Archive for December, 2008

Coalitions and gestures

December 18, 2008

Upon further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that my opinion on the Warren debacle has very deep resonance in my daily political struggle. You can see from my previous posts that I’m a proponent of marriage equality and LGBTQ rights broadly defined; I’m also rabidly pro-choice and for the full and equal inclusion of women into society. Why, then, am I nonplussed by Warren’s prominent role in the inauguration? Why does his public role as someone who fights against these deeply held beliefs of mine not infuriate me?

It comes down to a question I’ve been asking myself for a while: if a candidate came along who was perfect on economic and social justice issues — purely and strongly anti-poverty, socialist even, for universal health care, against NAFTA/CAFTA, pro-labor, held a nuanced and realistic view of globalization and its effects on labor throughout the world (not just the US), against the death penalty, for prison abolition, and anything else that proved his/her commitment to social justice — but was pro-life, what would I do? What if the candidate were anti-gay? How do I reconcile these competing claims on my political philosophy? What are my priorities?

I have no problem voting for tepidly pro-gay or even anti-LGBTQ candidates. I’ve had to, simply because there aren’t many queer freedom fighters out there running for office. I’ve voted for candidates who voice their personal opposition to abortion on several occasions. Within our current system, with Democrats firmly ensconced in the liberal economic and social side of the divide, I may never confront the situation I described above. But if I did, what would the deal breaker be?

I’m inclined to vote for the candidate who is against my social issue concerns but in favor of my broader economic and social justice concerns. I reserve the right to renege if the candidate could conceivably quarantine me for my homo-citude or blanketly outlaw abortion. But the principle holds: social positions are not deal-breakers for me.

I take my cue from the coalition politics I see in Baltimore. Working for social justice here means working with the church. (And, lest I’m accused of not being specific, this means the Christian church and it includes white churches along with black churches, though because Baltimore is 65+% black, it mostly means the latter). There’s no way around it. Some of the most vocal progressive voices in this city hold social positions I find abhorrent, but I can’t ignore them or refuse to work with them because they are the change agents in the community. And, at the end of the day, I have nothing but respect for the work they do. They fight poverty and illness and addiction and homelessness and joblessness and despair everyday. Then, sometimes they go to their churches and rail against abortion and call me sinful. I can critique this, I can protest it, I can decry it all I’d like, but when I’m interested in building community, I have to emphasize our common goals.

Sometimes, you form alliances on issues, not ideological purity.

Am I allowed to not care?

December 18, 2008

I have absolutely no outrage in me for the selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at Obama’s inaugural. Am I just dead inside? I honestly just don’t give a shit.

1) I’m unsurprised. Obama didn’t campaign as a pro-gay candidate and I can’t imagine he’ll govern in a way that will be as pro-gay or as pro-woman as I’d like.

2) The selection has no practical effect on  women’s rights or gay rights. As a symbol, it kind of sucks, but you win some you lose some with presidential panders. If the rest of Obama’s presidency were spent pandering like this to the religious right, offering them symbolic speaking roles or meeting with them when they whine, while measurably improving the status quo for LGBT/women’s rights, I’m set. Although I need to be convinced that he will govern as an ally, I won’t let symbolic actions make the decision for me before he’s in office. The religious right is famously placated by symbolic actions to the detriment of their policy goals (see: What’s the Matter with Kansas and the Bush administration). This won’t be me.

3) I feel silly about not being able to even muster up a smidgen of righteous indignation. I don’t think it’s a brilliant political move, I don’t think it’s an aisle-crossing maneuver, I don’t even think he gets off because the decision was made by a Congressional committee. I just don’t see why it matters. Exhibit 598 in why I’m unsuited for politics.

bleeding and leading

December 16, 2008

Local news does nothing but depress.

Man Fatally Shot in Woodmere.  Two Men Charged in Armed Robbery.  City Police Identify Fatal Stabbing Victim.  Felon Sentenced for Possessing a Firearm.  Man’s Legs Severed as He Tries to Board Train. Woman, 2 Students Fight with School’s Police Office.  Murder Charge for Man.

This is all the news fit to print in today’s Baltimore Sun’s Baltimore City news feed. I subscribe looking for politics, for action, for hope… and I get murder and maiming and life sentences. Well, to be fair, President-elect Obama’s inaugural stop in B-more got a paragraph.

This Sunday’s big news was a five-page-long summary of everything that had gone wrong to lead to a woman’s fatal slashing on a busy Baltimore Street, in front of the courthouse, where her ex-husband had finally been ordered to stay away. The pictures got to me. She was so beautiful.

He was a community activist. The police commander had a relationship with him. They wanted to bring him in on his own terms. She relied on her cousin, texting her whereabouts every five minutes, until she didn’t. Until she was murdered.

These stories, the little tragedies heaped on us by our daily news… I wish they could unite us like the shrines to the fallen that pepper the city. I wish the man’s murder outside my door and the eight loud shots that preceded it could be spoken of in a way that inspired thoughts of shared humanity. But I know the reason the stories are printed like they are: fear and voyeurism. Fear and hate. Fear and thanks. Thanks that it wasn’t us.

This is why, nearly 4 years later, the second Google search result for “Baltimore Sun Murder” is the sad death of Linda Trinh, 21, who had been a student at Hopkins. With the 1200 or so murders since then, this is the one that persists. The other stories, I suppose, are expendable. They show up in news feeds and are gone the next day. They’re the background noise in a violent city.

What do we know about Prop 8?

December 14, 2008

But the guiding maxim of this entire political experience surrounding LGBT rights — all rights of minorities — is power isn’t something that is easily given; it’s something that has to be taken. The political consultants that advised No on 8 to wear wedding rings loosely instead of tattooing it to its fingers — well, it speaks from a rather entitled mountain peak, a place where people aren’t accustomed to losing the most basic of liberties through the most democratic avenues.

I’m beyond tired of the Monday morning quarterbacking that has decided that the No on Prop 8 campaign should have known better or somehow didn’t work hard enough to save marriage rights in California. And this quote from Sylvia really hits me in the gut for one specific reason: gay people ARE accustomed to losing the most basic of liberties through the most democratic avenues. We have lost every state fight for marriage. Every single one. We lost the legislative battle on ENDA (even though the LG&Bs capitulated to make the law more ‘palatable’). We didn’t lose because we felt somehow entitled, we lost because we’re unaccustomed to winning.

That’s one of the reasons California was so hard. We were leading in the polls before the campaign started. It caught everyone by surprise. I know that I looked at the early polling and decided to cut back my contributions because I thought Obama needed my money more. And this is coming from someone who rushed to CA to get married in August because I was concerned the right wouldn’t be there after November. No on Prop 8 never recovered from optimism.

Moreover, it could not compete with the energy that was being sapped to the Obama camp. Even in CA, which was as safe a Democratic state as they come, you saw dedicated queer activists leaving for Nevada to campaign in a state that went for Obama by 12.4 points rather than campaign against Prop 8. I phonebanked for Obama out of Maryland, but I didn’t work to save my own marriage. If I or any other activists had known the final outcome, would we have made different decisions?

But this doesn’t mean the No on Prop 8 campaign didn’t work hard. That it didn’t fight. That it sat back and rested. I think we can learn lessons from the loss — maybe targeted grassroots organizing does work for initiative campaigns, maybe straight people are able to see happy gay couples and feel sympathetic rather than disgusted. But we didn’t know that at the time. We have never won a campaign for marriage rights. We don’t know what victory looks like. We will not know whether these tactics would have worked until we use them and we win. Just like we’ll never know whether the Briggs Initiative would have passed if it had only targeted queer teachers instead of also targeting straight people who supported gay rights.

What we have learned from the campaign is that lies work. That people are scared that their own ‘right’ to discriminate will be taken away. We learned that schools and churches and cute little kids are powerful images that homophobes can use to excuse their bigotry. That when a politician’s position is confusing — like Obama’s position on marriage — it can be twisted by enemies and used to sway constituents away from justice.

We will never know what would have happened if Obama had forcefully opposed Prop 8. We will never know what would have happened if Obama had announced support for gay marriage.

Finally, I am really beginning to resent the implication that gay people just haven’t fought long enough for our rights, that we’re n00bs and just need a few more trips around the block before we reach the promised land. Our activism has a history as diverse as we do. If you read this timeline of gay history you’ll see a familiar arch of victories and backlash spanning back to the 4th century. The start to the modern gay rights movement is usually placed in Germany, where arguments against Paragraph 175 were made by out homosexuals beginning in 1867 and where gay struggle begat an organized movement for gay emancipation in the 1920s. The first organized gay group in the US was founded in 1924.

I won’t accept the criticism that we didn’t fight hard enough, that we don’t know struggle, that we just need another generation. I won’t accept it because it’s just not true.