Debate: Should the Queer Movement Break Up?

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Gay Protest

This is a short debate written for Craccum Magazine of the University of Auckland published on 25 August, 2014. The piece is written to satisfy the format of a debate, and do not completely reflect my current views. I argued for the Affirmative in the motion, and Tessa Naden, the Queer Rights Officer of AUSA of 2015 argued for the Negative.

The Motion is “This House Believes It Is Time For The LGBTI Movement To Break Up”

Affirmative. Let us get one thing clear: to say the LGBTIA movement should break up is not the same as saying there are no more gains to be made for LGBTIA people. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is to say that each identity is better at advancing those gains for themselves if they were to pursue them separately.

When you conflate all of these diverse groups into one movement, you risk the dominant narratives appropriating what is already scarce political capital at the expense of others.

While we would like to think that we are one happy family all pursuing the amorphous goal of “equality”, each group is now speaking irreconcilable interpretations on what equality entails. While the marriage of these groups catalysed from facing the same oppression from society, now the challenges and solutions for each group are not just different, they have become antithetical to one another.

The best example of this is how you often hear people say that the T in “LGBTIA” is silent. Despite the ever expanding alphabet soup, the views of the minority within the minority will never be adequately represented in such a crude and increasingly arbitrary union. When society now thinks about “LGBTIA issues” they think “marriage equality”, which to some in the queer community will be a norm for the relatively privileged.

It is not to say that marriage equality is not important, but it has crowded out voices and pacified the will to address other needs. While gay people focus on or celebrate marriage equality, for example, problems such as transgender issues are ignored. When it comes to your chances of being assaulted, harassed in the bathroom, or having your identity medicalised, there is a cis experience and a trans* experience. When it comes the increasing sexualisation within the queer movement, there is a sexual agenda and an asexual one.

The devil’s advocate would say – would it still not be better if these smaller movements partook is a broader movement? Together are we not bigger than the sum of its parts? There are four further reasons why I do not believe this is true. The first problem is that a joint movement hampers the ability for internal disagreements to legitimately criticise each other. If a transgender person criticises the lack of focus on trans* issues, in a joint movement they are more likely to be perceived as being disloyal to and disabling the movement as a whole. The second reason is that a joint movement creates the perception that somehow we are all the same. Unfortunately there is still privilege within the LGBTIA movement and internal discrimination is better masked in a catch-all movement under the banner of “equality”. It is regrettable that often gay and lesbian people can be quite dismissive of the transgender experience because of their passing privilege. The third reason is how more dominant groups will be able to control the resources within the movement, and the real harm is that this creates the illusion of progress for all LGBTIA people when many from within the group continue to be shut out. Finally, collaborative gain will only hold true to the extent that the LGBTIA movement continues to resist the same structures that have once oppressed it. Crudely put, being gay, bisexual and lesbian is becoming increasingly accepted, and they risk being co-opted into the same social institutions that can be used to oppress the other minorities such that are  left behind.

It is true that there is no physical ‘thing’ as the LGBTIA movement. However, it is an idea, a powerful institution of how people discursively address concerns affecting queer people. We may think we love each other, but we have fallen in love with an idea. It is not anyone’s fault, we are just at different stages looking for different things. We must recognise that the movement is not an actor of love–it is an actor of power. Breaking up will be hard, but in the end it will make us better and stronger.

– Max Lin

Negative. From the very beginning of the modern LGBTI movement, we, as a set of letters, have stuck together. At the heart of Stonewall were trans* women. On the other hand, it is clear that the gains made by the movement have not been equal for everybody. Being queer does not exclude someone from having any other identities – the queer movement has still made most of its gains for homosexual people, particularly white male homosexuals, who dominate most coverage of the issues and representation in the media. But does this mean we should break up? I believe that that would be counterproductive; the gains we have made, we have made together. But that does not mean the queer movement should not address its issues. While it is not as bad as it was in the 1970s, it was not that long ago that cis women were forming breakaway organisations from mainstream gay movements, as they felt women’s concerns were being ignored and that sexism was rife within the mainstream movement – not something uncommon in many social movements, such as the unions and the left in general. In addition, much of the modern LGBTI movement has focused primarily on marriage equality, to the exclusion of all other issues – including trans* issues, economic issues affecting queer people, and the way the gains of the movement have been divided. The focus on an issue that primarily benefits a certain set of people and does not fundamentally alter the underlying structures of heteronormativity has meant leaving behind many in our community.

 While I freely acknowledge that the LGBTI movement has failed many members of that movement, it is through coming together in the first place that we have been able to achieve the gains of anti-discrimination laws, marriage equality, and even the simple legalisation of sex that came for many members of our community with homosexual law reform. When the queer community sticks together, we can achieve fantastic things, and as a community, we are stronger united than we are divided. But now, it is time to focus our energies on those left behind by our movement, and recognise our own internal diversity and value it. I will freely admit that in the past, mainstream queer organisations have failed women in our movement – and that feminist cis women in our movement have failed trans* women. Our movement often fails those who are of colour. But we as the queer community are at our best when we come together – for we have far more in common as a community than not, and the root of our collective issues is the same. We should not forget that we made those gains together – and that is why the LGBTI movement should not split to pursue our own individual issues. We are stronger together, and together we are stronger than we have ever been.

– Tessa Naden

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