Columns: Sold Out

Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Image by Stuart Miles, courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

In “Under the Bus” I discussed the way in which politicians are all too willing to sacrifice the rights of minority groups (especially already-marginalized ones like sex workers) in order to broker some political deal.  When the stakes are extremely high, this can perhaps be understood if not forgiven; at least the sacrifice of the few won some important victory for the many.  But the ugly truth about the modern gay rights movement is that it now regularly throws marginalized subgroups under the bus to win minor victories for the majority.  As one activist recently pointed out on Twitter, “More LGBT people will get jailed under anti-#prostitution laws than will ever want to marry. Gay Inc tells them: Go rot.”  I think it’s safe to say the same thing about the military: more LGBT people (especially transgenders) are sex workers than soldiers, but one would never know it from the comparative amount of noise mainstream gay activists make about the issue.  Furthermore, I’ve seen others complain that “Gay, Inc” is trying to ignore HIV patients and to cut the “T” off of “LGBT”.  The reason for all of this bus-throwing is the same; as I explained in “Chauvinism”,

…Gay rights was for a very long time an uphill battle, especially in the pathologically-prudish United States.  Yet in the past few years, opposition to the cause has quickly withered and died with astonishing speed…If one insists that the cause of opposition to gay rights is “homophobia”, in other words a particular aversion to homosexuals, the rapid turn of the tide makes no sense whatsoever.  But when one realizes that the same hatred is dispensed to anyone who is outside the norm, the reason for the change becomes clear…While gay people were chanting “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”, progress was achingly slow.  But once they started to stress how little different they were from heterosexuals – “Look, we even want to get married and form families like you do, see?” – opposition to granting them rights rapidly dissolved.  Once the majority came to see gay people as sufficiently “normal”, their chauvinism was no longer an issue…

Because sex workers and transgenders are more easily “othered” than nice, “normal” gay folks who want to live in the suburbs, join the country club and adopt kids, our concerns had to be crammed back into the closet lest we upset the status quo – despite the fact that drag and transgender sex workers were the chief agitators at the Stonewall riots, the birth of the gay rights movement.  As Wikipedia explains,

The Stonewall Inn…was known to be popular with the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community:  drag queens, representatives of a newly self-aware transgender community, effeminate young men, male prostitutes, and homeless youth.  Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn…Tensions…erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later.  Within weeks, [Greenwich] Village residents quickly organized into activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested…Within six months, two gay activist organizations were formed in New York…and three newspapers were established to promote rights…Within a few years, gay rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world.  On June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place…commemorating the anniversary of the riots.  Similar marches were organized in other cities.  Today, Gay Pride events are held annually throughout the world toward the end of June…

San Francisco quickly became a center of the gay rights movement, and the San Francisco pride parade the largest and most elaborate gay community event in North America (it became “lesbian and gay” in 1981 and “LGBT” in 1995).  Attendance is now estimated at over a million people each year, and in 1997 the parade began to attract lucrative corporate sponsorship as gay rights became a mainstream issue.  The parade, and gay rights in general, has become big business, and mainstream gays (the term “queer” hardly seems appropriate any longer) now seem to think of those of us who challenge the establishment as crazy relatives to be shut in the attic and Not Talked About.  So I wasn’t too surprised to see this Glenn Greenwald column last weekend:

News reports yesterday indicated that Bradley Manning, widely known to be gay, had been selected to be one of the Grand Marshals of the annual San Francisco gay pride parade, named by the LGBT Pride Celebration Committee.  When the predictable backlash instantly ensued, the president of the Board of SF Pride, Lisa L Williams, quickly capitulated, issuing a cowardly, imperious statement that has to be read to be believed.  Williams proclaimed that “Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year’s San Francisco Pride celebration” and termed his selection “a mistake”.  She blamed it all on a “staff person” who prematurely made the announcement based on a preliminary vote, and she assures us all that the culprit “has been disciplined”: disciplined.  She then accuses Manning of “actions which placed in harms way [sic] the lives of our men and women in uniform”:  a substance-free falsehood originally spread by top US military officials which has since been decisively and extensively debunked, even by some government officials (indeed, it’s the US government itself, not Manning, that is guilty of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”). And then, in my favorite part of her statement, Williams decreed to all organization members that “even the hint of support” for Manning’s actions – even the hint – “will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride”.  Will not be tolerated.

Greenwald enumerates at length the brazen evils committed by the various aforementioned corporate sponsors, but for our purposes it’s this bit that’s important:

…at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, once an iconic symbol of cultural dissent and disregard for stifling pieties, nothing can happen that might offend AT&T and the Bank of America.  The minute something even a bit deviant takes place…even the SF Gay Pride Parade must scamper, capitulate, apologize, and take an oath of fealty to their orthodoxies (we adore the military, the state, and your laws).  And, as usual, the largest corporate factions are completely exempt from the strictures and standards applied to the marginalized and powerless.  Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata…illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveryors of the…worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome…when I wrote several weeks ago about the remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality, I noted that this development is less significant than it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed.  If anything, it bolsters those power structures because it completely and harmlessly assimilates a previously excluded group into existing institutions and thus incentivizes them to accommodate those institutions and adopt their mindset…

In short, sex workers and those members of the queer community who either can’t or won’t be assimilated into the fascist Borg can forget about getting any help or support from mainstream gay organizations, because it won’t be forthcoming.  Over two years ago I wrote, “Sex worker advocates need to concentrate on OUR rights and stop wasting our time, money and energy on…causes…[with] millions of dollars, scores of celebrity advocates, hundreds of legislators and many thousands of low-level activists behind them…”  That’s even more true now that our former allies have sold us down the river; like those outcasts of 44 years past, we need to show the Powers That Be that we will no longer tolerate institutionalized persecution merely because we make loudmouthed, pearl-clutching prudes uncomfortable.

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