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Social Movements: At What Point Do We Splinter? The Case of Queer Kids of Queer Parents Against Gay Marriage

October 14, 2009

The wonderful Words and Steel brought this article to my attention, and naturally, being titled “Queer Kids of Queer parents Against Gay Marriage”, it caught my eye. It’s quite a lengthy read, but if you can muster up the time, it’s well worth it.

The argument of Queer Kids of Queer Parents Against Gay Marriage (henceforth referred to as, erm, QKQPAGM) can be broken down as follows:

1. Marriage itself is an institution used to consolidate privilege.

2. The Gay Marriage Agenda promotes the idea that by acquiring equal civil rights, the gay movement will effectively be de-politicised and escape from the public sphere into the myth of ‘domestic bliss’.

3. Gay marriage “obscures the many structural, social, and economic forces that break families apart and take people away from their loved ones.”

4. The Gay Movement should align with immigrant families and those excluded from the law of the privileged.

5. “We would like to see our queer community recognize marriage rights as a short-term solution to the larger problem of the government’s disregard for the many family structures that exist. As queers, we need to take an active role in exposing and fighting the deeper sources of this problem. We won’t let the government decide what does and does not constitute a family.”

5. The Gay Movement’s articulation of the gay marriage issue is problematic: for example, it focuses on inclusion of two-person partnerships in an exclusive healthcare system, rather than rejecting this sytem with a belief that health care should be universal.

Overall, it’s an interesting argument. In principle, it is fantastic. The gay movement has definitely been monopolised by this particular agenda– a fight for equal rights– and this does absolutely gloss over (a) the structural inequalities and mechanisms of exclusion that permiate these laws, and (b) the diversity of needs and issues that are important to the movement itself, particularly the minorities within the gay movement, including queer people of colour, immigrant queers, and low-income queers.

However, QKQPAGM splintering, however justified, is problematic when in reality, there is a big fat door that is still shut to queer people, which has continued to keep them from being treated as equal members of society. Since the gay movement has still not wont he battle, is this the right time to be abandoning what could potentially be a step forward? Maybe QKQPAGM would be better off working towards this flawed benchmark of ‘equality’ before pushing from within to illustrate its hypocrisy. After all, yes, there are many reasons that tear people apart beyond the institution of marriage, but recognising gay marriage can go a long way to keep at least some people together. What comes to mind instantly are gay couples where one may be an immigrant, being otherwise torn apart by an institution that does not recognise their partnership.

I’m always wary of movements that splinter off and attempt to crush a system  without first being involved in that sytem. Is that the best way to achieve social change? In an ideal world, the move towards the recognition of gay equality could allow the gay movement more say in advocating for the other marginalised groups. In practice, I can already feel that the radical politics associated with queer history in the Western world being coopted and de-politicsed by the emergence of the affluent, rich, white gay man who has grown up relatively oppression-free, with little association and solidarity with those who remain marginalised by the capitalist system.

But hey, they may completely de-politicse the struggle, but at least they make funny videos.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. giuseppecaruso permalink
    October 14, 2009 12:54 pm

    hey you say “I’m always wary of movements that splinter off and attempt to crush a system without first being involved in that sytem. Is that the best way to achieve social change? In an ideal world, the move towards the recognition of gay equality could allow the gay movement more say in advocating for the other marginalised groups. In practice, I can already feel that the radical politics associated with queer history in the Western world being coopted and de-politicsed by the emergence of the affluent, rich, white gay man who has grown up relatively oppression-free, with little association and solidarity with those who remain marginalised by the capitalist system.”

    I find this so dense and full of implications that i hope you will have time to expand on this… social movements being something i’m very curious about…

  2. empressmuhammad permalink*
    October 14, 2009 1:05 pm

    What I mean to say is that in theory, the move towards legal recognition of gay marraige is more than just legality. Over time, there will be a move towards proper equality, or at the very l;east, equality for an understanding of gay that will undoubtedly be upper-middle class white gay men. This could potentially lead to proper advocacy in the longer term, case in point: Obama– where would he be if civil rights was never put into legal practice. He wouldn’t be president, that’s for sure. So there is a certain level of power that is achieved in a society (here, the US) that operates on laws– because these laws mean power.

    The downside is what I’d like to call the Condoleeza Rice syndomre (CRS). CRS happens when a member of a previously marginalised group acquires equal rights under the law and then turns its back on it’s brothers, sisters, and other marginalised communities. I can definitely see that becoming the case with the gay movement– already you are seeing very powerful white, rich gay men in positions of power who advocate free market principles that ultimately further hurt the marginalised, the poor, the immigrants, and generally the excluded. So there is definitely a potential for CRS happening in the gay movement, the illusion of equality for that specific marginalised identity (‘gay identity’) forgetting the exclusion of other marginalised identities.

    The trick, however, in my view, is not to call for the abolition of the system while outside of it, but rather to slowly work within the system itself. Sure, many will undoubtedly be coopted, but there will be some Obamas in the gay movement at some point, one can hope, that would not forget their past and work towards a better future for others.

    Hope that clarifies a bit?

    • giuseppecaruso permalink
      October 14, 2009 1:23 pm

      yes this is very useful to follow your thought process about this pretty complex issue. I guess what i’m wondering (not only about what you write but in general when trying to understand social movement dynamics) is 1) to what extent solidarity among marginalised people bridges particular identities and 2) what is the stratification of identity that makes someone a “gay” in certain circumstances (of struggle?) and a “white” gay in others and a white “middle-class” gay in others still.

      In other words, the first question is about if, why, and how say “women”, “blaks”, and “gays” do share a cause; whereas the second question has more to do with the articulation or even instrumental (or political?) use of aspects of one’s identity in changing political and social contexts.

      Ok now i’ll stop it with this, i promise: it’s just that i can’t help it, it just comes out so natural 🙂 oh well…

      • snugglebus permalink*
        October 14, 2009 2:12 pm

        giuseppe it seems to me you are sharing an error with the person who wrote the Queer Kids article.

        your first question about to what extent ‘women’, ‘blacks’ and ‘gays’ all share a common cause, the mistake you make is trying to dig for some kind of response grounded in true reading of the . the answer is of course they share a common cause in so far as a narrative can be created that shows how this might be so.

        where i think this mistake is common with the person who wrote it is that i think they too seem neglect this distinction. gay marriage is a brute fact of equality. how gay marriage, and marriage more generally is narrativised (maybe i should be using the word symbolised) is an open question which itself should be a cause for struggle. its probably just if not more important, and just if not more complex though.

  3. giuseppecaruso permalink
    October 14, 2009 2:25 pm

    now i’m totally blown away, this is very sophisticated thinking (and writing!) and indeed i see your point. Not only that, i find myself in agreement with a lot of what you say.

    There is just one thing that leaves me uncertain: your use of narrativity (and symbolization). Their role is indeed important but i would probably consider taking into account other practices of bridging, some trans-personal, others trans-cultural, others still political. When all these are taken together with the narratives you (i think) are referring to, a field is created, and constantly displaced and reformulated, of alliances or indeed “associations”.

    But probably it was in your next thought to mention something more about the nature of those processes that you call narrative, some of which might interesect some of the things i’m bringing out… maybe…

  4. Words and Steel permalink
    October 14, 2009 6:40 pm

    darling- thanks for this post, and glad I was able to share it with you.

    While I think your critiques are quite valid, I also think that Queer Kids are working on a fundamentally different set of assumptions than you:

    first, that the issue of gay marriage is not simply a ‘matter of brute equality’ as you put it, but that marriage as an institution, period, is actually implicated in the continuing disenfranchisement of communities of color. Their argument (and mine, actually) is that it is fundamentally wrong to mobilizefor institutional recognition for policies and ‘rights’ (ie gay marriage, repeal of don’t ask don’t tell) that are fundamentally anti-POC, anti-poor, and that bring about death to people in the global South. I don’t think they are forgetting the intersections of race x class x sexuality x gender as you say; rather, they are arguing that it is the mainstream gay rights movement that has failed to see the implications of their campaigns for negatively affecting the lives of POC, queer or straight.

    Second, on the question of working within the system vs. opting out. Many of the Queer Kids are community organizers– working with queer of color youth, domestic violence survivors, prison abolition campaigns, and educational initiatives. They are hardly just sitting around making complaints while doing nothing. The projects they are involved in, however, fall under the radar of what’s considered ‘real politics’, because it is community-based and does not necessarily rely on mainstream avenues of “assistance” (the police force, NGOs and development groups, etc). They are building new models of working from the ground up– it’s not just about ‘working within the system’ but changing the system entirely.

  5. snugglebus permalink*
    October 15, 2009 5:49 pm

    giuseppe you flatter me…and you also push me to the limits of my thinking on this issue to be honest!

    alliances/associations/networks/assemblages and how to bridge differences…huge question, deserves a proper answer (which I can’t give)…my only contribution right now would be that I think maybe as we more towards the level of ‘movements’ away from contigent political questions where alliances are often obvious, this is when narratives and symbolisation or whatever become integral…i can’t (or won’t!) offer you more than this, right now! i hope to explore these things a bit more in a post soon though.

    Words and Steel, I don’t know if I took away from the article the same message you put across (that it “is actually implicated in the continuing disenfranchisement of people of colour”) but maybe I didn’t give it a close enough reading…i don’t really understand why this would be though?

    I appreciate there are a lot of political dimensions to issues surrounding gay marriage, but at its heart there is something simple there: gay people are excluded from a legal institution that conveys certain rights and entitlements. now you could argue that marriage should not convey those rights and entitlements (and thereby exclude others from them).

    But to this I would give two political counter-arguments, and one of a different kind.

    First if you want to start arguing for the abolition of the instution of marriage do you not play directly into the hands of the right who already want to paint gays as wanting to undermine the American family etc.?

    Second, that while marriage exists and conveys the rights that it does, if gays are excluded from that it is clearly a “brute fact of equality” as I put it. So its a pretty big political calculation to make to say that you should withdraw from a campaign to equal access of these rights, and instead concentrate political energies on, say, looking to remove the institution of marriage as a legal entity, or as queer kids almost seem to suggest, concentrate on more ‘important’ issues like nuclear disarmament, or health care. there is a clear political coalition behind equal rights to gay marriage. its a big thing to turn round and say, “hey guys, no I think we should just forget this…marriage is a racist, patriarchal institution which we want no part of”.

    Following from this, my final objection would be that I think you and queer kids both seem to neglect the symbolic dimension of this. campaigns for civil rights were still worthwhile even though just as fundamental an issue would be poverty…because apart from simple legal aspect…there is also a basic symbolic aspect – we are human beings and as such demand the same life-choices as everyone else if wish to exercise them. it is in some sense as simple as that, no?

    • October 16, 2009 6:00 pm

      these are good comments, snugglebus. Let me try and answer them as clearly as I can without getting too long-winded about (this is what I do, after all, for a living).

      First to make it clear, arguing for the abolition of marriage as a legal, federally recognized institution, which is what my position is, is not the same as recognizing the importance of the symbolic commitment of marriage as love between two consenting adults. So when I am ‘against marriage’, that is what I am talking about. You can have one without the other, that much is already obvious.

      On your first point, the very idea that LGBTQ folks “undermine the American family” is 1. not exclusive to queer people, and 2. precisely what the Queer Kids article is trying to point out. Historically and STILL IN THE PRESENT MOMENT any kind of ‘non-normative’ marriage partnership– interracial, same-sex, and even just hetero partnerships between two POC of the same race/ethnicity– was seen as deviant, as a risk to the “American family,” aka two white straight people with property. So it is not an exceptional rhetoric being used against queer people, though it is certainly the most audible at this moment.

      In claiming that we (LGBTQ folks, that is) are more capable of raising families if we are married, how are we collaborating with the continued racist practices of the state in determining which families receive protection and rights, and which do not? Are the children of queer families who don’t want marriage any less deserving of healthcare and educational protections? Are the children of single mothers, unwed hetero couples, poor couples without property, any less deserving of having their families ‘protected’ by the law? To claim that marriage is the only guarantor of family freedoms is to forget that by its very exclusionary mechanism, legalized marriage serves as a way to keep out many different kinds of people and families from receiving the basic things they need. How is it liberatory to want to be part of that system knowing every case you make for that an LGBTQ “married family with 2.5 kids and house” as the ideal family formation means you are deeming other lives less worthy of those very same protections?

      To be more concrete, think about this: the African American and Latino communities in particular have been targeted by the state as prime examples as fundamentally incapable of raising a ‘normal’ American family. If you’re based in the US (not sure if you are, sorry) you might remember vividly the campaigns of the 80s and 90s which featured crack babies, welfare queens, and drug slinging daddies as the social ills of society. The discourse of dysfunctional heterosexual POC communities was and continues to be used as fodder for the right to keep social programs (welfare, now universal health care) away from working class communities and POC. Today, it does not matter if a POC couple is straight and legally married, their rights as such are fundamentally not respected- in terms of family rights, right to visitation in hospital, etc.

      The mainstream LGBTQ campaigns, particularly in CA during and post passage of Prop 8, has continued the discourse of juxtaposing their functional families against those bad people of color who are all homophobic and who cannot raise children themselves. This is divisive, ignorant of the conditions in which many POC live, and also assumes that POC cannot possibly be queer as well. To base a campaign to receive rights from a government that has never fully granted to those that are non-white and non-propertied EVER, and second, to posit a kind of moral superiority as ‘proper’ caretakers to children in a way that non-married, non-white, non-propertied people can (not just POC, but other queer families, for example, that do not have 2 parents, picket fence, middle class income, etc). is a campaign ultimately based on securing rights for a small subsection of privileged queer folk at the expense of a larger POC community, and as I just said, of other queer people who do not want marriage to define their capacity to raise a family or to receive rights.

      That is all to say, no, it is not “as simple as that.” In building a concerted LGBTQ movement, we (and yes, i include myself in that category even if you seem to think I am not), there is much more to consider than a simple yes/no binary of ‘yes marriage is good, and if you don’t agree then you are anti-LGBTQ rights.’ If we’re talking about the basic aspects of marriage, what is it about legalized marriage (not the symoblic love thing) that is worth preserving? It’s protections for only a select few, its use by the federal and state government for removing or restricting vital programs from FAMILIES and communities that don’t fall under its definition of ‘real’ families? For every legally married gay couple I know, there are five more families– LGBTQ, POC, working class, or all of the above– whose lives are still imperiled whether or not they are legally married. Having universal legalized marriage will not fix the underlying structural issues which maintain its exclusionary status as guarantor of supposed ‘rights.’

      I realize this is a bit rambly. I suggest that if you seriously want to understand where my argument and that of the queer kids is based, that you look at the work and writings of activists and academics who have been talking about this for years, even before the most recent elections. Chandan Reddy has written articles for the journal Social Text that are relevant, Lisa Duggan has a short book called the Twilight of Equality and an article called “The New Homonormativity,” and there are other articles online I can point you to as well.

  6. snugglebus permalink*
    October 15, 2009 5:54 pm

    sorry to clarify that last paragraph, I was trying to say that just as you can (correctly) say, against the campaign for civil rights, that they are undermined by the continuing existence of economic inequality along racial lines, this neglects the fact that there is a clear symbolic value, beyond even the value of legal freedom to eat where you choose, study where you choose, marry who you choose etc.

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