I have been following with some frustration the proposed amendment to the Minnesota state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. This has been difficult not just because it’s yet another piece of discriminatory legislation, but because I know a number of people who are volunteering on the campaign against it and many more who are really worked up about it and I feel that this is not the best use of time set aside for LGBT-rights activism.
From a purely practical standpoint, this amendment will change nothing. If it passes, it will change nothing. If it fails, it will change nothing. Same-sex marriage is not currently recognized in Minnesota, and it will not be recognized after this vote. What will change the situation in Minnesota is the fall of DOMA and recognition of federal marriage rights.
In the meantime, there are a lot of other issues we could be working on that would have a real effect on Minnesotans, such as pushing for inclusive curriculum in schools, including sex ed; working to restore MinnesotaCare; supporting organizations that work with homeless queer and trans youth; supporting CeCe McDonald (her sentencing is in just a few weeks, please pack the courtroom and show her some love); getting Michelle Bachmann out of office – the list goes on. I despise ineffective activism like I despise few other things, and I think that a necessary part of effective activism is to always be in the process of reassessing what your goals are and how best to achieve them. This necessarily includes an awareness of the people and organizations you choose to work with.
For me, part of the essence of queerness is to have the option to live your life outside the bounds of heteronormativity, to not be forced to conform to straight standards or adopt straight cultural institutions. I think people should be able to get married if they want to, but I don’t support using marriage to further stigmatize those queers who aren’t interested in the white heteropatriarchal ideal, 2.5 kids and a house in the suburbs with matching SUVs parked in the garage, homogeneity and fear of those other queers, you know, the bad ones who don’t want to fit in. I want to create a future where we define ourselves on our own terms rather than being measured by straight standards, and that means that a focus on acceptance is necessarily misplaced: I do not need your acceptance, because the idea that I do is premised on the idea that I am less valid and need permission to exist.
It is therefore disturbing to me that so many of the people who are working on this campaign are straight or invested in straight privilege and not involved in other LGBT rights activism. I appreciate my allies and friends, but I do not need straight-privileged people to tell me what is good for the rest of us. It is also very creepy to have straight-privileged people only get hyped about queer rights when the explicit goal is assimilation.
When I raise critiques about this, my alleged allies decry me for not being supportive as though by not burning my time on this I’m acting against my own interests. They insist that I don’t know what I’m talking about, even though I am queer and a law school graduate and have been out and followed queer politics closely for over 20 years. The undercurrent is always that straight people know best and I should be grateful for their help, that this will somehow be a big initial step as though gay rights work was invented by HRC and the marriage movement. What’s worse is hearing straight criticisms of queer visibility that steps out of line with the goals of marriage as not making the right impression, as though straight people should determine how we present ourselves. It’s the same thing I hear every year around Pride: if you want to earn our respect, you should stop acting that way in public.
It always means the same thing: stop being yourself, who you are is not okay. We will tell you who to be.
Imagine having your rights and humanity debated in public your whole life, and the people who claim they are your allies declining to step forward on a thousand occasions when you need them, instead waiting until it is to their benefit and then expecting you to be excited.