a Gala. a queer Gala?
howdy y’all …. this little bit of text here is in response to the upcoming HRC Gala that some queers are planning to perhaps crash and do other things around. this response towards the Gala won’t represent all of LGBTQdom, nor does this little ditty here represent all of the folks planning a response to the Gala. and we think that’s great.
if the HRC irritates you for whatever reason we look forward to seeing you out there on Saturday the 22nd to make that known. we love you all! and now on to the wordzzzzzzz ……
During the Summer period of the most intense police backlash to Ferguson protestors, a letter addressed to mainstream Missouri LGBTQ organizations was publicly released. In it the anonymous writers expressed their frustration at the lack of responsiveness of Missouri LGBTQ organizations such as PROMO and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to the realities of what was happening in Ferguson and particularly the implications those events had on the lives of LGBTQ people that aren’t white. Outside of making public statements (some of which had to be coerced out of them), the silence and inaction of these organizations highlighted many long-standing criticisms of them.
Part of the criticism of the HRC stems from the fact that it positions itself as an organization that represents the whole of the LGBTQ community. When the HRC fails in this endeavor that results in all sorts of annoying, painful, and even dangerous consequences for the people it claims to represent. It’s not a simple matter of just claiming shared experience based on sexual orientation or gender expression. We’re not even sure it’s possible to represent a thing that would be as vast and diverse as an “LGBTQ community.” To that end we, just a few LGBTQ identified folks, are offering here a bit of our critique of the HRC. It’s not comprehensive, it’s not authoritative on matters of LGBTQ identity or struggle, it’s just a few things we want to get off our chests, and a few suggestions for how we might move forward …
Allies (and enemies) of LGBTQ people who are looking in from the outside could be easily forgiven for any misconception of theirs that the fight for marriage equality was an all encompassing and agreed upon struggle. The time, energy, money, and attention drawn towards the fight for marriage equality and the organizations that essentially define themselves based on that fight obliterates even the sight of other often life-and-death struggles being faced by LGBTQ people. Gone is the fight against poverty, or immigration status, or the rate of incarceration and its specific impacts on LGBTQ people, or ways to combat the horrendous violence waged against queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming bodies outside of throwing more people into the prison system forever. All these distinctions are swept away and in their place you have the branding of the HRC with its blue and yellow equality sign, though equality for whom and by what means is all up for question.
Months on since the death of Mike Brown everyone in Saint Louis is nervously anticipating the grand jury decision on whether to indict his killer and the city is poised to explode into all manner of activity. In the midst of all the planning and discussion surrounding the grand jury decision, the HRC is preparing for its annual black tie Gala event. At a base cost of $225 a ticket (and however much your wardrobe will cost … gotta look sharp and evidently perfectly gender-conforming judging from the publicity photos generated from these affairs) you get access to dinner, a Wells Fargo sponsored after party, and a lineup of speakers that will culminate in whichever politician can strategically be roped in to ideally make both themselves and the HRC look good. For instance in 2012, the last time a group of people disrupted the Gala, the main speaker was Jay Nixon, the man now helping to organize a police and military effort designed to shut down and silence any protest or rage that doesn’t fall well within the lines of what is considered acceptable by a dominant, white supremacist society.
Class divisions play out in the LGBTQ community as the lack of action by moderate LGBTQ groups around Mike Brown’s murder shows. This blindness is especially devastating for trans people of color, who are among the most marginalized and oppressed in our society. Transgender people who are able to get a job often work in precarious, low paying jobs in the service industry, jobs where they are not visible to corporate clients, or in criminalized sectors of the economy like the sex and drug trades. This situation is made even worse in states like Missouri where LGBTQ persons can legally be fired and denied housing because of their identity. For same-sex couples, they are significantly more likely to be poor than heterosexual couples and are more likely to receive public assistance from government programs intended to support poor and low-income individuals and families.
Groups like the HRC have focused on campaigns that do not ultimately challenge the fundamental causes of LGBTQ oppression, often failing to meet the needs of the majority of LGBTQ people who face constant economic exploitation and oppression. This leads the HRC to have to moderate their demands to fit within the traditional social order and what was acceptable to the Democratic Party and the party’s corporate backers. The HRC, which it should be reminded stands for Human Rights Campaign, very recently released the results for its annual Municipal Equality Index for which Saint Louis again earned a perfect score. The idea that any concept of perfect equality exists within this city is as farcical as the name of the HRC and much of its history since its inception.
But, whether you knew it or not already, all of what was written above, outside of the particularities about Ferguson and Mike Brown, has been written about and discussed time and time and time again. The problems of identifying an LGBTQ community, let alone representing it, come up continuously and are only intensified and laid painfully bare during these immediate crises brought on by the death of Mike Brown, Kajieme Powell, and VonDerrit Myers. The crises faced in people’s every day life within an intolerable police state where power is reserved for those that can most dole out the cash for it are, sadly, often not enough to seriously draw attention to the obvious fractures within the LGBTQ community. And when the HRC, who claims to represent this entire dysfunctional family, throws its annual Gala that most of us couldn’t even think of comfortably attending in the midst of the grand jury fervor, then these fractures become so stark and obvious that they have to be addressed openly.
This process of coming to grips with all these issues has thankfully already begun in Saint Louis. Weeks ago LGBTQ folks met at Blank Space to discuss the shared economic exploitation and police and state violence facing both the LGBTQ and black and brown communities. People shared their concerns of how people of color, trans, disabled and working class folks’ concerns are forgotten by moderate LGBTQ organizations. A Queer and Trans Persons of Color (QTPOC) group has reemerged to provide a necessary and safer space for people that desire to meet and share experiences. Greater numbers of people are now actively and openly engaged in the work of how their identities and communities interact and change. And despite the ridiculous practice of some claiming that certain identities don’t matter or that you somehow don’t see the color of someone’s skin, all identities and all lives do in fact matter.
In the wake of months of clearly visible pain, conflict, crisis, and confusion there have been many opportunities for dialogue and action to respond to and process what has happened. Part of this process has involved identifying institutions we know that have failed to live up to their promises, and for the LGBTQ community we identify the HRC as one such institution. We invite those that identify LGBTQ or their allies to come join us downtown at the Gala location to represent yourselves and your identities instead of having an organization like the HRC do so for you. We hope this will be a step towards meeting one another and understanding where organizations like the HRC have failed to properly represent us, what our community actually is, what our community actually needs, and how can we meet these needs together.
Based on our past and many current experiences we suspect that people who are most interested in not challenging the concept of LGBTQ community will be the most outspoken that challenging institutions like the HRC is counterproductive or divisive. Since the events in Ferguson we have seen so many beautiful examples of people coming together to respond to crisis, even just among people who identify as LGBTQ. Claims that grappling with the deep-seated racial issues that plague our city and the LGBTQ community are somehow divisive misses the point and, more importantly, it misses the opportunity to actually bridge those real divides.
Visibility, even when it comes in the form of a very problematic blue and yellow equals sign, a corporate brand, can be crucially helpful for people fighting against isolation. In a world that still too often brings violence down upon trans and queer bodies with impunity it is vital to know that you’re not alone. But we have to always be conscious of who we are leaving behind when so much of our communities our bound up in large organizations that are not accountable to our needs. We have to be able to make ourselves visible, and not allow our struggles to be limited by single-issue campaigns, non-profit corporate branding, or for our voices to be silenced by some of the most vile and outright racism this city has seen in a long while.
Please join us downtown on Saturday the 22nd at 5:30 PM outside the Hilton. We can fight so every Mike Brown has a future. We can fight so everyone can get married, or rid the world of the institution of marriage, or do both at the same time. We can fight alongside all those who want to create loving and fostering community together towards a world where we understand our common well being will only be achieved when all are free.