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Queer writers/activists criticize marriage-equality movement at forum
BOOKS
by Andrew Davis
2010-10-13

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Contrary to what some people believe, it is not just conservative heterosexual institutions that criticize the gay-marriage movement. Although their reasoning is different, queer activists also have their criticisms.

That point was clear as editor/contributor Ryan Conrad and contributor Yasmin Nair discussed their ( pocket-sized ) book, Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage, Oct. 9 at the Chicago Public Library's Bezazian Branch in Uptown with approximately 30 attendees. ( A third contributor, University of Illinois at Chicago professor John D'Emilio, was scheduled to attend but could not. )

One of the items discussed was the blue-and-yellow "greater than" symbol that the group Against Equality uses. Conrad said that it's "a rip-off of [ the Human Rights Campaign's ] logo." The campaign uses an equal sign. ( Nair clarified in a post-event talk that "it's our response to this notion of equality. The sign is very tongue-in-cheek, but there also needs to be 'better than' equality, and push for a more radical utopian vision of society." )

At one point, Nair talked about the book's title itself. "People ask, 'How can you possibly be against equality? That's like being against rainbows ... and all things good?' [ But ] equality ... What does equality mean and how has it been used and deployed over the years to signify anything good and grandiose and progressive? A lot of people say 'progressives' and 'gays' as if they mean the same thing. But what we're contending in this book is that, no, what constitutes the gay movement today is actually the gay right. It's a deeply conservative movement."

In a talk that touched on law, history and even psychology, Nair discussed how things changed for the gay community in the 1990s. "What you get in the 1990s is a break, as it were, for the gay community. You get a rise in the professional, upper middle class of gay people. You also get, at the same time, is this breakdown in the notion of a public sexual culture; so you see Times Square being cleaned out and Disney-fied, for example. And the two things actually come together: a gay professional class and a de-sexing of queer culture ( and straight life as well ) .

"So you get this conservatism. You get gay people who think AIDS is over; in fact, it's not. ... What starts to happen is that there's this idea that 'gay' is a class identity. People have this stereotype: They think that [ gays ] are all rich and have the picket-fence lifestyle.

"And within that framework of this change, you get marriage coming in. Marriage becomes the ultimate form of respectability."

Nair then drew a connection between two books with the same title—Why Marriage Matters—that seemingly come from opposite ends of the political spectrum. "One of them is by Evan Wolfson, who is one of the architects of the gay-marriage movement. The other one is by a member of the Family Research Council, which is ultraconservative. If you put the two books side by side, you would not be able to tell the difference—because each book tells you exactly the same story, about how marriage is good because it's only through marriage that children feel like they're legitimate. ... There is no difference, really, between the conservative idea of what a family should like and its relationship to the state, and what the gay vision of what that idea is."

Regarding sexualization, Nair said, "Ours is not the type of critique that says gay marriage is bad because we're not allowed to have sex anymore. That's a critique that a lot of radical queers have made: that gay marriage de-sexes us. The point is that gay marriage—as a kind of affective, sentimental movement—has allowed us to forget the kind of economic relationship we're supposed to have to the state.

"So when you talk about [ 1,138 ] benefits [ that gay married couples are deprived of ] , those are benefits that we're supposed to have, anyway. You shouldn't have to get married to have your life saved."

However, Nair saved her most passionate argument regarding the relevant and timely topic of gay teen suicides. "What has really appalled us is [ how ] the recent suicides have caused gay organizations to implicitly or explicitly make the absolutely outrageous, horrendous, disgusting, vile claim that gay marriage was connected to these suicides. ... People have been saying, 'If we had gay marriage [ or ] if gays had been treated well, these kids would not have committed suicide—to which we say, 'This is utter and complete rotten bullshit.' One of the queer youth who killed himself lived in Massachusetts, which has [ gay marriage ] . But, also, when someone is being queer-bashed, someone isn't thinking, 'I wonder if this kid's parents are married?' ... Also, these kids are more than just queer; they're undocumented immigrants [ and ] poor; if they kill themselves, it's because life feels hopeless on a number of different levels."

Nair and Conrad talked about how the importance of the gay-marriage movement has received most of the LGBT-related funding available, to the detriment of other organizations and services. Conrad read an excerpt from his essay, saying, "The gay-marriage campaign has been sucking up resources like a massive sponge, corralling us to give up our last dollar and free time, leaving little sustenance for other queer groups doing critical work in our communities.

"An Equality Maine campaign letter had the audacity to claim that gay marriage is 'the fight for our lives.' I wonder whose lives they are talking about when AIDS service organizations and community reproductive clinics across the state have been tightening their belts and desperately trying to crunch numbers so that more queer folks don't end up unemployed, uninsured or, worse yet, dead."

More about Against Equality—an online archive and collective that critiques "mainstream gay and lesbian politics"—is available at www.againstequality.org .

Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage is actually the first of three books. The next two will discuss hate-crimes legislation and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Nair and D'Emilio are also contributors to Windy City Times.


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