Queer Left Academics Take on LGBT Mainstream - Gay City News | Gay City News Queer Left Academics Take on LGBT Mainstream - Gay City News | Gay City News
Quantcast

Queer Left Academics Take on LGBT Mainstream

Speaker Meredith Talusan, a transgender author and activist, at one point tweeted in wonderment at all the firepower raining down on the Human Rights Campaign at the conference. | ALICE PROUJANSKY

Speaker Meredith Talusan, a transgender author and activist, at one point tweeted in wonderment at all the firepower raining down on the Human Rights Campaign at the conference. | ALICE PROUJANSKY

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | Roughly two hours into a conference titled “Beyond Marriage, Beyond Equality,” Meredith Talusan, a transgender author and activist and a conference speaker, tweeted “Wow so much @HRC-bashing among queer academics has me thinking, ‘But they’re trying.’ Who have I become???”

The conference, which was organized by historian Martin Duberman and held at the main branch of the New York Public Library, featured Duberman and six queer left academics on two panels. Much of the discussion at the conference was concerned with what the panelists oppose and what they enjoy criticizing –– the drive for equality under the law by mainstream LGBTQ groups and same-sex marriage.

Duberman opened the conference by noting that movements that have radical left roots often see the founders “pushed off stage” and replaced by others with a narrower vision or more limited goals.

“I think we’ve seen something like that pattern in the movement for gay liberation,” he said at the April 22 event.

Five hours of critique that even one critic could not bear

During the discussion, the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), an early and short-lived far left group that emerged following the 1969 Stonewall riots, was held up as an example of the movement’s radical roots and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ lobbying group, was held up as the embodiment of the moderate –– some of the panelists would say conservative –– impulse that supplanted the movement’s radical politics.

Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke said, “Only one thing has changed from 1971, gay and lesbian couples are marrying.” | ALICE PROUJANSKY

Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke said, “Only one thing has changed from 1971, gay and lesbian couples are marrying.” | ALICE PROUJANSKY

Katherine Franke, a professor at Columbia Law School, began her comments with a rhetorical tactic that is commonly used by both the far left and the far right –– asserting that the state of society is terrible and so radical politics are called for. She compared 2017 to the early ‘70s when sodomy laws were enforced in nearly every state and no jurisdiction barred discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“If we fast forward 50 years to today, we are by and large fighting the same fights,” Franke said. “Only one thing has changed from 1971, gay and lesbian couples are marrying.”

Some of the panelists were concerned with the movement abandoning the critique of capitalism made by a few groups from that time. Some early gay rights groups, such as GLF, shared the goals and ideology of anti-racism, anti-poverty, and socialist organizations, though they did not necessarily establish links to those groups.

“We’ve gone from trying to dismantle a system to trying to get inside it,” said Hugh Ryan, a writer and recipient of a Martin Duberman Fellowship as visiting scholar at the Public Library.

That abandonment aided the push for same-sex marriage, in Franke’s view, because lesbian and gay couples were compared favorably to the stereotype of the failed African-American family.

“In that sense, winning marriage benefited from a kind of racial endowment,” Franke said, after noting that she did not believe that marriage proponents were racist. “It was easier for us to say, ‘We’re like you, straight people.’”

The appeal to government and to the law that have been very much a part of the LGBTQ community winning recent gains was also criticized during the conference.

Michael Warner, a professor at Yale and author of “The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life,” said that during debates about the US Department of Homeland Security shuttering rentboy.com, a website that linked gay escorts and customers, he would inevitably find defenders of the criminal prosecution asserting that it was justified because prostitution is illegal.

“When did we start loving the law, and then I realized ‘Oh yeah, gay marriage,’” Warner said. “That love of the law has become far too pervasive.”

As is often the case at both extremes of the political spectrum, critiques are common and solutions are less common. That was certainly the case during the conference.

Joseph DeFilippis, a professor at Seattle University, discussed his study of eight small LGBTQ advocacy groups. | ALICE PROUJANSKY

Joseph DeFilippis, a professor at Seattle University, discussed his study of eight small LGBTQ advocacy groups. | ALICE PROUJANSKY

Joseph DeFilippis, a professor at Seattle University, studied eight small organizations that he said showed an alternative way of organizing in the LGBTQ community and were addressing poverty and racism. Questioned by Duberman, DeFilippis said that not all of them are radical, the ones that are cannot be too radical, and all of them are constrained by their legal non-profit status.

“There’s only so much they can talk about without being written off,” DeFilippis said.

Lisa Duggan, a professor at NYU, touched on intersectionality during her talk, which is frequently used on the queer left when discussing organizing and setting goals. The term was first introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor at Columbia Law School, and she called it “an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power” in a 2015 editorial in the Washington Post. Intersectionality has no agreed-upon definition.

Hugh Ryan, a Martin Duberman Fellow at the New York Public Library. | ALICE PROUJANSKY

Hugh Ryan, a Martin Duberman Fellow at the New York Public Library. | ALICE PROUJANSKY

“It’s had a very strange career and many, many meanings,” Duggan said. “The term is all over social media.”

Talusan spoke last and nodded to the gloomy presentations that came before her.

“I’m not sure I’m going to be any less depressing, but at least I’ll be perky about it,” she said.

6 Responses to Queer Left Academics Take on LGBT Mainstream

  1. Thom Prentice April 30, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    I have been wondering when Gay Liberation turned into Gay Incorporated and then mutated into a policy-free cog in the Democratic Party machine.

    Reply
  2. Greg Varra May 1, 2017 at 3:33 am

    HRC has never represented my interests. Just like the Democratic Party does not represent the LGBTQQI best interests; however, Queer moderates had their heads up Clinton's ass!

    Reply
    • ludwig123 May 13, 2017 at 4:23 pm

      Perhaps no political party represents all the best interests of the LBGT community at large. The best we can do is go with the closest party that does and work from inside for change. That said some of us, the more wealthy ones, shoot ourselves in the foot by being part of a group that obstinately never will change and historically never will. I see any lgbt person who is a Republican basically is shooting themselves in their own foot. It was Sen McCarthy a staunch Republican who outed and ruined the lives of many of out community in the 1950s. It was Anita Bryan who was a Republican who got her fascist ideologies of half truths saying that we were pedophiles going depriving us of our civil rights in many states and the ist is much longer. The Republicans are note for trying to take rights away from people such as blacks to keep them from voting (stupid idea–the vote of one black person or anyother such people can win an election).

      Reply
  3. David Ehrenstein May 3, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Wasn't the Gay Activists Alliance mentioned?

    Reply
  4. bob schwartz May 3, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    The struggle for marriage equality was a fight against second class citizenship and for individual and group dignity. Sure, HRC and eventually even the Democratic Party embraced the struggle, and the fact that these endorsements helped "mainstream" the LGBTQ movement did not detract from the many material benefits that accrue to the marriage contract. I, for one, can advocate for marriage and work for the end of the murderous capitalist system at the same time.

    Reply
  5. houndentenor May 13, 2017 at 10:15 am

    HRC has never done anything but throw lavish parties and take credit for other groups' hard work. There are some very good gay advocacy groups including Lambda Legal and lots of local groups that have gotten real results that benefited lbgt people, but HRC is nothing but a money pit.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


− one = five