After gracing the front pages for what seems like years with major gains in trans rights and marriage equality, queers are nearly invisible again in the face of neo-Nazis in the White House and board rooms, nuclear war with North Korea, deadly earthquakes in Mexico, fires across the globe, and their evil twins — floods — impolitely fed by global warming.
Traditionally-defined queer issues seem the least of our concerns. Just like after 9/11, when the local TV chains in New York suddenly disappeared everyone from the African-American women who did the news to city fixtures like Al Sharpton and Latina lesbian City Councilmember Margarita Lopez along with our tiny problems. Police brutality. Health. Housing. Freedom. Equality.
Our replacements — all white guys all the time, the universal news anchor with dark suits and hard-ons, military brass, and congressmen next to Rudy Giuliani in his rotating NYPD, FDNY ball caps. George W. Bush denouncing imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and encouraging citizens to rat each other out. His reps issuing yellow, orange, and red terror alerts, actively frightening people who are frightened still, and determined to return the country to a moment of pure and peaceful and prosperous white maleness as fake and powerful as Saddam’s chemical weapons.
I try to imagine how terrifying it must have been to see those indestructible towers fall from a distance. Because everything is worse from afar. Then how great it must have been for these men equally deflated by strides in feminism, LGBTQ rights, racial equality to see dark skin and female flesh hidden away. And white guys back on top of the human dung heap, sacrificing their lives, being heroes. (Even if there were a few minimized reports buried in back pages that hinted some of the newly named “first responders” shouldn’t have been inside the towers at all, were actually ordered not to go in but went in anyway. And so died with their comrades.)
There was no room for queers in the heroic narrative. Except for the gay rugby player who intervened on one of the hijacked flights. And the dead gay priest. There’s always room for a dead gay.
Yes, there was a sudden masculinization, a very white washing, a re-heteroization of America. But LGBTQ people in the US had already ceded cultural ground. The queers I knew in ACT UP continued to work on global AIDS, but seemed to rarely mention homophobia. Dykes I knew from the Lesbian Avengers kept doing activism, taking to the streets for social justice issues like income equality, but somehow never became advocates for poor dykes. Maybe they imagined that there would be some trickle-down, or just wanted to get out of our ghetto.
And so, we queer activists left Gay Inc. to their usual devices, including political maneuvering and backroom deals, and only emerging occasionally to complain about their relatively conservative agenda (same-sex marriage, gays/ trans in the military, and the like), though we lustily celebrated each normalizing triumph.
Things are no different now. Tracking my “radical” queer friends on Facebook, they frequently mention women, or people of color, but almost never LGBTQ people unless Trump does. Like when he tweeted he was booting trans folk from the military or trumpeted his support for homophobic bakers. And yet, these “radical” queers are in the street for everything else, from nuclear war to neo-Nazi posturing.
About queers, they, we, are mostly silent. And in that void of our own creation, the conservative “family values” nuts have stepped in, stronger than ever. They’re cleaning us out. Quietly.
In New York, the Justice Department butted in a workplace discrimination case arguing that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not protect workers on the basis of their sexual orientation. Meanwhile, all mention of LGBTQ people and gender identity has been stripped out of certain federal documents, including those related to a program for child victims of sex trafficking.
In Tennessee, the Knox County school board is considering changing its harassment policy to remove language explicitly protecting LGBTQ employees.
And, of course programs for women that somewhat benefit dykes and trans women, programs that fight AIDS in black Southern gay men are all being cut or eliminated outright.
That’s what you get when no one’s minding the store.
Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” from the University of Minnesota Press.
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