Never Mind the State Violence, Let's Get Married!


During the month of June, everyone - including JPMorgan - gets excited about remembering the Stonewall Riots. In June 1969 poor/working class/queer/trans people (mostly of color) in Greenwich Village rioted against police harassment and brutality for days on end. Now, Pride Fests are everywhere, though many of these celebratory gatherings are notoriously far-removed from queer liberation struggles and co-opted through corporate sponsorship. Thus, it was not surprising when this year, police removed Audre Lorde Project and Northeast Two Spirit Society folks from the New York City Pride March. Nor was it surprising when they kicked the Trans March out of the Minneapolis Pride Festival. Liberation movements are always hard-pressed to stay one step ahead of co-optation, and ours are no different.

A letter of non-support for the addition of hate crimes legislation to New York's Gender Employment Non-Discrimination Act, authored by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Audre Lorde Project, Queers for Economic Justice, FIERCE and the Peter Cicchino Youth Project - all queer and trans organizations who orient their support around people of color and poor people - was entirely discounted by the monolithic, white, upper/middle-class mindset of the big-money gay rights organizations.

Increasing hate crimes penalties is the easy way out for the already co-opted "gay rights movement," serving to strengthen the prison industrial complex - already a violent actor in our daily lives. It lends sensationalized energy to the idea of "fighting hate," while ignoring the real systemic violence that breeds desperation and ignorance: health care disparities, economic exploitation, unaffordable housing and police brutality - these are where the real issues are.

It is clear that white, big-money gay rights organizations act without consent or accountability, forcing their privileged perspective on everyone else through state channels, which we usually call "imperialist." When we organize in our communities, for example, we (hopefully) consider the dynamics of our surroundings, the effects of our actions, and aim to always ask ourselves if we are acting in solidarity with and are accountable to our community. It is a simple matter of respect and consent. Again and again, the opinions of people most directly affected by these laws are ignored by financially-backed "gay rights" efforts.

The United States incarcerates more people proportionally than any other nation-state in the entire world. While 41 percent of incarcerated men are Black and Native Americans face an incarceration rate 38 percent higher than the national average, it does not mean that Black and native people commit more crimes; rather, it suggests that racist targeting, prosecutions and sentencing are the norm, not the exception. Similarly, because trans women/trans women of color are frequently profiled and falsely arrested, an estimated 30 percent of trans folks have been incarcerated at some point in their lives. Thus, because people of color, gender variant and poor people are disproportionately violated by the prison industrial complex, it is a queer issue!

Our most important struggles, in the eyes of the mainstream, are marriage equality and inclusion in the military. Can you feel the chains breaking? Are we really to be convinced that the State, the most violent actor in our intersecting oppressions as queer people, is something we want to be assimilated into? As trans liberationist Sylvia Rivera put it, in reference to Stonewall, "A lot of heads were bashed...people were hurt. But it didn't hurt their true feelings. They all came back for more and more. Nothing - that's when you could tell that nothing could stop us at that time or at any time in the future."

In general, we can move with ease into oppressive roles, particularly in our actions to challenge our own sites of oppression. While the mainstream's crusade for gay marriage, support of backward hate crimes legislation and equal opportunity to engage in imperialistic wars seem more obvious, disempowering someone can be as subtle as claiming they're overreacting to a situation directly impacting them (not you) or repeating something they've already said in a meeting space as if you didn't hear them. Sometimes activists hold conferences, benefits or actions in areas without considering the effects on local communities. One example of this is Ms. Magazine enthusiasts going on their annual cruise conference, disregarding rampant labor abuses aboard the ship and the huge quantities of pollutants it chucks into the ocean. Another is radicals using venues that have played a part in a given area's gentrification process, such as holding these events at universities that have no accountability to the communities they displace.

At the 2009 Bash Back! Queer liberation convergence in Chicago, a POC (People of Color) Caucus distributed "a list of concerns raised by individuals and discussed collectively for people of the White auxiliary to specifically address," including: "When planning conferences or doing anything, think about gentrification. [For example, have a] gentrification workshop while having gentrifying shows."

To conclude, we know that State violence against all oppressed and marginalized peoples is interconnected, and those interconnections have been made complex for a reason: to keep us divided. It is the condition of our struggles that even when we are bearing the brunt of repression in one light, we must be aware of whom we are connected to and how our movements can influence those whose bodies are connected to our own. Challenging white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, class, ableism, etc. within ourselves and our movements must be seen as the struggle, not as inhibitors to it. In this process, we need to practice consent, accountability, and act in concert to strengthen each other. When we're willing to put our energy into learning about what we don't understand, and when we have the guts to change our ways of thinking and doing and seeing the world, then we will realize that we have been missing part of the picture before. That's where the beauty in our strength lies.

"In a nation that prides itself on the room it's made at the front of the bus, while filing prison-bound buses every hour in every city. In a nation that thrives on prison labor like Alabama thrived on cotton. Yeah, Victoria Secret is a hundred percent cotton. So is IBM, Motorola, Chevron, Revlon, TWA, Eddie Bauer, Boeing, Microsoft, KMart, JC Penny's, and McDonalds--6 billion served are served by the myth that our flag is no longer sewn from a white sheet. That Wall Street doesn't drag bodies down its center the same way good ole' boys in Jasper, Texas tied James Byrd Jr. to the back of a truck. Our system is served by truth being locked up in a Senator's safe: that truth being that crime and poverty are crucial to the survival of any capitalist state..." (Andrea Gibson, "Prison-Industrial" from Yellowbird).

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