ills of society hardly seems productive.

Unknown said...

I think you are doing a great job here of attempting to help people THINK about this. I happen to agree with you; and thank you - and your commenters - for your thoughts.

Todd said...

White privilege is a real thing that manifests itself in many ways. But POC refusing to take HIV drugs that are being made available to them doesn't really have anything to do with it.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry, don't understand why the flag is not inclusive, to anyone who feels discriminated against in our community. can someone please explain to me, how the flag is of white privelage? And I would also ask the question; are people of color more than just black and brown?
I look forward to help in understanding this in a positive format.

Rocky said...

Nice article and I have to say I agree with you 100%. I'm one of those older white gays that actually worked in the movement back in the 90s, as an associate with David Mixner's firm in Los Angeles, a staffer for the Campaign For Military Service in DC, and as an original staff member of SLDN. None of the work we did was reserved just for white men. And we welcomed help from everyone that offered, regardless of color, gender or status.

Regarding no-fems, no-asians profiles on hookup apps… it's stupid and immature. But it's also way past time that we tell people who they should or shouldn't be sexually attracted to. We aren't talking about housing or jobs. There is no "right" to have EVERYONE willing to hook up with you.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

@northalabama: I see your point (and others who feel like you), but I don't see why if POC think this would be helpful it's such an issue for some people.

@there they whats: Some feel adding black and brown stripes would draw attention to the plight of queer people of color, who unfortunately like people of color in the U.S. overall have traditionally not fared as well as other groups.

jaragon said...

But the Rainbow Flag is not about race it's a symbol that is suppose to unity ALL gay people- but of course it the current political correct police must see EVERYONE represented but isn't this an issue of narrow minded perception? Are pink triangles now to come in black and brown. There is no doubt that the gay community has a degree of racial prejudice- for a long time the only gay image we saw was young white males. But the joy of the gay pride events is that we see the full spectrum of our tribe. I'm not saying that POC don't have a point but we need to be united against our true enemy.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

@mwk: Thanks for bringing the profiles issue up. I've updated the post to include this concern and am writing to the various apps to call on them to ban this type of racist language.

Anthony L said...

I share your POV on all of this. I'm a 53 year old whitey from Philly, who has fought and advocated his whole life for Gays and POC. I think the flag thing is stupid, not because it adds brown and black, but because Philly is a very segregated, racist city in general and that also applies to the gay folks. For decades I've watched the city do pandering, lip service things to placate folks concerned with racism, but nothing substantial or real. Spending time/money to have a committe and a PR firm work on a flag is just another pander and it posses me off that folks cheered like a real action step occured. If folks look up at that flag and it makes them feel powerful/warm and fuzzy/like they belong, fine. But to see folks think this fake ass action has changed anything, and meanwhile city and gay leaders aren't really doing anything and many of the more vocal activist POC are writing piece after piece laying the problems at the feet of ALL white gays, is frustratening and maddening.

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