Forty-four years ago at a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, a group of transsexuals, cross-dressers, drag queens, lesbians, and gay men fought back against their constant persecution by the New York Police Department and inadvertently started the modern fight for gay liberation. They would not believe the progress that queer people have made in the last 44 years!
The fight for marriage equality has been immensely successful in bringing the struggle for queer liberation to the mainstream. It is clear that the tides have changed, and gay marriage proponents are winning victory after victory across the country. In fact, in the last year the number of states that permit gay marriage has doubled. Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota were added in May of 2013 alone. The push for gay marriage has become so powerful that recent polls now show two-thirds of Americans believe that full marriage equality is inevitable (Washington Post, 6/2013).
While these trends are encouraging, we cannot allow statistics to make us become complacent and stop fighting. We must, instead, see this as a call to broaden the struggle! While winning important rights and calling attention to queer oppression, the marriage equality struggle by itself can only begin to address the huge problems still facing the majority of LGBTQ people.
Marriage will not help the disproportionate number of queer youth living on the streets, who account for upwards of 40% of all homeless youth (Huffington Post, 1/2013). Millions of Americans still live in fear of losing their jobs simply for being gay, lesbian, or transgender. 87% of Americans believe there is federal law preventing such workplace discrimination (The Bilerico Project, 6/2011), but the reality is that 61% of Americans live in states where sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected (Movement Advancement Project, 5/2013).
Sadly, these statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. Yet the huge resources and political influence wielded by the big gay rights organizations like Human Rights Campaign is still narrowly focused on gay marriage, which benefits the predominately white, predominately wealthy leadership of these organizations, who do not have to worry about the horrors that many working-class and poor queer Americans live through on a daily basis.
The time is now to build upon the momentum we have gained in the struggle for gay marriage. We have to demand that the big, well-resourced LGBTQ organizations focus that energy into a mass movement that strives for complete equality under federal law, including federal protections for working people, the end of bigoted laws like the Defense of Marriage Act, and full rights for queer immigrants and their partners. We must not be lulled into passivity by the recent string of victories, as these gains could be reversed if right-wing forces see a resurgence.
The LGBTQ movement will find greater strength by offering solidarity to others oppressed under capitalism, refusing to be divided against one another. Capitalism is a system that benefits from keeping working people divided. To deflect attention away from the real culprit, capitalism, we are told that the poor, immigrants, or queer people are the cause of society’s problems. While reforms can and will be won, a system that relies on pitting working people against one another will never allow full equality.