Friday, May 8, 2009

Pink Elephants, Red Herrings And Gay Rights Activists

It confuses and disappoints the heck out of me when people standing in the shoes of gay activists start to argue that gay activists should be concentrating on other issues like racism or xenophobia instead of protecting or advancing gay rights. "Hello, it's the plumber - I've come to fix your TV."

I always thought that we as gay rights activists (supposedly) stand against heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, discrimination and prejudice on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Yet some prominent (presumedly) gay rights advocates in SA have criticized gay rights activists who pay attention to gay rights issues instead of tackling issues like racism and xenophobia.


So exactly where does racism and xenophobia fit into this fight we as GLBTI activists are fighting? If people are attacking gay rights then how does it suddenly become an issue of racism or xenophobia? It's not as if for example the White folk are attacking gay Black people for their sexuality or vice versa - or to say that the victims of xenophobc attacks were targeted because they all happened to be gay, is it?

I could understand if Black and White drag queens started having cat-fights enmasse specifically on the grounds of race, or gay men from the US started attacking gay men from Holland - but really!

The same kind of pointless argument is used by nut job right wing bodies who dismiss gay people's needs for human rights equality as "perversion" and classify gay rights merely an issue of "sin" and try to make it out as a "religious issue" when in fact it is a human rights issue on a most basic level.

It is frightening how some people are clouding the issue of gay rights with red herrings.

These same people assert that I am a hypocrit if I acccept racism and sexism and "religionism" within my own community. I concur. Do I accept racism, sexism or "religion-ism"? No, I don't. Do I find it offensive and speak out in a personal capacity when I see it? Of course. If I feel it is wrong for the media to make fun of gay people then I should also feel it is wrong for a GLBTI advocacy group to make fun of Colored people. If it wrong for the Sunday Sun to publish homophobic cartoons then it is wrong for the GLBTI press to publish racist cartoons. But as part of a GLBTI advocacy group, who do I campaign for and why?

My mom always used to say "charity begins at home".

Some GLBTI activists also express fears that direct GLBTI activism in addressing issues which affect GLBTI people will somehow result in stronger hatred and hostility towards the pink community. In fact they seem content with rolling GLBTI rights up in the broad bundle of "human rights" and then tackling issues of racism, xenophobia, throw in some animal rights here, issues of the environment there - and seldom even address GLBTI issues anymore. In fact one hardly even hears much from them at all and sometimes need to send them an email just to see if they still exist.

While taking on the mantle of a broader human rights activist is a noble thing (and there are some who have done this successfuly in the past), it places us as GLBTI activists on dangerous ground. There are many "human rights" activists out there who do not see GLBTI people as human, let alone GLBTI rights as "human" rights at all. In the process there is the danger that our rights may fall on the ground while these pink human rights activists fumble the ball trying to please everyone - which we know by now is impossible. In the end, we as GLBTI and as a rights movement as a whole run the risk of just disappearing quietly while our champions are off fighting the all too real dangers of racism and xenophobia and the hole in the ozone layer - and not paying enough attention what should be their main focus - us. Charity begins at home - and in this case I cannot agree more.

You do not see IT companies doing house calls to fix plumbing. Or hair stylists spray-painting cars. I am not saying that we do or should condone racism or xenophobia - we do not - but these very worthy causes all have their own specialist activists and advocacy groups to address them. All I am saying is that gay rights activism groups should focus on gay rights.

(I have strongly resisted the urge to add the word "duh" at the end, but to no avail. Whoops.)

While larger and perhaps heavily funded groups can afford the salaries and other resources to keep a watchful eye on everybody else's rights issues - and the time and effort to address them - as well as those they were originaly intended to defend, many others cannot. How many advocacy groups are one or two man operations - and yet incidentally they are the loudest voices in our community and echo around the world? One could almost be forgiven for thinking that some of the groups watching our issues while spending more time and effort watching everybody else's are strangely silent or even absent from the stage.

We are gay and trans rights groups - our org names spell it out for the world. For another thing, the pink or rainbow logos should be a dead giveaway. The first thing people will ask is 'you're a gay rights group - why are you campaigning against nuclear power'? Next they will expect the pizza delivery guy to arrive, brake chute billowing and tires screeching, to nab their burglars.

These rocket scientists are of the opinion that any organisation that campaigns for the rights of one group whilst remaining silent on others "has no credibility".

And yet the foundation of gay rights activism rests on the fact that gay people do not have the same rights as everyone else - and the rights we do have are constantly under threat. This is what we exist to rectify.


While I certainly agree with them on the issues of misogyny - I simply cannot seem to get to grips with the fact that they seem to be saying gay rights advocates should not be seen to be defending gay rights??

If that is the case then I may as well quit and take up knitting.

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