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The contemporary gay rights movement got off the ground way back in 1969. Despite nearly forty years of struggle, activists still can’t overcome one fundamental hurdle: should the gay movement subscribe to separatist isolationism or dedicate itself to more universal human rights?
The pressing matter came into sharp contrast during last year’s ENDA debacle, when homos took sides on whether or not to accept a trans exclusive employment non-discrimination act. While some organizations - such as Human Rights Campaign - rallied for an incremental approach, hundreds of other organizations insisted on all or nothing. The resulting drama highlighted a problem that has been brewing since the beginning of the movement.
The Stonewall rebellion led to the formation of the Gay Liberation Front, which dedicated itself to fighting solely for same-sex lovers. It wasn’t long, however, until frustrated activists broke off to form the Gay Activist Alliance, which worked with other liberation groups to achieve universal equal rights. Their purview extended beyond the gates of Oz and into the real world. Though neither organization stood the test of time, their ideologies continue to dominate - and divide - the gay rights movement.
New Republic journo James Kirchick gave the old debate new life this week when he published a scathing editorial against outgoing National Gay and Lesbian Task Force director Matt Foreman. Though much of his piece - which The Advocate published - gets caught up in the old liberal v. conservative debate, Kirchick raises interesting political, social and moral matters.
Kirchick opens by taking on Foreman’s record at the Task Force, which apparently Kirchick doesn’t think did enough for the gay community. He writes:
[Foreman] was many things during his five years at the top of one of the country’s preeminent gay rights organizations. He was an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq. He fought against privatizing Social Security. He stood foursquare against the erosion of abortion rights.
But what any of these issues have to do with lobbying for gay rights — presumably Foreman’s job description — is beyond me.
Kirchick later uses Foreman’s opposition to an exclusive ENDA, as well as some Task Forcers’ opposition to marriage as an indication of why the Task Force actually harms the gay community.
The Task Force’s flaws, he writes, stem from the fact that they’re committed to “broader social justice movement”. This should come as no surprise - anyone who’s familiar with the history of the gay rights movement knows that the Task Force formed from the ashes of GAA, the organization which focused on cross-cultural struggle. Despite its history, Kirchick can’t seem to wrap his mind around the fact that gay people may want to help other people who are oppressed. Or perhaps he’s intimidated by the “Marxist” inspired “queer theory” - who wouldn’t be? Thinking outside your box can be a frightful experience, even for the political elite.
We won’t comment on the Task Force’s relationship with the United Nations or alleged allegiance to wealth distribution. We will, however, say that it’s morally irresponsible to dismiss an organization for looking beyond its ranks. Would it be acceptable to save a gay man from a burning building and let a black man be consumed by flames? No, of course not, nor is it acceptable to work for group rights without realizing that there are others who need uplifting, as well.
Kirchick and his ideological adherents practice the most dangerous type of isolation: selfish activism. Those who insist on getting the goods for the gays and no one else are just as guilty as those who work against universal human rights. Foreman, whom we interviewed earlier this week, puts it best when he says the gay rights movement faces one huge division: our ultimate end.
I think where there is a divergence and there is not a consensus is the long-term vision for our movement. Part of this is trying to figure out… We are part of something bigger than just trying to get the technical equality under the law. That’s a prerequisite, but we can’t pretend that’s the end. That’s really a more just society.
Are we willing to work simply for gay rights and call it a day or should we work for universal equality? The answer seems simple to us.
Of course, Kirchick’s correct in pointing out that there are a number of gay-centric organizations - HRC, Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund, and many more - all of which are great in their own way. It seems to use, however, that while we should all fight for gay rights, we shouldn’t forget our fellow man.