By: Jason Lydon*/TRT Columnist–
I am tempted to write a scathing article about Paris Hilton’s ridiculous homophobic and HIV/AIDS-ignorant verbal vomit, however, I have chosen otherwise. Though please do check out her comments while also paying attention to some of the sex negativity coming out of the gay press. It is plenty easy to critique her ignorance without shaming people who take part in anonymous sex. Rather than write about this celebrity debacle, I have chosen another more popular one; the 2012 presidential election.
Thus far, the presidential race has included more reference to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people than I have seen in my lifetime; more than I think anyone has ever seen. The acronym, LGBT, is on the front page of the Obama campaign website. During his speech at the DNC, Obama made reference to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and his support of gay marriage. He even told conservatives to stop blaming “…gays” for the country’s problems. It would seem that some gay promised land is being reached just by following the map laid out in the Democrats’ platform. But the question must be asked, which LGBT people are included in this new program and, more importantly, at what expense are these “advancements” being achieved?
Jasbir Puar, queer theorist, author and professor at Rutgers University, pushes us to reflect on the expanding development of “homonationalism,” a term she coined in her book “Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times.” While this newspaper is not an academic journal, we all need to reflect on the ideas Puar, and other queer theorists, offer our community. This term, homonationalism, is defined in Puar’s book as, “collusion between homosexuality and American nationalism that is generated both by national rhetorics of patriotic inclusion and by gay queer subjects.” For example, when mainstream LGBT organizations spent millions of dollars working to repeal DADT and then the Obama administration acquiesced, the effort was heralded as a milestone step toward equality with zero attention paid to the role the United States military forces play in the world. Gay citizens of the United States were called to fly the American flag high and celebrate the victory of inclusion into an effort that leads to the deaths of endless unnamed people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Palestine. We are securing a place at the table, but the table is used to plan wars and further global colonialism.
The expansion of homonationalism in our campaigns for inclusion not only lead to the gay identification with militarism, these efforts also systematically ignore and ostracize the needs of more marginalized LGBTQ people. I have written numerous articles about the needs of criminalized/incarcerated LGBTQ people, and the recent bipartisan transphobic attacks on Michelle Kosilek (transgender woman incarcerated in Massachusetts who was awarded access to gender affirming surgery) highlights who the homonationalist project is meant to exclude. Queers who do not conform to the privileged story written by the Human Rights Campaign or the Democratic Party are cast aside in the grab for institutionalized national recognition.
Another term that often accompanies homonationalism is pink-washing — there’s even a conference, sponsored by The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies of the City University of New York, coming up in April on the two interconnected concepts. I wrote, some months ago, about the ways Israel engages in pink-washing their colonization of Palestine, highlighting the liberal Israeli acceptance of gay people while hiding their theft of Palestinian land and systemic murder/incarceration of Palestinian people. The U.S. does the same thing when we herald this country as a haven for gay rights with the passage of hate crimes legislation, the expansion of marriage laws and the inclusion of sexuality in amnesty efforts, while simultaneously continuing to break treaties with the Indigenous people of this land, continuing the mass incarceration of black and brown bodies and expanding the gap between rich and poor. Pink-washing is a gay distraction from the reality that oppression is interconnected. Its efforts, whether explicitly intentional or not, join together with homonationalism to keep expanding the national rights of certain acceptable LGBT people while continuing the expansion of imperialism, racism, Islamophobia and global capitalism. A friend of mine describes it as the metaphorical use of rainbow flags to cover the bodies of those killed by drones, by lack of healthcare, by economic sanctions, by our complicity.
As this election season continues and certain mainstream LGBT organization begin releasing their endorsements, hosting fundraisers and flood your inbox with emails seeking support, ask more questions. Who is getting included in these campaigns? Who is being ignored? How can we refuse to participate in the oppression of others as we seek our own freedom? Soon, thankfully, the election season will be over, but the work will be far from done.
*Rev. Jason Lydon is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Boston. He is a long time anti-prison organizer and founder of Black & Pink, an LGBTQ-focused effort working toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex. Jason is also an avid lover of famous people and blockbuster action flicks. You can reach Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org.