Thursday, March 19, 2009

The American GLBT Community Needs To Look Northward

It has been legal for people of the same gender to marry in Canada for four years,   thanks to work of gay rights groups and unions.  Though it is not often acknowledged, unions were on the forefront in organizing. Workers in solidarity valiantly fought for recognition of same sex benefits in employment.  The gains that are made in union organizing are often eventually recognized in the larger society.   This can not not only be seen with gay marriage but with maternity rights for women.

Though we have made many gains in Canada in terms of social justice many members of our society continue to be oppressed due to our commitment to honouring a false hierarchy of bodies.  It was with great sadness that I was to learn about the gay bashing of 62 year old Richard Dowrey

Lindsay Wincherauk, who was at the bar on Friday, contends the attack contained all the hallmarks of a hate crime.

“His [the attacker's] words repeatedly were, ‘He’s a fag, he deserved it. The faggot touched me. I am not a fag, the fag deserved it; he touched me.’”

Timothy Keating was also at the bar at the time, and called 911.

“I was outside having a cigarette and I heard the thud from outside when Ritchie's head hit the ground.”

Vancouver police said Monday they arrested a 35-year-old man at the scene and charged him with aggravated assault for allegedly striking Dowrey after the two had an exchange of words.

Police confirmed they referred the case to the hate crimes unit, but insist they did so to ensure their investigation is exhaustive.

Though gays and lesbians have the right to marry they are still an oppressed minority in this country.   Marriage has not raised their status or changed the ways in which heterosexuality is privileged.   As I watch the the GLB community in the states push for same sex marriage, I cannot help but think of who will not benefit from a change in the law.  It will not stop gay bashing, increase equality in housing, education or employment and yet it is marriage that has become the focal point in organizing. 

The day after slaves were freed their marriages were legally binding and this did not protect blacks from the KKK, Jim Crow or all of the other indignities that exist in a society that privileges whiteness.   What has elevated the social status of blacks are decisions like Brown Vs Board of education wherein segregation in education was struck down.  Fighting for affirmative action meant that blacks for the first time had the opportunity to work in fields in which they had been previously barred.  Though the African American community has a long way to go to achieve equality, focusing on gains that would effect the everyday living conditions of large segments of the population had meant that whatever gains were made had a larger impact.

While I completely understand why gay marriage is such an issue, I cannot help but wonder if this push is not in some sense myopic.  Everyone needs to eat, everyone needs a job and everyone deserves to be free of violence.  It is clear that despite having the right to marry in Canada people continue to be physically attacked simply for being gay.  The desire to privilege heterosexuality was so strong for Dowery’s attacker that he said, “‘He’s a fag, he deserved it. The faggot touched me. I am not a fag, the fag deserved it; he touched me.”  What is this but unwarranted heterosexual panic? 

These homophobes walk around with the false idea that just because someone is gay that they are attracted to all straight people.  Of course when it comes to heterosexuality people naturally have likes and dislikes but the supposedly warped gays want to have sex with anyone they can.  Such attitudes can only be fought through education.  Schools must be made to teach young children that all people are valuable. Along with Jack and Jill went up the hill children need to learn about Jill and Jill or Jack and Jack to normalize these identities.  

As an ally it is my job to support whatever organizing goals the GLBT community chooses to privilege.  I will continue to do my part to support gay marriage but I cannot help but wonder what energy directed at education, union organizing or ENDA could result in.   I believe whole heartedly in the equality of all beings and only seek the fastest path to residing in a society that truly  lives by its stated values.

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