Monday, May 25, 2009

Breaking News: White Conservative Anti-Gay Dude Worried About Gay Movement's Misappropriation of Civil Rights!

You know, there's nothing more resonating than a white, conservative, anti-gay dude bemoaning the LGBT movement's "trivialization of civil rights." Using bizarre, simplistic, and profoundly illogical argumentation, anti-equality "Digital Network Army" blogger James Tanner calls comparisons between the LGBT movement and movements that other historically-oppressed groups have faced "pathetic" and a "smear" on what these other groups have experienced.

His reasons?

1) Gay people haven't been denied every single right that every other historically-oppressed group has been denied.

He writes:

"Gays were never denied the right to work or vote.*
Gays were never marched across the country and imprisoned in reservations.*
Gay churches were never bombed.*
No gay man or woman suffered slavery for being gay.*
Gays are not relegated to separate schools, rest rooms or drinking fountains.*
Gays were never migrant farm workers."

[*Update: See comments regarding these claims]

2) Some gay people are wealthy, therefore no gay person has been denied equal rights.

He writes:

"Some of the leaders of the so-called Gay Rights movement are extremely influential and wealthy individuals who have never been denied anything in their lives."

3) In 1970, a gay person wrote something really radical, therefore all gay people are really radical and not really an oppressed minority seeking equality.

He writes:

"In another statement of the GLF purpose Martha Shelley in 1970 wrote:

'We are women and men who, from the time of our earliest memories, have been in revolt against the sex-role structure and nuclear family structure.'

Does this sound like a statement by an oppressed minority seeking equality and civil rights? At the core this movement is destructive of society as a whole."

Tanner's elements of Real Oppression For Civil Rights Purposes are, of course, absurd. It is quickly apparent that under his definition, LGBT people could never constitute an oppressed minority group for civil rights purposes. Furthermore, if we held other minority groups to the same standards of oppression he holds LGBT people to, no minority group would meet such standards!

First, he expects LGBT people to have had to endure every facet of oppression faced by every other oppressed group. Yet, he doesn't require this of other minority groups. So while no, Captain Obvious, gay people have never "suffered slavery" for being gay in the US, neither have women "suffered slavery" in the US for being women. Also, a note of correction. Tanner claimed that "gay churches were never bombed." Actually, gay and gay-affirming churches have been bombed and set on fire throughout the nation. And, just one year ago, a liberal-hating homobigot opened fire in a gay-affirming Unitarian Church and killed two people. I know this information hurts Tanner's case about gays not having faced Real Oppression, but denying these facts doesn't make hatred of LGBT people go away.

What I wonder is why Tanner expects gay people to have faced the oppression that other groups have faced in order for it to be authentic? Does the oppression that LGBT people face that is uniquely based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity not count? Is it not hurtful enough? Or, more importantly, is it really that Tanner and others who believe similarly have no capacity to comprehend how hatred, violence, and injustice against LGBT people is authentic oppression that genuinely hurts us? And, not only that, but there are many ways in which LGBT people are, or have been oppressed, in which other minority groups have not been similarly oppressed. Black kids, for instance, aren't regularly kicked out of their homes when their parents "find out" they're Black.

The LGBT movement uses the language of civil rights because equal protection doctrine holds that the state cannot deny similarly-situated people rights without a darn good reason. For instance, the argument goes, same-sex couples who want to get married are "similarly-situated" to heterosexuals who do. LGBT people compare themselves to earlier groups seeking civil rights, not to steal their thunder, but because it is often the only way to get validation for the oppression we face. For some people, conceptualizing LGBT rights as civil rights doesn't "click" as wrong until people understand that sexual prejudice and homobigotry are sort of like racism and sexism. It is an analogy. Like any analogy it is imperfect, but its imperfections do not destroy its aptness. A fine line exists between noting similarities between different types of oppression and cheapening what other groups have experienced.

To be quite honest, I am far more interested in what LGBT people of color, heterosexual people of color, and all LGBT people have to say about these comparisons than what conservative, white, anti-equality heterosexuals have to say about them. I only say so because the predominately-white conservative movement (a) has a history of pitting minorities against each other for the benefit of white conservatives and (b) white conservatives tend not to care about, discuss, or examine the unique issues facing minority communities outside of the context of how the LGBT movement is supposedly "trivializing civil rights." Under Derrick Bell's theory of interest convergence, "whites will promote racial advances for blacks only when they also promote white self-interest." Informed by this theory, you can pretty much guarantee that "concerned" white conservatives would quite quickly boot blacks to back of the bus on any other given social issue if it would further white hegemony in some way.

So, there's that. And then there's item of note #2. Some LGBT people are wealthy and "influential." What's with the statements of the obvious? Of course some LGBT people are wealthy and "influential." What minority group doesn't have some people who are wealthy and "influential"? In another statement of the obvious, I'd like to remind Tanner that even wealthy and "influential" gay people can't get a marriage license with their partners in most states. Even wealthy and "influential" gay people can't serve openly in the military. So yeah, some gays are wealthy and are possibly imbued with Teh Incredible Power of the Gay, but so what? It doesn't mean LGBT people as a class are not discriminated against. It doesn't mean that the apparatus of the state is not used to deny LGBT people equal rights.

Regarding element #3, I'm a little surprised Tanner couldn't dig up a radical statement uttered more recently than 1970. I'll be right back right after I go dust off my microfiche and check this statement out. I'm sort of reminded of "Men's Rights Activists" who will find, like, the most dated and obscure anti-male sentiment ever uttered by a radical feminist and present it as though it's representative of all people who call themselves feminists. But seriously, the LGBT movement is not a monolithic entity and, therefore, the statements that some people within the movement make are never representative of the movement as a whole or of all people who consider themselves LGBT. That's just elementary.

To end here, as a member of the heterosexual majority, it is not for James Tanner to say what does and does not count as oppression for LGBT people (or women or people of color for that matter). It is never up to oppressors to define the oppression that other groups experience. As Renee at Womanist Musings has said, such people "don’t have the lived experience to make that call and it is also a conflict of interest." As a white guy, perhaps Tanner is used to his experience counting as neutral and objective, especially compared to those subjective wishy-washy experience of we Others. Yet, as someone opposed to LGBT rights, it is a blatant conflict of interest for him to declare that gays "trivialize" other civil rights movements just because he doesn't personally get how LGBT people are oppressed. Oppression is maintained precisely because oppressors so often insist that what is occurring isn't really oppression and that it is Greatly Different than previous experiences of oppression.

On another note, I am absolutely pleased that Tanner is so concerned about the civil rights of racial minorities and women. I'm sure he's joining NOW and the NAACP as we speak!

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