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LGBT, marriage and the economic crisis

Published Dec 2, 2008 6:11 PM

Imani Henry
WW photo: G. Dunkel

Around the world, tens of thousands of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people and their supporters are demonstrating as part of the Nov. 15 National Day of Action against the passing of Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that bans LGBT marriage in California.

The struggle for marriage equality is about the second-class status of LGBT people in the U.S. It is about the systematic oppression and criminalization of LGBT people by the ruling class.

The truth is that LGBT people do not have rights in the U.S. All that has been won is the overturning of anti-gay laws or the creation of anti-discrimination laws on a state or city level.

For 33 years the LGBT movement has been fighting the U.S. government to get an employment protection law. Finally on Nov. 7, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which includes housing, public accommodations, etc., was passed for the first time ever by the House of Representatives.

But the House chose to vote on a version of ENDA that—despite the outrage of LGBT activists, including a sign-on campaign by more than 350 leading organizations—omitted protection based on gender identity. If this version becomes law, it excludes not only transpeople but also anyone who could be “perceived” as gay.

It’s about workers’ rights. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, there are “1,138 federal benefits and protections of marriage only available to couples that are allowed to legally marry.” Is it surprising as we enter the worst economic crisis in decades that the ruling class, through a coalition of the religious right, poured millions into denying LGBT workers the benefits that come with marriage?

Do the masses of working-class folks living in the U.S. see LGBT people as average, everyday workers? Or is it the perception that LGBT means white, middle-class, privileged—where Jack from “Will and Grace” doesn’t need a job to keep his New York City apartment?

There are several factors that contribute to this stereotype. It was a tactic used by some of the leadership in the LGBT movement to counter the church and Hollywood’s depiction of LGBT people as “mentally ill,” sexual deviants and murderers.

Like other oppressed communities, it was a tactic to push the struggle forward by saying “Look, we are just like you. Now where are our civil rights?” But ultimately it is always in the best interest of the ruling class to sow divisions and pit oppressed communities against each other.

LGBT people of all nationalities voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. But although Prop 8 was bought and paid for by the religious right, Black communities have been falsely accused of voting away marriage rights for white LGBT people. The truth is that just like the masses of people living in the U.S. are working class and multinational, so are LGBT communities and movements.

Ultimately the ruling class created the climate of terror and stigma to keep LGBT people isolated from the rest of our class.

It has been well-documented that Black single women with children have been the prime targets of the predatory loan scam. Kenyon Farrow from Queers for Economic Justice told me about a Black lesbian couple who recently lost their house due to a predatory loan; now they and their children are living in a shelter. Black lesbian households make at least $10,000 less a year than Black hetero married couples. Who knows how many LGBT people have lost their homes?

FIERCE, an LGBT people-of-color youth group, waged a year-long campaign to force a huge development company to build an LGBT youth center. Just before the bailouts, the investors pulled out of the deal, citing financial hardships. Sylvia’s Place, the only LGBT youth shelter in New York City, lost its funding and closed in September. In New York City there are 3,000 to 8,000 LGBT-identified homeless youth.

It is an outrage that young people, gay or straight, are homeless in the U.S. No Black woman, lesbian or straight, and her children should be forced from their home. All workers, trans and non-trans, should be paid a living wage. And it is an outrage that who we love and choose to partner with is even up for national debate!

Class solidarity is the weapon the ruling class fears the most—the kind of solidarity that I’m proud to say that a Marxist-Leninist, multinational, multigendered and multisexual, intergenerational organization like WWP actively lives and breathes everyday.