Monday, October 12, 2009

Equality March. Now What?

So, I have had a number of people, both in the U.S. and Canada, ask me my thoughts on the Equality March. I was pretty much bombarded in the last 24 hours asking my opinion on the event. Last night I was firm in asking my loving community to give me the night to think about the event, read more of the articles concerning the event, and formulate my opinion.

Here it is.

Let me begin by saying that I did not attend the march for the reasons that I outlined previously. I continue to stand by those reasons.

I will not go so far as Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) who said in an article that he thought the march was a waste of time and effort. For the tens of thousands of people that attended the event, it was an empowering experience and was an energizing moment in their lives. Many people that I care deeply about attended the event, and one of the women that I love and admire, Penelope Williams, was selected as a speaker from the bisexual community. For those people, the event was an important exercise in visibility. I support their participation, and I believe that they got what they needed from the march. Penelope, btw, was invited to speak after intense lobbying by bisexual organizers that, in the last days leading up to the event, found that there was only one speaker from the bisexual community scheduled to address the crowd. You'd think by 2009 the marginalization of bisexual members of our community would be a thing of the past. Whoops.

Unfortunately the community at large and the movement specifically will find that the march was not productive in the least in terms of pushing forward a policy agenda. Obama is dead on right that the economy, the two wars, and health care are much more important issues than the rights of queer folks to openly serve as a part of the U.S. war machine, the marriage battle, or any number of narrow issues that are very important but nowhere near as important as ending war, rebuilding the economy, and establishing a national right to affordable (should be free) healthcare. The reality of politics is that the President has only so much political capital to expend at any one time. The more deft politically Obama is now the more room he has to push a more progressive agenda later. A bevy of polls in recent days have shown that his popularity is climbing again, topping 56%, and he has managed to not only contain but also turn around the spin of the massive conservative publicity machine.

Giving the Right base mobilizing, religious fervor fodder right now would not only retard the movement forward with healthcare and the economy, it would gut any real progress on LGBT liberation in the future. No one is asking our community to wait our turn...what is being asked is that we recognize that ending war, rebuilding the economy, and healthcare reform ARE OUR ISSUES AS WELL!

We are not separate from or outside of those issues and for queers that are progressive, we understand that those issues are at the top of our queer political agenda as they should be. What good is the right to marry if I can't afford a wedding? What good is the right to serve in the military if, after being awarded for service by life long mental health damage, I can't afford to go to the ER (and don't get me started on VA Medical services)? It is time for our community to grow up and learn some political sophistication.

If Obama wins on healthcare, the economy, and successfully gets us out of Iraq...his popularity will skyrocket, and members of Congress will not have the political will to oppose him on issues that, right now, would paralyze the political process and end up setting our justice movement backwards.

And let's talk about justice versus equality. Another failure of the march was the name: Equality. I am not interested in equality. I have no interest in being equal to a cultural system that awards racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism and ableism (which, incidentally, are truly at the core of our community's marginalization). I have no interest in joining a system of exploitation in exchange for the right to marry, be sent to war and die for oil, or bring my houseboy in the country legally through narrow immigration reform.

I am interested in liberation ad justice, which necessitates us dismantling systems based in oppression and replacing them with agreements that respect the inherent dignities of each person without creating a new hierarchical system of oppression and privilege in order to maintain those new rights. That means tearing apart the institution of marriage and replacing it with a system of legal union that is not based in centuries of sexism and case law that favors the wealthy over the poor, men over women, or in the case of child custody, women over men. It means looking at the military industrial complex and making a decision to create laws that stringently outline when a President can order troops to war, ends war for financial gain, restricts war time profiteering, and abolishes the poverty and racial draft once and for all. It means health care reform that ends in single payer universal health care.

Unfortunately, we have been trained from the gate and through the non-profit industrial complex to accept crumbs instead of a slice of the pie. Guess what? We deserve the whole damn pie. Until we get it, we need to fight for the biggest pieces first, the ones that will feed the most, sustain the most, support the most and will feed us and strengthen us to make further charges, and harder fights, possible and winnable.


  1. Your blog reeks of Communist ignorance. Such a sad perish of an otherwise intelligent mind.

  2. Well, I will definitely take the compliment buried in there somewhere. I am no communist, but I do believe that we all have a firm responsibility to take care of one another both as human beings and as governments.

  3. @ Anon: ignorance of communism??

  4. Thank you for your commentary on the marginalization of bisexuals.

    Thank you also for the truth that you speak in this post. War, poverty, health care are OUR issues, particularly for queer women of color like me. America fails to ensure justice at home and abroad, and all of these issues must be addressed just not necessarily according to the ideal time line, which would be right now.

  5. Xiomara: Thank you for reading and for speaking out. Hasta la victoria siempre. Adelante hermana.

  6. Brandon - you're far too rational and reasonable. :)

    Tip of the hat to you for acknowledging Penelope, identified by CSPAN as a "Bisexual Activist" (at least they got that right, although she's obviously a lot more than just that).

    I see that she had her chance to speak at the "Gay Rights Rally" (argh!, CSPAN) just before Lady Gaga (and in fact introduced her). See 5:21 into this clip -

    I see that she managed to speak in English and Spanish, too - and broaden the discussion of the issues beyond marriage equality and a narrow view of "gay rights"! Good for her!

    With regards to Obama: I sincerely hope that he is successful at executing on the agenda you outline, but I admit to a great deal of skepticism, while still reserving judgement to a degree - the record four years out will tell the tale, far more than the first ten months. Plus, if he can emasculate the right-wing noise machine by maintaining his popularity and political effectiveness despite all their efforts, by that deed alone he will do the country a service that may very well outweigh anything else he does or does not do.

    With regards to the VA medical system... I figure you must have a basis for your opinion, but I have friends who are veterans who say they owe their lives to the care they receive and received through the VA, and per the article below, they're not the only folks happy with it.

    Patients routinely rank the veterans system above the alternatives, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Last year, the government program got a satisfaction rating of 85 for inpatient treatment, compared with 77 for private hospitals. The index, a University of Michigan project, found that veterans’ outpatient care scored 3 points higher.

  7. Penelope is downright amazing. I've known her since I was 21...she's fantastic.

    My issue with the VA is not the quality of care but the time it takes to get care. I remember sitting at the VA with an ex-partner of mine. He waited almost eight hours to get checked out for some pain he was having. The care is great, the waits are not, and often the VAs are overburdened, depending on where they are. BUT, as a model for healthcare, modified, I think they are great.

    PS As bitter as I can be...I am an eternal optimist.

  8. ... and we love you for that, sweetie. :)

  9. Brandon, you rock! I always knew you were funny and foxy, but I never knew how smart you were! You have a heart the size of an elephant for the human race. Thank you for the information you provide and your unapologetic demand for fairness and awareness. God bless you!! XO

  10. CHERYL MATSUI! Where the hell are you in the world? I am so happy you found my little piece of the web my love. I miss you. Thank you for your wonderful comments and for reading.

  11. I am so happy I found your blog (via Molina a.k.a. J-Mo). I am living in Hugo, MN (just south of Forest Lake) with Joe (the plumber, check out our website at and our 2 kids. I love reading your blogs and comments, and I love your optimism. You're so honest, real, hilariously funny, and inspirational. Congratulations on all of your success, and much more to come!

  12. I am so happy you found me! I will check out your website. And congrats on the babies.

  13. Brandon, thanks so much for your thoughtful response to and reflection on the National Equality March. You wrote a really great piece. It was very helpful to read. You made so many very good points.
    My sister sent it to me as part of our lively, fierce, loving and continued debate about the march. She reminded me that 'the visibility [of the event] becomes most effective when those who claim it follow up and hold accountable both themselves and the people in power'. I shared my reflections on your piece with her; as part of my efforts to follow-up and hold myself accountable post-march, I thought I would share them with you as well.
    I largely agree with most things you said. I struggle with some others. One of the things that is really tough for me is your split between politics and policy and the personal/social. This is something I'm continually pulled between in all aspects of my life. I do not really understand how the fact that the march was empowering and energizing to individuals can be discounted and devalued compared to policy progress.
    What I saw the march provide was a means, venue, avenue, reason, that led to more deep, thoughtful, political and personal debates about queer issues than I'd ever previously engaged in with my friends. It provided a space and an instigator for a friend of mine, who is Eritrean, to think about her identity, her future, her various privileges and lack of privileges. She felt alone in the lack of Africans at the march but also saw, in many ways for the first time, how her own lack of being out contributes to that. She gained strength, motivation and support to consider coming out to a friend she has been wanting to come out to for a long time. The march provided another friend, who is very new to the queer community, with a larger community of support for her queerness. It provided me with a supported avenue and impetus to come out to my housemates, my boss and my extended family. I do not articulate this stuff well enough to fully convey the power but, as much as I believe in organizing and politics, I truly believe the world changes one person at a time. One person to another person; feeling supported to be who they/we are and tell their/our truth.
    While we make politically wise decisions about policy and prioritize health care over marriage rights, we need space to celebrate and be ourselves. I think this is what the march did and I think there is tremendous value in it. I also think the march importantly and effectively continued to make the public aware of these issues and of our community and helped to continue bringing people under our umbrella (e.g. several straight friends came out to support and learned more about the issues in general and how much they impact me personally). I think it is important to continue bringing people under our umbrella while we prioritize health care so that...
    I don't have a good so that. What I want to say is something like we need to keep bringing people under our umbrella so that when health care reform is achieved and queer people are still dumped under the rug, as they will be, there are a few more voices arguing in support. But what makes me so overwhelmed and uncomfortable and leads to some crisis for me anytime I do anything political is that it seems to me our country operates on power and an unequal division of it so if I fight for my rights or someone else's... this means someone else is going to suffer.

  14. (continued)

    I am surprised by your thought that by 2009 the marginalization of bisexual folks would be a thing of the past because living it - it is REALLY f-ing complicated and a really big mess of a middle place between privileges (as I was reminded again and again and again being my bi self throughout the march weekend) and frankly I don't see how that marginalization will ever really go away. :-(

    I agree with what what you outline as the advisable course of action for Obama and for the community moving forward - recognizing health care as our issue and pushing that forward first. At the same time, I kind of feel like there is value in community members pushing and Obama being the one to make the politically wise decision to move forward in certain directions. The march raised all of the dialogues/issues you describe. The march left room for these voices and I believe will actually more effectively push your suggested plan forward than not doing the march. The alternative I heard to this organizing was to keep efforts focused on the state level...that would have been pushing for marriage...
    I WAS very mad that health care was not mentioned more throughout the rally.
    I feel you when you say "It is time for our community to grow up and learn some political sophistication." I felt embarrassed reading 'empty'/relatively politically uneducated quotes from community members at the march. I felt embarrassed being one of those people. I had quite a crisis of a moment when I was asked to go on record saying the one thing I hoped people would take away from the march. But the march led to that moment and motivated me to rise up to have an answer.
    At the same time, when people are being abused for their identity, when young people are killing themselves in schools because of the pain they feel...political sophistication seems like a lot to ask for. I'm privileged as f*$! and worried to even say this out loud but I have a mess of my personal life right now and so much of the mess is my personal struggle related to these issues and it is tiring and consuming and leaves me less time to read all of the news articles and policy/political pieces than I would like.

    It freaks me out that you give the concept of equality away to 'the system' - that we can no longer fight for equality because that means fighting to be part of the system. I don't understand that. Why does being equal mean being equal to a cultural system. Why does being equal, one person to another, which means fighting marriage and racism, get erased?
    I want to dismantle systems and believe the community does as well but horribly, I do not know if it is possible and if it is possible I know it will take a f-ing long time and I'm not sure what we are supposed to do in the meantime. We can barely pass health care!!! We can't get a reasonable health care bill passed that will actually make true change. We're going to crawl forward on that at a snails pace. If this is how health care goes, how are we ever going to 'dismantle the military industrial complex and tear apart the institution of marriage'?????

    Ohhhh man. This is where I get really discouraged. So all I know to do in the meantime is try and make things feel a little bit better. This march did this for me, and I believe my friends as well, in a big way. I struggle every day with the knowledge that, most of the time, making me and those around me feel a little bit better is probably screwing someone else and contributing to and continuing oppression... This was brilliantly clear when we left the march and revived ourselves with some Starbucks.
    Sorry to be relatively inarticulate and kinda random, all over the place, and unorganized in my response. I'm still tired from the weekend:-) Thanks for getting me thinking.

  15. Hey Sara!

    Thanks for your very thoughtful response to this post.

    First of all, let me say that the statement about inclusion of bisexual folks was made tongue-in-cheek. I was totally not surprised in the least bit that bi folks were left out. I have seen it done time and time and time and time again on too many stages to count.

    So, one of things I didn't really make clear in my post was that I was really addressing the stated goals of the march and the organizing (or lack thereof) that created the march. I absolutely value the march as a community building experience.

    The march was not billed as such.

    The march was billed as an event aimed at policy change. I don't think marches have the power to do that anymore.

    So for me a very real split existed between the aims and goals of the march and what the march achieved. I said this to some other folks...if the march had been billed as purely a visibility event, with some political overtones, but really as a rallying event for the community...I would have been on a big old pink bus to DC with my hair freshly curled and some new rouge on my cheeks...but it wasn't. And part of the reason is wasn't was the way it was wasn't grassroots regardless of what the organizers say. The agenda and politic around it was crafted by a couple of people and then a call when out to local communities to get folks to organize people to GET to the march as opposed to getting people to organize the march itself.

    And about equality versus justice. I am with you that our reality is that we need to, for the time being, take what we can when we can get it. Unfortunately, in the long run, we are going to get to a point where we (and I mean that as the big WE...the people not at the levers of power) are going to get as much as the system is willing to give. What then?

    Also, I want people to walk into marriage, the military, and whatever else folks are clamoring for with their eyes open. When you are asking for the right to marry, you are asking for the right to participate in a system of privilege that is based on oppression that is built into the case law that will govern your marriage and divorce. When you say you want to serve openly in the military, you are saying you want to participate in an institution that is and has been a tool of imperalism and has caused massive suffering to poor people in the name of "national and economic security." If that is something that a person is ethically ok with...or if it is something that a person has to do because of poverty or other life circumstances, I totally understand. I have two younger siblings in the service. I just want folks to know EXACTLY what they are asking for...not some abstract idea that has been linked to the language of equality...people need to know WHAT they are asking to be equal to.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful response. Much love to you and your sister ;-)

  16. Thank you Brandon for a well thought out analysis of where the queer movement and where it should be. I am frustrated by Obama's pace on queer rights but I am also frustrated by his withdrawl from Iraq and by his refusal to consider a withdrawl from Afghanistan. I appreciated your analysis that the LGBT movt should be a part of a movement for justice and should consider it's demands within the context for healthcare, peace, etc. I also agree that the demonstration was powerful even if some of us weren't there &/or didn't see it as strategic at this time.
    You're old friend from Powderhorn,

  17. Hey Meredith Aby! What an amazingly sweet treat to hear from you. Thank you for reading and for your comments. I think we were spoiled in Powderhorn...there was/is a community there that helped each other thing about some of these issues more broadly. Also, the diversity of the community created an environment where issues of war and poverty, police violence and immigration issues were very real and present. I love Powderhorn for so many reasons. I miss seeing your face now and again. Much love to you. Please kiss Anh for me when you see her next.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and insights. And thank you for reading!