On Monday, Oct. 6, the Supreme Court declined to review cases
concerning bans on gay marriage brought by five states. By doing so, the
justices effectively allowed the decisions of lower federal courts, which
struck down the bans, to stand, tacitly demonstrating the court’s apparent support
for marriage equality.
The decision will quite probably lead to the dissolution of
similar bans in six other states currently under consideration by the federal
court system, bringing the total number of states with legalized gay marriage
to 30 within weeks.
But in the midst of celebration, it is important to question
why marriage equality continues to act as the linchpin of the popular gay
rights movement, especially when LGBTQ people still suffer from
life-threatening and destabilizing forms of both institutional and social oppression.
By prioritizing marriage, the gay rights movement obscures large portions of
the LGBTQ community whose suffering is not tied to marriage equality.
This singular focus on marriage siphons valuable resources,
specifically money and labor,
away from the vital, on-the-ground work that provides direct relief to at-risk members
of the LGBTQ community. Many of the most vulnerable are LGBTQ youth under 21, who
compose between 40 and 60 percent of the 1.7 million homeless youth in
the United States. According to Advocates for Youth, over 50 percent of homeless LGBT youth have experienced
abuse at the hands of family members, and nearly 70 percent live on the
street due to familial rejection.
In contrast, opponents of California’s Proposition 8, which
amended the state constitution to restrict marriage to straight couples, raised
$43.4 million throughout 2008, $730,000 of which remained at the end of the
election season. What if that money, rather than funding advertising campaigns,
rallies and legal fees, had been spent on the homeless LGBTQ youth on the
streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento?
addition to providing shelter, meals and safety, that enormous sum could have
provided acutely needed health care to a population that is at enormous risk
for HIV infection, hate crimes and otherwise preventable medical conditions.
It could also have funded the continued education of homeless LGBTQ youth, many
of whom were forced to give up school and job training when they were expelled
from their homes and communities.
Why, then, was this money channeled into marriage equality rather
than financially supporting the life-threatening and ultimately preventable
predations that plague the marginalized communities of the next generation?
Unfortunately, racial prejudice continues to prevent the
largely white and wealthy gay establishment from fully committing itself to
issues that predominantly affect queers of color. With youth of color
65 percent of homeless LGBTQ populations, according
to the National Corporation of Anti-Violence Programs 2013 Hate Violence Report, there is little wonder why they are disregarded by the mainstream gay
movement, which ultimately seeks to advertise itself as a non-threatening,
relatable and ‘normative’ community.
This racialized mindset intersects with the gay
community’s underlying transphobia in extremely troubling ways. To a
disproportionate extent trans* people of color are at risk of violence due
to both their race and gender identity, composing nearly half of all victims of
hate-crime homicide, while also experiencing poverty at rates twice the
Trans* people also suffer from HIV at enormously
disproportionate rates in comparison to the rest of the LGBTQ community and simultaneously have the least access to expensive treatments. They
are also confronted with the viciously racist and transphobic realities of the
criminal justice system, as seen in the case of CeCe McDonald, a black trans
woman who was convicted of second-degree manslaughter after her white attacker
died during her attempts to defend herself.
While trans* activists like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox have
used their increased visibility to advocate for victims like CeCe, they come
from outside the traditional gay rights establishment.
It is not that the success of the marriage equality movement
has been entirely negative. On the contrary, it has brought awareness and, in
some cases, acceptance, of gays and lesbians into homes and governments across
the country, especially in regions that continue to intensely marginalize their
LGBTQ communities. Even members of the queer community who, like myself, see
marriage as a governmental intrusion that sanctions exclusive types of intimate
relationships, can recognize this.
But which members
of the LGBTQ community does the movement prioritize, and at whose expense? Instead of pouring
millions of dollars into ballot initiatives and publicity campaigns, why not
put that money into work that supports those most at risk of harm, the members
of our community on whom we are relying to act as the foundation for our
collective future? Without that explicit and public support, we risk simply re-appropriating
the oppressive mechanisms that first marginalized the LGBTQ community.
The growing societal acceptance that the marriage equality
movement has prompted will ultimately fail if it continues to obscure and
ignore the struggles of its most marginalized members.
Cole Clark PO ’16 is a history major from Pebble Beach, Ca., whose passions include Muslim counter-cultures, writing pedagogy and comprehensive immigration reform.