A shallow embrace of equality

April 2, 2013

In an article published in the Rainbow Times, Keegan O’Brien responds to Hillary Clinton's announcement that she now supports same-sex marriage.

RECENTLY, FORMER Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a video officially announcing her support for same-sex marriage, shortly after her husband and former President Bill Clinton did the same, and just months after Barack Obama's statement. The same week, several prominent Republican figures also announced their support for marriage equality.

This all occurred only a week before the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear historic cases challenging Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), in which the Obama administration has publicly come out on the side of LGBTQ rights.

Compared to Bill Clinton's signing of DOMA and implementation of "don't ask, don't tell," and George W. Bush's attempt to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, politicians' support for basic civil rights--such as marriage equality--is an enormous advancement for our community. Any time political figures recognize our humanity and advocate the simple idea that we should be treated with respect and dignity, it is welcome. And if the Supreme Court rules in favor of equality, that will be a historic breakthrough in the long struggle for justice.

Hillary Clinton appears in a video to declare her support for equal marriage rights
Hillary Clinton appears in a video to declare her support for equal marriage rights

That said, we deserve--and should demand--much more then rhetorical support from political figures. There's nothing brave or groundbreaking about politicians embracing same-sex marriage well after a majority of the population supports it. Coming out in support of marriage equality to gain votes, campaign contributions and further build support for U.S. austerity and militarism is political opportunism, plain and simple.

The reason why politicians have recently come out in favor of same sex marriage is a direct result of the enormous pressure and organizing placed on the political establishment by LGBTQ activists.

Unfortunately, most in the LGBT political establishment have been unwilling to criticize Obama, Clinton or much of the Democratic Party and the tremendous gap between their rhetoric and action. No one at the Human Rights Campaign has found it necessary to ask tough questions; Why, in a matter of months, can the Obama Administration carry out an occupation in Afghanistan and spend billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out Wall Street, but can't find the time or energy to prioritize passing an all inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)?

Kind words are appreciated, but when it is completely legal in 29 states to be fired or not hired due to your perceived or known sexual orientation, and to be fired or not hired in 37 states for your gender identity or expression, and when 37 states have passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, actions speak louder then words.

YOU WOULDN'T know this by watching CNN or listening to anyone in the Obama administration most of the time, but there is an epidemic of LGBTQ youth homelessness and suicide. Every year, countless numbers of LGBTQ youth are kicked out by their families, sleep homeless on the streets, take their own lives, struggle with mental health problems and substance abuse, and are pushed out of schools that either chose to do nothing, or lack the resources, to address anti-LGBTQ violence and harassment.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has pursued an agenda of budget cuts and austerity, all in the name of "shared sacrifice," with devastating consequences for working-class, poor, and homeless LGBTQ communities. Rather than addressing the epidemic of LGBTQ youth homelessness, Team Obama/Clinton's agenda of budget cuts has shut down shelters and pushed more youth onto the streets.

It's working-class and poor people's schools that are being closed, and their teachers and social workers being laid off--disproportionally in poor communities of color, of course. At a time when anti-LGBTQ bullying and violence are rampant, driving many youth to take their own lives, these austerity measures result in lethal consequences for an already horrific problem.

The most offensive part of Hilary Clinton's video was her audacity in using LGBTQ rights to justify U.S. militarism. According to Clinton, the U.S. must uphold its commitment to human rights in order to remain a beacon of democracy to people around the world.

But, what about the 2.5 million Iraqis who have become refugees in their own country due to the U.S. invasion and occupation, some of them being LGBTQ? This was a war that Clinton voted for as a senator. Or, what about queer Palestinians victimized by Israeli bombs and apartheid, bankrolled by the Obama administration and Secretary Clinton?

Far from being a promoter of justice and equality, the Obama administration and Secretary Clinton have been the most egregious offenders in undermining the basic human rights of LGBTQ people globally.

Any meaningful agenda for LGBTQ social justice and equality must address the spectrum of issues facing the LGBTQ community: employment protection, a livable wage, access to health care and other social services, safe schools and housing, a humane immigration system, marriage equality, and a society that puts human need before corporate greed and affirms the humanity of people all across the sexual and gender spectrum.

Social justice and equality must be viewed through a global lens. Freedom and equality for LGBTQ people cannot be achieved when other queers are living under the brutality of U.S. wars and occupations. Solidarity can't stop at America's borders.

If, in a democracy, politicians are supposed to be accountable to the people they represent, where is the accountability? Institutionalized and systematic oppression is not overcome by donating millions to the political campaigns of Democrats willing to court our votes and money and then send us to the back of the line while they pursue what's profitable for Corporate America and Wall Street. Nor is equality and social justice achieved by lavish invite-only banquets and behind-the-door meetings with politicians and CEOs.

The only way oppressed people have ever won an inch of justice has been through never-ending struggle: grassroots protests movements like the civil rights and women's liberation movements of the 1960s, or the labor movement of the 1930s.

The words of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass are as true today as they were 150 years ago: "If there is no struggle there is no progress. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

First published at the Rainbow Times.

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