I open this week's Savage Lovecast by heaping praise on the big queer demonstration outside the Stonewall Inn in New York this weekend. The New Yorker also wrote it up. On the Lovecast I ranked the demo at the Stonewall Inn above Kristen Stewart coming out as gay on SNL and Lady Ga Ga's performance at the Super Bowl as the biggest and best queer thing that happened over the weekend.
The demo was called to protest Donald Trump's attacks on immigrants and refugees. Like I said at the top of my podcast: Trump and his minions have attempted to drive a wedge between LGBT Americans and immigrants and refugees. The turnout in New York at the Stonewall Inn on Saturday was our answer: Go fuck yourselves. We are everywhere—that's an old gay rights slogan/button/banner. Well, we are everywhere because we are everyone. LGBT people come in colors, all faiths, all classes. We are America citizens, we are refugees, we are immigrants—documented and undocumented. So an attack on immigrants and refugees is also an attack on queer people.
“We are Muslims, we are women, we are transgender, we are Mexican,” as Carmelyn Malalis, NYC's commissioner on human rights, told the crowd at the rally. “They don’t know that we are united and never leave a brother or sister behind. Not ever.”
Having said that...
Here's the subhead for Daniel Wenger's piece in the New Yorker about the rally:
A protest against Donald Trump outside the Stonewall Inn. After more than a decade focussed on same-sex marriage, a right held most dearly by affluent whites, the gay-rights movement is finding strength in diversity.
And from Wenger's story:
After more than a decade in which leading L.G.B.T.Q. organizations focussed their fight on same-sex marriage, a right held most dearly by affluent whites, Trump’s ascension is driving the gay-rights movement to embrace its greatest natural strength: its extension across lines of race and class.
A few things...
You gotta wonder if marriage rights aren't coming in handy right now for unmarried binational same-sex couples or for Americans in love with undocumented immigrants. I've heard from a few. (I ran two letters, but got many more.)
And has there ever been any actual polling on this whole "only affluent whites really care/care most" about marriage rights? Because we saw lots of wedding parties like this one—and lots of couples like Sinjoyla and Angelisa—pour into marriage licensing offices each time marriage equality was achieved in a new state.
Before marriage equality came to all 50 states—before it had been achieved in a single state—wealthy same-sex couples could hire lawyers to draw up wills and powers of attorney and jerry-rig/secure some of the rights and protections of marriage. The process took weeks and cost thousands of dollars. Some same-sex couples went so far as to do an adoption, one partner legally adopting the other, a hugely expensive, invasive, and protracted process. Marriage equality has allowed all same-sex couples—regardless of color, regardless of economic resources, regardless of one partner's immigration status—to access all of the protections of marriage for the cost of a marriage license ($66 in Washington State). Marriage equality, viewed from this angle, is a social justice issue.
Again, has there ever been any polling on the belief that marriage is "a right held most dearly by affluent whites"? Is this a fact the New Yorker's famous fact checkers can check or is it just some bullshit New Yorker writers are allowed to assert?
But you know what? Yes. Yes, most of the early advocates of marriage equality were gay white men like Andrew Sullivan, Evan Wolfson, and Jonathan Rauch. But the marriage equality movement, contra Wenger, wasn't embraced by "leading L.G.B.T.Q. organizations." It was coopted by them once the marriage-equality movement, which enjoyed the support of average queer people, began to score legal victories. And that's not the only bit of recent queer history people lost on those who insist affluent gay men "hijacked" the queer movement because they wanted to throw fabulous parties. Sullivan, Wolfson, Rauch—these were gay men who watched their friends die during the plague. Their generation witnessed scenes like the one Andrew Sullivan describes here:
A friend recalled visiting a man dying of AIDS at the time. A former massive bodybuilder, he had shrunk to 90 pounds. ‘Do I look big?” he asked, with mordant humor. In the next bed, surrounded by curtains, my friend heard someone singing a pop song quietly to himself. My friend joked: “Well not everyone here is depressed!” Then this from his dying, now skeletal friend: “Oh, that’s not him. He died this morning. That’s his partner. That was their song, apparently. The family took the body away, threw that guy out of the apartment he shared with his partner, and barred him from the funeral. He’s stayed there all day, singing their song. I guess it’s the last place he’ll ever see where his partner actually was. His face is pressed against the pillow. The nurses don’t have the heart to tell him to leave.”
Mary Bonauto, a lesbian and one of the rockstar attorneys who argued for marriage equality before the Supreme Court, described her experiences as a young attorney during the first years of the AIDS crisis:
"[The] AIDS crisis was one of the things that led us to fight for marriage.... [As] a new attorney in the 1980s, you know, I volunteered to do pro bono work my first day on the job and had plenty of it to do. It was just so clear to everyone that the person you lived with for 20 years was nobody. And the 'real family' could come in and clean out the apartment. It was back in the days of pay phones and I can't tell you the number of times I received calls as a new attorney about, you know, 'My boyfriend died. His family is here cleaning everything out. Is there anything I can do about it?' [If] you think about the bedside visits and the goodbyes that never happened and you think about that kind of thing, it was just painfully obvious that we had to fight for families.
Lesbian couples weren't at significant risk of dying of AIDS, but they were also vulnerable during medical crises:
In 1983 Sharon Kowalski, a 34-year-old high school teacher, was critically injured in an automobile accident that left her paralyzed and speechless. Kowalski’s family barred her partner of four years, Karen Thompson, from visiting her. As it wound its way through the judicial system, the Kowalski case became a rallying cry for the LGBT community. In 1991 the Minnesota Supreme Court declared that the two women had forged a “family of affinity, which ought to be accorded respect,” and allowed Kowalski to designate Thompson as her legal guardian.
But, yeah, a lot of the early advocates for marriage equality were gay men—gay men who had witnessed unbelievable acts of cruelty, gay men who had seen how vulnerable they and other queers were in the absence of the right to marry. How vulnerable we all were without the power to determine, through marriage, our immediate next-of-kin. (We would also come to see how inadequate other, lesser, separate-but-equal protections were.) For queer people with homophobic families, for women like Sharon Kowalski, for same-sex couples in the wrong state at the wrong time, that right to marry proved to be absolutely critical.
Ironically the people I hear this argument from most often—"only privileged, affluent gay men care about the right to marry"—are queer college students, usually white and affluent. They're so busy challenging others to recognize and atone for their privilege that they can't spot their own. Specks and planks, as someone or other once said.
UPDATE: A reader writes in to correct a factual error...
As a listener and a National Park nerd, I wanted to write in and let you know that Stonewall isn't actually the most recent national monument. I wanted you to know that, not (entirely) because I'm a picky jerk, but because the newest monuments that Obama designated right before he left office are some amazing places. In mid-January, he named the newest three monuments: Freedom Riders National Monument, site of the freedom riders bus bombing; Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, site of the Birmingham civil rights protests and subsequent police violence; and Reconstruction Era National Monument, commemorating the terrible era of injustice after the Civil War. I wanted to bring these to your attention because they commemorate some amazing history, and in these recent Trump days it's (much like Stonewall) the history of resistance against unjust oppression and the victories against the darkest forces in our nation that must be remembered and celebrated and learned from.