Editors: Joseph Nicholas DeFilippis, Assistant Professor of Social Work at Seattle University; Michael W. Yarbrough, Assistant Professor of Law and Society in the Political Science Department of John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY); and Angela Jones, Associate Professor of Sociology at Farmingdale State College, SUNY.
by Scott Rice -
SGN Contributing Writer
Is marriage what we should have been fighting for all this time? That's the lame duck question that prompts the central ideas in Queer Activism After Marriage Equality (QAAME), but that question isn't the central message behind its call to action. The editors of and contributors to QAAME want nothing less than to change the bedrock goals and methods of queer activism. And they are looking forward.
The fight for marriage equality (and for military service for that matter) has always been suspect for me personally. One could argue that in Western civilization marriage is a marginally successful (or even failed) institution rooted in compulsory religion, the commodification of women, and the preservation of patriarchal power. A more contemporary critique would also question why the state is even involved in anyone's most intimate personal relationship in the first place.
That said, I need to come clean. I'm legally married in the state of Washington. My partner and I met on September 1, 1992. We have been in a committed relationship for 26 years. We obtained a civil union on March 1, 2012. On July 1, 2015 our civil union automatically became a marriage because we did not take action to opt out. So we're married. And we have three anniversaries.
My partner and I are cisgender white men. I am a writer, teacher and volunteer supervisor for a local non-profit organization, and my partner has been a supervisor with the same national purveyor of natural and specialty groceries for nearly 20 years. We own a home about 1/2 mile outside the city limits of Seattle, we have two cars and two dogs, and we generally take at least one nice vacation each year. The marriage contract provides a way to protect our assets and insure that we will be able to make important decisions for one another if needed. The marriage contract is important to us.
Let me share some examples of people who might feel differently. A black trans woman arrested for prostitution and sitting in a men's holding cell. A gay asylum seeker from a country where queer sex is punishable by death. An undocumented lesbian living in a detention center and separated from her child. A homeless non-binary white teenager who was kicked out of their house for being non-binary. These people probably wouldn't list marriage as their top immediate priority.
Here are some examples of queer people who do care about marriage: white cis couples in committed relationships who have assets to protect, e.g., those of us who look and act a lot like breeders. I'm being a bit hyperbolic and a lot sarcastic here to make a point, so bear with me.
QAAME, inspired by the 2016 conference 'After Marriage: The Future of LGBTQ Politics and Scholarship,' is a collection of edited transcripts of selected conference sessions, academic essays, international case studies, and interviews with activists. The collection is edited by three academics and social activists, Joseph Nicholas DeFilippis, Assistant Professor of Social Work at Seattle University; Michael W. Yarbrough, Assistant Professor of Law and Society in the Political Science Department of John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY); and Angela Jones, Associate Professor of Sociology at Farmingdale State College, SUNY.
Some of the essays are intellectually thick and come off as stridently academic (if it walks like a duck&) like Chriss V. Sneed's essay 'Ga(y)tekeeping identity, citizenship, and claims to justice.' Others read more like personal essays by really smart and well-read writers like 'Putting the T back in LGBTQ?' by Courtenay W. Daum. Defilippis's essay 'A new queer liberation movement: and its targets of influence, mobilization, and benefits' is the centerpiece of the collection and reads easily in spite of the complicated ideas presented. The interview and panel discussion transcripts are especially engaging, and DeFilippis's introduction is like a tidy history lesson on post-epidemic queer culture. To be clear, you should read this book.
Don't get me wrong. This is a challenging collection. It's intellectually challenging, but it's also ideologically challenging. We, the part of the queer community that thought we were finished with activism after we got the right to military service and matrimonial bliss, have our drive to assimilate (and our privilege to do so) challenged at every turn. This group of writers consider themselves unapologetic radicals who hope to upend queer activism and make it even queerer (the word 'queerer' comes from the collection, but I intend to use it every chance I get from now on).
QAAME posits that the fight for marriage equality was planned, led, and funded by white, cis and middle-class people, mostly men. In the preface the three editors write, 'Obergefell (Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruling that same sex couples have the right to marry) did not foster economic justice; it did not address poverty; it did not address racist and heterosexist policing; it did not address a bigoted immigration system; it did not address a broken health care system; it did not address systemic violence and any of the other ominous issues facing queer and trans people that were ignored by the marriage equality movement. It did not even provide legal protections for most LGBTQ families.'
On June 26, 2015, not everyone was celebrating.
Another centerpiece of the collection is the concept of the Gay Rights Movement (GRM) vs. the Queer Liberation Movement (QLM). The GRM, in the parlance of the collection, is the established and whiter movement that uses its formidable financial resources to advocate, litigate, and lobby for equality. They aren't interested in changing the institutions as much as they want equal access to those institutions. The GRM has accomplished a lot by focusing on marriage, military service, hate crime laws, and non-discrimination laws and policy - items that will initially impact white upper and middle-class queer people and then presumably trickle down to everybody else. According to DeFilippis, 'The GRM has frequently been accused of inaccurately assuming that policies which help middle-class white people will 'trickle down' and also benefit LGBT people of color or poor people.'
The QLM has a different agenda. They are radical, youthful, and full of color, and they are interested in changing the institutions that exclude not only gay and lesbian people, but other identities such as race, class, gender, and national status. They believe that activism must start by benefiting those who need it most. Also according to DeFilippis, 'The QLM organizations employ a version of the trickle up social justice, in which benefit is conferred first to those in most need of it.'
If we can ensure that the black trans woman is treated justly by the criminal justice system (or never comes in contact with it), if we can ensure that the gay asylee is safe and gets the resources he needs, if we can reunite the undocumented lesbian with her child and welcome her into our community, if we can ensure that queer teen who gets rejected by their family of origin has a home, and if we can connect all of these discrete identities to housing, education, health care, and employment, the likelihood of this making our community stronger seems obvious.
Sometimes in a free society we have to read things that are hard. QAAME is not light reading, but it is important reading about how queer people can keep moving forward, keep working toward a more just and equitable community for all queer people, not just white cis guys like me.
QAAME is a collection of queer voices of queer people of queer color, and they are speaking powerfully to white people. We as white queer people need to do three things. First, we need to listen when people of color tell us their stories and identify their priorities. Second, we need to believe them. Third, we need to act on that information. In fact, white straight people ought to do the same three things.
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