R-E-S-P-E-C-T and Why Queers Don't Quite Have It Yet

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 28:  A general view of atmosphere during the 29th annual NYC Pride: Dance On The Pier at Pier 26 on June
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 28: A general view of atmosphere during the 29th annual NYC Pride: Dance On The Pier at Pier 26 on June 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

If you look at any 2015 Pride event, you will see that there have been some significant changes over the past few years. Marches now seem like a distant memory, replaced by fabulous and colorful processions parading through mainly business districts and streets. They are corporate sponsored, very straight-friendly and largely white.

Pride events are now rarely being held outside political structures or seats of power unlike years past, and are now more of a vehicular celebration of rainbow flags on floats, dance music and scantily-clad not too provocative gay men. You are more likely, even guaranteed, to see white straight men in business suits in the backs of cars and on floats with their political signs and pride flags than you are things that are truly gay, such as demanding your rights with a bullhorn and a raised fist against the oppressive policies and politics designed to suppress homosexuality and queerness.

Many gains have been made since Stonewall, and with those gains it's become easier for queers to become tolerated, especially if you're a white gay man favored by structures and institutions that by their very nature favor white men. Yet there is a difference between being tolerated, and being truly accepted.

How many of us can hold hands or kiss someone who might be perceived to be the same sex in public without seeing negative reactions of so-called "allies"? The movement has shifted so far towards outward respectability that LGBT rights groups on the street look no different from businessmen on casual Friday, or the parents of Girl Scouts accompanying their children while they sell cookies. Sadly, allies frequently want cookies for their support, and LGBT groups have only been too willing to give them one of late. But the one thing that we don't get in return is respect. Respect is something that is gained through struggle, not simply by outwardly aligning yourself with the expectations of others, and then asking them to give it to you. Mark Simpson of The Guardian called gay respectability politics "The New Closet" and called out the LGBT movement for embracing what straights are slowly moving away from: "The custodians of the New Closet are not paddy-wagons and queer-bashers, but gays themselves, itching to conform to standards of hypocrisy more and more straight people are abandoning."

As we move on from Marriage Equality with the understanding that it is not the end-all-be-all of LGBT rights, how will other rights be won and guaranteed? Now that the respectable men and women in suits of the LGBT movement have ensured that marriage rights are the law of the land, how can we fight discrimination against the backlash that is coming from the right? Let's not forget that these people who refused to accept the olive branch of respectability politics and the collective narrative proclaiming "We are just like you." Our call did not just fall on deaf ears, it was rejected with the same kind of fervor usually shown solely for invading other countries.

Latina demonstrator Jennicet Gutiérrez called on President Obama last week to free all queer detainees in ICE custody at a White House event, calling on the President to "release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention." Six days later, the rules were changed for detainees in ICE custody, although the particular issue of custody has yet to be addressed. According to the Center for American Progress, LGBT detainees are up to 15 times more likely to be raped and sexually assaulted than non-queers, especially if they are transgender. A staggering 1 out of every 5 substantiated sexual assault cases in ICE custody involved transgender victims, and gay men from all around the world seeking asylum have been systematically targeted and abused whilst in detention. Yet, the hegemony of respectability politics now infamously booed and heckled Jennicet as she spoke over the President trying to make her point heard. This was a protest by a queer transgender woman of color, someone who bravely admitted that she was an undocumented queer immigrant, risking deportation in the face of the President and the ever-present Secret Service. The announcement yesterday proves that she was right.

Those in society who continue to demonstrate homophobia, transphobia, queerphobia and intolerance towards the LGBT are the people for whom respectability politics will not work. The hard-right of the GOP, the Fundementalist Christians and hate groups such as the KKK who have said that they will protest marriage equality. This calls for a different direction in activism.

The queer media was quick to call out Jennicet, even including some of her sisters in the transgender media. In The Advocate today, trans writer Dawn Ennis referred to Jennicet as "the trans Kanye West," and in the same piece proclaims her own immigrant heritage comparing the effect of the largely debunked myth of "No Irish Need Apply" on her ancestors, with the struggles of undocumented queer immigrants today. Thankfully, the majority of articles criticizing Jennicet were actually far more respectful than to compare fictional struggles of white people with the actual struggles of people of color.

As J Bryan Lowder, associate editor at Slate, wrote:

The very existence of a Pride reception at the White House owes itself to decades of activism in which queer people often ruined nice events and made bystanders uncomfortable. Queer activism must, by its very nature, be disruptive. That does not mean, of course, that every action led, or will lead, to immediate, efficacious change. But the buildup of those voices of dissent in the ears of the powerful over time does make a difference

As a queer activist, I strongly agree with Bryan. We as the LGBT need to look deep into our hearts, and find our soul again. The soul that believes an injury to one is an injury to all. The soul that believes that men, women, and people of all genders should be equal. The soul that believes all people without regard to their race or creed, are our siblings. Only when we have found our soul will we find our voice again, the voice we need to ultimately be victorious in combating the threat of hate.