Dear Windy City Times,
We take exception to Yasmin Nair's phony claim that same-sex marriage advocates are 'cynically' piggy-backing on other people's movements like the struggle for labor and immigration reform to promote their own positions to the exclusion of the latter ( 'Viewpoints: Queer Immigration: Change the Paradigms' in the Jan. 9 issue ) .
For example, she accuses 'queers who claimed to fight for immigration' of not caring about the special plight of the undocumented. ( Notice her sneering use of claimed; she apparently has in mind all the LGBT people who recently participated in last May's immigration march in Chicago, many for the first time—would it have been better had they all stayed home? ) . She further accuses activists who work for a liberalization of asylum laws of having narrow interests and ignoring the millions unable to seek asylum from the ravages of global capitalism.
Does Nair name any offenders or offer any quotes? Does she even attempt to document her impressions? The answer is no. And this just shows she is setting up a strawman in order to target activists and groups she doesn't like. Such divide-and-conquer tactics are typical of the Right with its use of wedge issues to split working people apart. Why would she want to further its agenda when her opinions are clearly in the progressive camp?
Laying aside any suspicion that Nair wants to carve out some self-promoting niche and from there wag her righteous finger at the rest of us, her reasoning may run something like this: She attacks the 'gay movement'—using warning quotes to show the phrase is suspect—for selfishly believing that legalizing gay marriage will be a panacea and that further struggle will be unnecessary. She may view that movement—again, no names mentioned or quotes given—as composed of a lot of rich white gay guys who, once the fight for gay marriage is won, will simply abandon the struggle. Why stay and fight over different issues for people of a different social class, different ethnicity, different nationality, or different color?
Is this her worry? That victory, say, in California and New York on one front means deflating defeat in a host of others, many in areas unrelated or only tangentially related to gay issues? 'We'e won our fight; good luck on yours...' as former gay allies abandon the political arena to suck up the so-called narrow advantages of their hard-won victory? ( Actually, for anyone who studies the issue, it quickly becomes clear that working-class couples have the most to gain from legal marriage equality ) .
If the above is Yasmin Nair's mindset, then it sadly reflects more about her than it does about the thousands of committed activists she maligns. Most of us aren't rich, many of us are not white, and some of us aren't even gay. But all of us, we suspect, have far greater powers than Nair supposes for seeing the links between the different struggles and knowing that any one victory in one arena, though welcome, is only incentive to try harder in all the others.
We therefoe contend that if anyone is blinkered it is Nair when she smugly refuses, for whatever reason, to entertain the possibility that passion and dedication in the fight on one front does not preclude a recognition of, and willingness to fight for, a sane and free society on all fronts.
Roger & Patricia Fraser
In her recent column, Yasmin Nair sputters against gay marriage with the degree of venom one has come to expect out of the Illinois Family Institute. In Nair's rendition, the struggle for legal equality in marriage is responsible for everything from male pattern baldness to global warming.
To 'prove' her point she erects two straw men to knock down:
1 ) That equal marriage advocates claim that 'marriage will solve all our problems'.
2 ) That equal marriage advocates are somehow alien to and cynically using other progressive issues such as immigrant rights, citing the recent joint LGBT contingent at the May Day immigrant rights march as 'evidence.'
The article she wrote a few weeks ago about the contingent was slanted, and her most recent column outright dishonest. She falsely paints a picture of non-immigrant ( read: white ) LGBTs at the May Day march as only being interested in marriage rights and not at all concerned with immigrant rights. This is directly contradicted by what contingent members said on the day of the march, whom she conveniently quoted selectively, and the text of the emails, posters and flyers used to publicize the contingent.
Rather than engage in a pointless 'he said, she said' about the interviews, we'd refer your readers to the incontrovertible evidence of the publicity itself, including text agreed upon by all five co-endorsing organizations in the contingent, four out of five of whom have memberships that are overwhelmingly people of color with direct ties to immigrant communities.
Fully one-third of the text is about legalization of the undocumented. Another third is logistical information about the contingent, and another third dealt with three additional reasons LGBT people should support immigrant rights, in the following order:
1 ) liberalizing asylum laws so that LGBT people could more easily flee anti-gay repression abroad
2 ) supporting so-called 'binational couples,' that is, couples where one partner is not a U.S. citizen and the other is. Equal marriage rights would allow some of these couples to naturalize the non-U.S. citizen spouse
3 ) dropping the ban on the immigration of HIV-positive people into the U.S.
Don't take our word for it—text of the publicity can be found at chicago.indymedia.org/newswire/display/82069/index.php.
It is ridiculous to claim that Gay Liberation Network activists in the fight for equal marriage rights think that this reform would be a panacea for all that ails the LGBT community. What we HAVE said it is that the single most widespread example of legal inequality affecting LGBT people, and that addressing this inequality would give material benefits of particular importance to working class LGBT people such as health care insurance, pension and social security survivors benefits—some 1,138 federal benefits according to a 2004 General Accounting Office study. As the experience of African Africans amply demonstrates, formal legal equality is far from being everything that's needed, but it's nonetheless an important step on the road to full freedom.
In a country projected to spend 3 trillion dollars on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and bleeding red ink at every level of government, it is absurd, as Nair does, to counterpose these immediate benefits that would come with marriage to truly free, universal health care, which is offered by none of the presidential candidates. It's just empty sloganeering. It's simply stupid to say that one can't be in favor of both equal marriage rights and the longer term goal of free, universal health care and any number of other reforms that will necessarily be hard fought and require a movement far more powerful than we have today.
Finally, it is a contradiction for someone who postures herself as being for human liberation to tacitly side with the anti-gay right on the equal marriage issue. If you're against gay marriage, Nair, the solution is simple. Don't have one. But don't, like the anti-gay right, deny other LGBT people their own self-determination and right to make that choice for themselves.
—Gay Liberation Network
Yasmin Nair responds:
My report is separate from my op-ed; the latter expressed my views weeks after the former. Hence, the word 'Viewpoints' that is in bold print.
About May Day: I was there to report on a march about immigration rights, in which queers played a role. I wasn't there to report on GLN's publicity material.
Non-immigrants aren't all white. And not all non-white people are immigrants. For instance, Nicole Perez, whom I quoted, isn't an immigrant. I reported a diverse set of opinions. GLN writes that the piece was 'directly contradicted by what contingent members said on the day of the march,' as quoted by me. So how was the report 'slanted'?
Evidently, GLN's complaint is that I didn't write a piece more 'slanted' in its favor.
About my views: Calling me a right-winger is an attempt to exclude me from the conversation on gay marriage, on which there's no unanimity. Does everyone think marriage should be the only way to access health care? Why should the poor have to marry for benefits? How's that different from forcing people on welfare to undergo 'marriage counseling'?
The gay-marriage movement merges the right to get married with the right of people to basic benefits. But you can't advocate for rights based on identity politics and also present them as universal rights. For the Frasers and GLN, gay marriage supersedes all other rights. In that, they're the ones being partial.
I stand by my report and my opinion. Discerning readers will understand the difference between the two.
Recently, I resigned as director of behavioral health at Howard Brown Health Center. My resignation was occasioned by my election to a three-year term on the board of directors of the American Psychological Association ( APA ) beginning January 2008. Just four months into my term, it was clear that the time and travel commitments as well as the work of the board would preclude meeting my administrative responsibilities at Howard Brown and, consequently, I submitted my resignation.
Though I was at Howard Brown only 19 months, I worked with an exceptionally dedicated and capable staff that made me proud of the work they do. I also learned much about the challenges an LGBT health center faces in order to provide the expert and affirmative care our community deserves. What I learned will inform my work at the APA with first-hand experience of those challenges.
As one of the two openly gay psychologists on the APA board, I have unique and powerful opportunities to promote the health and welfare of LGBT persons nationally and internationally. One has only to look to the recent California Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage to understand the effectiveness of APA's leadership role on LGBT issues and the role of LGBT psychologists in the APA. Of the many amicus curiae briefs the court received, only two were cited in the text of its decision: those of the California Psychological Association and the APA. After leaving Howard Brown, I have returned to private practice on a limited basis here in Chicago.
I want to thank Michael Cook, Howard Brown president and CEO, for offering me a rare opportunity to serve the LGBT community in Chicago. I want to thank, especially, my colleagues in the Department of Behavioral Health Services for their support and, finally, to thank the entire staff and volunteers of Howard Brown for their many and often unsung contributions to the health of our community.