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A queer analysis of the S.C. gay rights movement

by John Dawkins & Melisa Harmon
Guest Commentary
It’s a trying time for the LGBT community. With the upsetting setbacks of last year’s election, the heinous murder of 20-year-old Sean Kennedy in early May, recent media hype surrounding supposed “gay ” politicians and the Labor Day blunders of Jerry Lewis, it seems that affronts and attacks on our people and identity are around every corner.

For many of us, times like these cause us to push ourselves further back into a comfort zone of protectionist actions and a self-defense mentality. We find comfort in community leaders who tell us that our day shall come soon. We shield ourselves from true action and find solace in the idea that we are just like them and that soon they will understand and accept us as the same.

In the meantime we hide behind banners and flags or so far in the closet that no one can find and/or hurt us. Self-preservation is a powerful thing. The fear of an out and politically proactive life is real. They do assault us, hurt us and sometimes even take our lives. Yet we still hope that they can see us as themselves, the same, just like them. It is time we called bullshit on this ridiculous concept.

We must stop trying to conform our community to an ideal that not only does not apply (we are not just like you), but binds us in a continuing role as the second-class underdog begging for a rub of acceptance from master.

Over the past 20-plus years Gay Liberation has been built upon the elimination of true queer culture. We have glossed over our individuality in order to show a squeaky clean, whitewashed and wholly untrue version of ourselves in order to gain a sympathetic nod from legislatures and our fellow hetero-citizens.

The homophobic adage of, “I don’t mind faggots as long as they don’t throw it in my face” has become an unspoken truth of South Carolina gay organizations.

Though past efforts are to be commended, it’s indicative of our community’s woes that our leadership is primarily represented by those who come from a pre-existing position of power. If we as a people seek true liberation then we cannot afford to build ourselves up on an ideology that is exclusive to a white, upper-middle-class, Christian, male perspective. This lack of cultural and intellectual diversity within the leadership of the S.C. gay community has led to a narrow point of interest and limited view on policy and concerns of the community as a whole.

Consequently those queers who fall outside of this demographic often feel alienated and unwanted by those in the leadership circle. For example, the South Carolina Gay Pride day, with a theme of “Equal Rights are Human Rights,” is acknowledged as a day to celebrate ourselves and our community — an important celebration in these trying times. Once again the lack of diversity and cultural perspective has led to a serious oversight that has taken this day of celebration for all and turned it into an exclusive event for some.

Sept. 22 fell on the 10th day of Tishri in the Jewish calendar; the day of observance of Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays. This is the equivalent of holding the Pride celebration on Christmas Day for Christians or Ramadan for Muslim Americans. When questioned about the scheduling during this time, one member of the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement (SCGLPM) stated, “I wouldn’t be upset if it was held on a Sunday.” This goes to show the lack of understanding of diversity within our community. In what appears to be a continuing lack of forethought and planning brought about by the absence of diversity within our community, there have been no allowances made for differently abled queers who wish to attend the celebration.

No special parking areas were designated, nor was an alternate parade route provided for those who physically cannot navigate the hills and steep climbs of the parade. The examples can continue: the limited representation of people of color by the guest speakers or entertainers, no representation of the transgender, intergender or queer gender communities, religious perspectives that only encompass a Christian ideology, etc. We are forced to ask if by equal rights the current leadership means only rights for white, able-bodied, straight-acting, upper-middle-class, Christian gays and lesbians?

We are not here to rip apart the job done by SCGLPM in its organizing of the Pride celebration. We are using this as an example of the multifaceted concerns that our community faces. In order for true Queer Liberation to occur we must move away from a white hetero-normative ideal that is ensconced in a continuation of power for the status quo. Not only must we reevaluate the direction we are heading — and the means by which we are going there — but also the leaders who determine these directions.

Freedom will not come unless we accept the radical idea that we are a community made up of a multitude of variants of which all are equally valid and respected. We must open our eyes and minds and see that gay rights are only one part of social justice and human rights and act accordingly.

— Originally published in The Columbia City Paper.

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