Most people who know I am a queer woman will assume that I am ecstatic about recent legislation: The bill approved by the Illinois General Assembly making civil unions legal and the bill approved by the US Congress repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). However, people who have known me for some time might wonder. You see, I first delved into queer rights activism on Pride Day of 2004, when I joined a number of queer anarchists and allies in entering the Pride Parade, which we saw as a corporate sell-out, without a permit. A number of us commented on marriage, characterizing it as an oppressive institution. I do not remember whether we specifically addressed the issue of queer folks in the military, but people who saw the banner that read, “No war but class war,” might have inferred what the majority of us believed. We were not interested in reforming marriage or the military, we wanted to abolish them both.
Seven years have passed, and I am happy to learn about both pieces of recent legislation. Even so, I am not ecstatic. Though I am no longer an anarchist, I am still a radical. Marriage and the military have long been the primary concerns of white, cisgender, middle class gays and lesbians. Meanwhile organizations that have been in touch with the needs of working class queer and trans youth of color—organizations like Chicago’s Gender JUST—have tended to focus more on the systemic discrimination that is not codified into law, such as bullying in schools and the inequitable distribution of funding for AIDS prevention. When it comes to queer liberation, some of us have a longer way to go than the mainstream gay and lesbian rights organizations let on.
I am sincerely happy for the TBLGQ folks in Illinois who will no longer face institutional discrimination, but what about the problems it leaves unresolved? Even though the level of domestic violence in same-sex relationships is similar to the level of violence in straight relationships, the former is a lot more likely to be neglected. As the recent discourse regarding the accusations against Julian Assange shows, a ridiculously narrow definition of rape dominates in our sexist society, making it even more difficult for bisexual and queer women to be taken seriously. Considering that Illinois law formalizes a narrower definition of rape for victims whose perpetrators are their spouses, how attractive an option is marriage for those of us who survived sexual assault in same-sex relationships? As a trans woman who suffered abuse, including sexual abuse, at the hands of a transphobic woman who was my partner, I can tell you my personal perspective: The idea of being married is terrifying.
It is good that Congress has repealed DADT. Considering the rate at which black women were discharged under DADT, it was not only a heterosexist policy but also a racist and a sexist policy. However, repealing DADT will have no direct bearing on the fact that members of same-sex households are disproportionately more likely to serve. And why have they served? So that the US could destabilize Iraq to the point that it is arguably the worst country for TBLGQ people to be in? So that the party that is purported to be the party of “family values” could initiate a war in Afghanistan that has led to the daily death of 850 children? How does DADT—or any other legislation proposed by the mainstream gay and lesbian rights organizations—address the fact that it is straight folks’ war and queer folks’ fight?
If I could go back and relive my first day of activism, there is little I would change about my message. If I were to spend less time speaking out against marriage and the military, I would use the time I gained to speak out about the mainstream gay and lesbian community’s complacency when it comes to domestic violence and war. In the real world Illinois does not yet have equal marriage. Future generations will judge us based not only on our approval of reforms that would change this but also on whether we let focus on these reforms divert our attention from the plight of the most vulnerable members of our community.