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Social activism as opposed to legal

August 4, 2010 Leave a comment

A lot of attention is being given to proposed laws like ENDA, and by a lot of attention I mean attention by LGBT activists (I don’t watch the news often enough to determine if it’s being given much attention by anyone else). The primary focus of many LG(B) organizations seems to be legalization of same-sex marriage. I’m starting to wonder what such total concentration on the legal aspects may cost us.

See this from my perspective: While I currently have no job (poor economy, I live with my family in a small town far away from the university I attend making a steady job impossible, little job experience due to concentration on extracurriculars in high school, not exactly in my favor), if I did I would most certainly not be out at work, especially if I got that job in my aforementioned small town. It only takes one supervisor who is made uncomfortable by queerness (not even one who is particularly queer-phobic, just enough unease to put me under more scrutiny) to cost me my job. If ENDA were to pass, I would have to prove such discrimination in court. Unless my former boss had specifically said “I’m firing you because you are a queer/tranny/faggot” and someone else heard them, I could not possibly afford the legal battle (and only then because I could represent myself in the case of such obvious queer-phobia). ENDA may help some people, who are exposed to blatant queer-phobia and/or can afford to pay lawyers, assuming that local courts aren’t queer-phobic themselves (another reason my hypothetical legal battle would probably fail out here in the boonies), but in the end it just masks the real problem. It provides a legal route to recompense, but it doesn’t help people who are most likely to be affected in the first place. Only a reduction overall of queer-phobia and hatred will solve the issue.

As for the marriage issue, I’m probably biased in that I’ve had some very bad experiences with other people’s marriages (my family has a 100% divorce rate over two generations, and when the parents of a friend of mine got divorced restraining orders were involved). I have no desire personally to have any future breakups of mine involve mountains of paperwork, and don’t see the point in telling the government that I want to spend the rest of my life with someone. But I will say this: anti-gay-marriage activists are basing their message on the idea that there is only one legitimate kind of relationship. So, shouldn’t the fight be less about “we have this right” and more about “your basic premise is way off”?

I’m not saying these things aren’t good, they are. Legal victories are victories, but I think it’s unfortunate that those are the only kind of victories activist groups are looking for. Not only that, but legal change follows social change pretty predictably (if a little belatedly). Look at the civil rights movement: desegregation didn’t happen until enough white people woke up enough to say “hey, maybe we are being dumbfucks about this”. That’s why allies to the LGBT movement are so important, we’re a minority and that has some repercussions in terms of our legal and social power. And “separate isn’t equal” was attacking the ideology of racism as much as it was attacking segregation laws. In other words, desegregation didn’t happen until the ideology beneath it was eroded enough that the civil rights movement got the support it needed from the privileged majority (not to say that desegregation ended racism, that still has quite a ways to go).

Activist organizations DO have social programs; educational materials are distributed to hospitals, police forces, etc. But you don’t see anything like that making the front page on the NTCE website. That’s pretty much all ENDA, all the time. Laws are only as useful as the community or society’s willingness to enforce them. If we were to actually focus most of our energy (or at least a higher portion of it) on social change as opposed to legal change, not only would it be much easier to pass the protective laws we need, but eventually (someday waaaaay in the future) we won’t even need those protections. Organizations don’t even need to do anything different, just shift the priorities of certain projects.

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