Since the 1960s, the advancement of rights and status for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people has been remarkable, but this progress was not inevitable and its pace has slowed considerably over the past few decades. However, with the re-politicization of the queer community in recent years, many people are radicalizing with ideas far beyond the scope of legal or social reforms and instead are looking toward ending their oppression altogether and creating a world of true liberation.
With the Stonewall Inn riots in 1969, our modern era of struggle for LGBT rights was born. The Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, the labour and student movements and the anti-war movement were the locus of activity for people of that time wanting to end oppression—racist, sexist, imperialist—and these movements provided the training ground for the most militant activists within the nascent movement for gay liberation.
These movements also served as the inspiration for many other people to fight for themselves for the very first time, but it was the solidarity between the various movements which gave each of them their radical edge: working-class people fighting together to end the oppression the capitalist system creates and which it relies on as a wedge to divide people, one against another.
But after this initial burst of radical activity put the struggle for LGBT rights on the map, we saw an inward turn toward identity and lifestyle politics. Only LGBT people could fight for their liberation and “coming out” or “being queer” were elevated to principles, slowing the advancement of the struggle for all those who deviated from the heterosexual or male-female gender binary “norms.”
However, just like the AIDS crisis spurred a muted movement into a more militant position, the age of austerity since the global financial crisis of 2008 has forced today’s movement out of its complacency again.
While many LGBT people in Western nations have fought and won struggles for equal rights and access to health benefits, housing and job security, civil unions, marriage and spousal benefits, anti-discrimination laws and the ability to work and live openly, the vast majority of LGBT people—those in much of the world—do not enjoy these same rights. The status of trans people continues to lag far behind that of their more traditionally male- and female-identified counterparts. The march of progress is not inevitable, for advance on one front doesn’t preclude retreat on another.
Take, for example, the repeal of the US military’s ridiculous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. This occurred while many American states passed legislation banning “gay marriage” and President Barack Obama continued to dither over his support for same-sex marriage, even if he now supports it.
In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims his Conservative party has no intention of re-opening “the marriage debate” while it simultaneously passes legislation making it more difficult for more LGBT refugees and immigrants to enter or stay in Canada, and it defunds HIV/AIDS organizations and Pride festivals.
It is because of these set-backs—these rights which already have been won, only to be taken away—as well as all of the room for improvement still to be made in the lives of LGBT people that the re-politicization of Pride is taking shape. After all, just as working people and students around the world—from Egypt to Wisconsin, from Greece to Spain, from Chile to Quebec—are uniting to resist the austerity agenda being forced upon them by the ruling class, so must LGBT people join in solidarity to reject the notion that they should pay for this most recent crisis of capitalism when they did nothing to create it.
If an injury to one is an injury to all, then so too is a victory for one a victory for all. This is why we fight in common struggle throughout the year, and why we come together now during Pride: to remember our past victories as well as our defeats, to generalize the lessons we’ve learned from all these and to push our struggle forward. A better world is possible—a world free of exploitation and oppression which can allow for the expression of the full range of human diversity—but only if we fight for ourselves, together: people of all genders, sexualities, races and abilities.