Wednesday, February 4 -- Monthly organizing meeting of the Gay Liberation Network. Come by and help us organize for our rights! 7 PM to 9 PM at the Berger Park Cultural Center, 6205 N. Sheridan Road (corner of Granville Avenue and Sheridan Road, Chicago, about 3 blocks east of the "Granville" stop on the Red Line el).
Friday, February 13 -- Gay Liberation Network on Chicago Access Network TV at 6:30 PM on cable Channel 21 in Chicago. Watch previous shows and other Gay Liberation Network videos here and here.
What Next for the LGBTQ Movement in Illinois?
We Need to Work on a Social Equality Agenda and Support Every Stripe of Our Rainbow Community
GLN permalink 11-21-2013
While most states still do not enjoy full legal equality, in Illinois we now have largely crossed that threshold and so face a crucial juncture in our movement.
Today our situation recalls that faced by the African American movement following the passage of the great civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s. Formal legal equality has been finally achieved, but entrenched social discrimination persists. Illegal discrimination is disguised by euphemism and deceit and is still abundantly harmful.
In 1968 Dr. King was tragically cut down as he was trying to lead his movement into the new era. Radical organizations like the Black Panther Party took up the torch and articulated the need to go beyond formal legal equality by addressing poverty, a racist justice system and persistent unequal access to jobs, education and health care. The job of King and his more radical colleagues remains unfinished. Racist discrimination today, shocking and undeniable, persists in almost every facet of American life.
LGBTQs of all races are at a similar juncture. Trans people face rampant employment and other discrimination and face open violence on our streets. LGBTQ youth suffer disproportionately from homelessness and suicide, their schools anything but LGBTQ-affirming and often outrightly hostile, and the programs for our seniors are meager at best in major urban areas and utterly lacking elsewhere.
In short, we have light-years to go. Nor will our enemies go away. Powerful forces like the Catholic leadership and evangelical Protestant churches will continue to block every pro-LGBTQ program in Illinois and re-double their efforts in surrounding states that lack even formal legal protections.
A minority within our community have from the start opposed working for equal marriage rights arguing that family life, whether traditional or non-traditional, has a conservatizing influence on people and draws them away from politics into private life. But these opponents have a mistaken notion of where the real threat to our movement lies now.
Yes, some people will drop out of our movement now, thinking that their work is done, just as some dropped out of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s after the achievement of formal legal equality. Sheer exhaustion after facing years of violent racist repression was one reason; the trauma and depression caused by King's assassination was another. But there was another reason some people retired from the struggle. It's embarrassing to talk about and therefore doesn't get the attention it deserves. But it is as pertinent to today's LGBTQ movement as it was to the civil rights movement then, and it can be expressed in one little, ugly word: class.
The LGBTQ community, like all minority groups, has a small number of rich people who use their wealth to have a disproportionately large effect on the political life of the community. Most boards of LGBTQ organizations and newspapers, as well as their executive directors, have six- and seven-figure incomes and are very politically-connected. These self-selected "leaders" share a political agenda that serves their own social and economic interests. Their drive to be "equal" is to be equal with others of their own class -- not to be truly equal with their maid, rent-boy or other employee. This is why it's accurate to call these organizations and their social networks "Gay, Inc."
Gay, Inc. is closely tied to the Democratic Party; in fact, it's such an intimate relationship that Gay, Inc. can be said to be a mere adjunct to the Democrats. But so is the leadership of labor, and so are many of the organizations that claim to advocate for all African Americans or women or immigrants. The top brass of these groups has its primary allegiance to the Democratic Party and that is why they are willing to sell measures billed as "reforms" -- pension "reform," education "reform, "immigration "reform," welfare "reform," etc. -- that throw masses of the people they claim to represent under the bus. They tell us: "Leave it to us, we'll get the job done, we'll service your needs, you just sit back and let it happen..."
We follow and believe in this strategy of "change" at our peril. The historic gains for civil rights -- for all groups of people -- have always come about thru masses of people forming their own organizations and acting on their own behalf -- not leaving it to Democratic politicians to do it for them. It is no accident that "representatives" in the General Assembly only got on board for marriage equality well after a majority of Illinoisans already did -- and only after threats of political retribution towards House Speaker Mike Madigan and his allies.
Over the past few decades, the dependence on Democratic politicians to protect past gains has produced tragic results: a severe erosion of abortion rights in state after state, no significant new pro-labor legislation since the 1935 Wagner Act, mass incarceration of African Americans, a "reform" immigration bill in Congress that makes Reagan's 1986 law look progressive by comparison, to name just a few. There has been growing income inequality for the past four decades under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, as most people in this country, including most LGBTs, have lived through a downward economic spiral of stagnant wages, disappearing living-wage jobs, and unmanageable debt. Even Business Week and the Wall Street Journal regularly quote wealthy financial industry execs worrying about the social and political impacts of growing income disparity... while they continue to line their own pockets.
Times of economic stagnation and crisis have also historically been times of increased bigotry. Ruling elites around the world use the time-honored technique of blaming minorities for their governments' and businesses' failure to provide decent living conditions for their citizens. While some gays in the U.S. may either ignore or adopt patronizing attitudes towards LGBTQs facing desperate situations in places like Russia, Honduras and Africa, they would do well to have the humility to realize that they may be seeing a hint of their own future, as the U.S. slowly slips from being the dominant economy in the world.
In an era of budget cuts, pension "reform" and other attacks on working class living standards, most LGBTQs will need to recognize that their erstwhile, self-selected "leaders," as well as the Democratic politicians we are urged to support, are ineffective at best, and hostile at worst. LGBTQs will need to make common cause with others if we are to preserve, let alone improve, our living standards. We will need to realize that while reforms like formal legal equality can be won, they can also be taken away. Moreover, reforms that cost real money -- massive youth jobs programs, free healthcare for all, free higher education, etc. -- can only be won with renewed determination and even greater effort during times of economic crisis.
And not only will greater effort be required, but a fundamentally different strategy than has prevailed in our community over the past few decades. We will need to reject a narrow "gay rights only" approach to winning justice, and instead make common cause with all people, gay and non-gay, who face discrimination and attacks. This is required not only to promote the internal strength of our rainbow LGBTQ community, but also to win the support we as LGBTQ people will need from others when the inevitable attempts to scapegoat us occur.
This means that we must embrace and actively promote real immigration reform to rapidly "legalize" undocumented immigrants, both within our LGBT community and outside it. We must actively involve ourselves in struggles against racism, such as racist police violence, whether the victims are LGBT or not. We must oppose the attempts to limit women's control over their own bodies thru restrictions on abortion, contraception and sex education. We must support efforts to stop the growing income disparities in our country, and the wars and military spending abroad that serve to unjustly control fates of other nations around the world.
In short, only by supporting the justice struggles of "other" movements, can we expect and deserve support from non-LGBTQs.
Many Democratic politicians and their hangers' on are patting themselves on the back for the recent win for equal marriage rights in Illinois. But with polls showing pro-equal rights Illinoisans far out-numbering opponents, it was the politicians who were among the last on board for the change.
So how did the victory really come about? This is important not just for setting the record straight, but for learning how we can make gains on other issues in the future.
Gay Liberation Network Treasurer Roger Fraser interviews GLN co-founder Andy Thayer. For more in-depth analysis, see also Thayer's guest column in Crain's Chicago Business.
The Long Road to Equal Marriage Rights in Illinois
a personal message from
GLN co-founder Andy Thayer
GLN permalink 11-12-2013
At a victory rally last Thursday night celebrating Illinois becoming the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage, I took the opportunity to announce from the stage my engagement to Aldo Pedro Hernandez.
Aldo and I actually decided to get married about a year and a half ago, after discussing it off and on for several months before then. I began thinking about it and discussing it with him due to some personal safety issues, particularly my trips to gay rights demonstrations in Russia, and a solidarity delegation to Honduras, but I also didn't want to do it until it became legal in Illinois.
The Gay Liberation Network, which I helped co-found 15 years ago, has been working on this issue for over a decade through sit-ins, arrests and other protests at the County Clerk's Office, in front of Holy Name Cathedral, and elsewhere. Early on, Michael Maltenfort and I unintentionally took a pair of felony arrests , and did a short internship at Cook County Jail as a result (I still feel really horrible for what we put his Mom through on that one!). Sometimes, especially in our annual February demonstrations, in the almost perennial rain, snow and the slush, it took a degree of stubbornness to keep at it.
Over the years, we took a lot of heat from some in our community for doing these actions, and from some, for focusing on the issue at all. This only accentuated a stubborn streak I've had since childhood. So I didn't want to run off to another state to get married, though I certainly understand those who did so and absolutely do not fault them for not waiting.
I'm very proud of the fact that over the years, by repeatedly raising and re-raising the issue, we helped make an unpopular issue a popular one. When we started this work, the percentage of those who favored equal marriage rights probably numbered in the single digits. By this past February, a clear majority of Illinoisan did, and we out-numbered our opponents by a nearly two-to-one margin.
But that still that wasn't enough. Even though the Democratic Party claimed to be our ally, in Illinois they just couldn't seem to be able to get it done, despite their overwhelming dominance of state government, especially the General Assembly. So I'm also proud of GLN being an early and ardent supporter of the big October 22 march on Springfield which helped put the issue back on the agenda for the Fall veto session. In particular, I'm proud of our beating up on our ostensible allies , the Democrats, for helping turn what looked like surely a lost vote a few weeks ago, into a victory this past Tuesday night.
When you get powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan, Lou Lang and others going to the floor of the Assembly last Tuesday, beating up on those who "picketed Greg Harris" (that's us!), but then muscling the House Democratic Caucus to finally vote the right way, then you know you've done something right. As Madigan said those words, the famous Ghandi quote rang through my head: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Thank you, Mike Madigan. The compliments you get from your opponents are often the most sincere ones! I don't need your love, damn it, just your doing the right thing.
For a Left in this country which has seen so many issues go from bad to worse over the past decade -- a rampantly growing national security state, brazen assassinations abroad, a record level of deportations, a tailspin in unionization, to name just a few -- the idea of directly taking on the Democrats, and not just the Republicans, has been anathema. Which goes a long way to explaining not just the weakness of the Left, but its increasing weakness during the Obama years.
Until we begin calling out, by name, the Democrats and denounce their march rightwards, they will pay no political price for their depredations, and will continue their bad behavior versus unions, immigrants, environmentalists, women, and others. The only pressure they will feel will be from the right, and that's the way that they will go. So in a small way, in blue state Illinois, we showed how to break that dismal record of Left failure following repeated failure. Hopefully it's an example that will be emulated elsewhere, and on a far bigger scale.
But what of the marriage issue itself? Why so much concentration of effort spent on it? Because this issue has always been, first and foremost, about citizenship for all LGBT people. The issue of whether or not this or that person can get married, was and is secondary to me, as important as that is for some individual, personal lives. The best way to explain this is by analogy.
The immigrant rights movement has a great slogan, "No human being is illegal," which recognizes that designating any person as "illegal" dehumanizes them, and opens them up as targets for all sorts of abuse and other discrimination. Which is why the anti-immigrant bigots love so much calling the undocumented "illegal," and why anti-LGBT bigots have focused so much energy on preventing same-sex couples from getting a lousy piece of paper from their local government. Some in our LGBT community still don't get that, but wasn't that the point of so much of the pettier aspects of segregation of the Old South, the segregated drinking fountains, lunch counters, etc.? -- it was to dehumanize African Americans, and make them vulnerable for far more serious physical violence and discrimination.
A little over three years ago, when I met Aldo, what had been a purely political issue to me for years increasingly also became a personal one. As my love for Aldo grew, and despite the often incredible tensions of activist life (which only grew worse over the past few years), I became happier than I ever thought was possible. I really don't think that I could have gotten through these past few years without him. Marriage, for practical reasons of helping protect each other, seemed the only logical way to go.
So Aldo and I will be getting hitched in June, when Illinois finally allows it. Given that I'm an atheist (and he's pretty close to that), a church wedding is not planned -- though I have a lot of respect for our religious allies who helped get us to this happy day. Given that both of us detest high government officials, a big ceremony presided over by one of them is out of the question too. Plans are simply to have a big party (no presents!) with friends and family.