It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that, though I didn’t think about this at the time, I probably started a blog because I need somewhere to vent my boundless rage that is not random people’s Facebook walls. I mean, one thing among the many thousands of things that are guaranteed to raise my blood pressure is when folks get all “the internet isn’t real, and it’s not a viable platform for communication,” but also like, Facebook fights are dumb, I’m supposed to be an adult now.
So here’s the thing that got me all het up this week: gay marriage.
Specifically, these goddamn things:
I guess I should start off by saying that I support gay marriage, insofar as I think people who want to get married should be able to, and I recognize that the ability to do so will make lots of folks happy and feel empowered, and that’s a good thing. I also think the phrase “marriage equality” is, at best, a gross misunderstanding of how marriage as a legal institution functions, in that it is not and has never been an institution that has anything to do with equality. It is about extending certain legal protections to a specific class of people and not to others. That that class might be federally expanded really, really is not the same thing as equality, and I wish people would recognize that*.
So I know that when I look at my facebook wall and I see fifteen little “equals” signs, I’m supposed to feel happy. I’m supposed to pat my liberal friend group collectively on the back and feel good about the progress that society is making. I’m supposed to be grateful that after all the years of hard work and all the billions of dollars spent on the gay marriage campaign, America is finally coming around.
But I actually feel sad and more than a little angry. Okay, a lot angry. Folks, the HRC is an organization run by rich white men. They have consistently chosen not to support trans rights. They have consistently silenced POC organizations and organizers. They have accepted donations from, and even honored, multi-billionaire corporations who have done more than their fair share to contribute to the unequal distribution of wealth and to systematic racialized and gendered oppression in the US. Their vision of “equality”—as obviously signaled by their logo—is not, and never has been, equality for all. It is equality for those who can afford it. It’s equality for those who can prove they are “just like everyone else,” who respect and embody gender normativity, middle class sensibility, and white supremacy. It’s equality for those who don’t care about coalitional politics, and who endorse both trickle down economics and trickle down civil rights.
So when I see a cascade of HRC logos as far as I can see, and then a ton of self-congratulatory back-patting on the internet, like way to go, internet America! You’ve seen the light! You’re finally making progress! I think about all the queer people of color, and the trans and genderqueer people, who are being told in no uncertain terms: your rights mean less than ours. Your alienation means less than our visibility. We’ll come back for you later. Wait your turn. Which, hmm, sounds like the same song that’s been sung ever since the HRC, and organizations like the HRC, essentially co-opted the possibility of a radical queer social movement and turned it into a mainstream machine for maintaining the status quo.
Think of it this way: much of the Civil Rights legislation, having to do with fair housing, fair employment, fair education, etc., have been subjected to massive roll-back since the 60s. Most of that legislation—legislation that offered hope for actual structural change—has been de-fanged, done away with or abolished. Still around: the aftermath of Loving v. Virginia, which abolished laws against interracial marriage. (In fact, that case is often used as a rallying cry for the HRC and marriage rights advocates, which, don’t even get me fucking started.) Sure, black/white couples can get married; in the meantime, the conditions that most Latino and Black people are living in today have only gotten worse. Exponentially worse, in fact. Maybe that should tell you something about the possibility for social change “marriage equality” actually offers.
In all my various Facebook fights with people this week, I never once asked anyone why they chose to use the HRC logo. And I was called out more than once for doing so: “But you didn’t even bother to ask me why I did this! How can you attack me when you don’t know my intentions?”
Um, because I don’t fucking care about your intentions. Listen, either you know nothing about the HRC and you posted the photo without bothering to ask any questions about what actual cause you were supporting: disturbing. Or you actually do know about the HRC, and its policies, and you posted the photo anyway: more disturbing. Either way, the net effect is the same: the alignment between the HRC and the “gay rights” movement is solidified, attention and funding is directed towards the HRC and away from organizations that actually support coalitional politics, and yes, one more step is taken—away from the possibility of actual social change for those populations (undocumented immigrants, transgendered youth, the thousands of black and Latino men targeted daily by the prison industrial complex, for instance) that are actually in material need.
Some of my dearest friends have the HRC logo up right now (including many people of color, because we should all know by now, you don’t need to be white to support white supremacy). I don’t know what to say to them, so I’ve been picking my fights with marginal people in my life. I don’t always want to be that insane girl picking fights on Facebook. But I don’t know how to combat an attitude that is not only flabbergastingly widespread, but also bolstered by liberal, well-meaning attitudes. What to say to the many straight white people (or queer white people, or queer poc), who just want to lend a hand? Express their support? Be a visible ally?
I guess what I should say is that to be an irresponsible ally is not to be an ally at all. Blind, feel good liberal support of “do good” organizations without bothering to ask questions about what such organizations do has perpetuated the spread of white supremacy and exploitative capitalism around the globe (Kony 2012, anyone?). To change your profile photo to the HRC logo and then feel good about contributing to a tidal wave of social change is, as Jack Halberstam recently put it, to confuse social justice with the reaffirmation of social norms.
And I don’t feel good about it. I feel worse every day, and farther away from the possibility that the gay rights movement will ever amount to more than merely conferring even more privilege to those who already have it, and thus widening the gap between those with social power and those without. Which is exactly, by the way, how the folks running the HRC like it.
*Better writers than me have written better essays than this one on why marriage as an institution, in general, is not about equality, does more social harm than social good, is at its very foundations racist and misogynist, and sucks for everyone. Start here and here if this is a claim that confuses you. And then like, I don’t know, read the whole oeuvre of feminist and queer theory. And critical ethnic studies.
PS: HuffPo's new article on the HRC is better sourced than mine on the various ills and wrongdoings of the organization.
PPS: Since this seems to be recirculating, here’s yet more proof that the HRC is the worst.